CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana: Newman/Haas Friday report

Defending winner and Chevron driver da Matta ninth fastest in practice for The 500 Presented by Toyota at the California Speedway; Lilly driver Fittipaldi tenth. CRISTIANO DA MATTA, ...

Defending winner and Chevron driver da Matta ninth fastest in practice for The 500 Presented by Toyota at the California Speedway; Lilly driver Fittipaldi tenth.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA, #1 Chevron Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone:   "We weren't so happy with the car in the morning session but I was a lot, a lot happier after the second session.  We tried to run alone as much as possible to see how the car felt in clean air as well as in the draft.  Most everyone's fastest lap times were run in the draft.  We made some long runs in the second session and the car was good but it was a lot better after that because we made some changes that really made the car better.  We aren't too worried about setting the fastest times in practice because it's what you do in qualifying and the race that are important here so you need to spend your time wisely.  We want to end the season in style.  We already have earned seven wins so to win two more and set a new record for most wins in a season isn't impossible.  Of course we now have to win the last two and considering one of them is a 500-mile race and to even finish it is an accomplishment, we have our work cut out for us.  We had a strong chance to match the record in Australia.  We had a good car and led the race when it was a race.  It was a shame it turned out the way it did."

* NOTES: Has had nine front row starts this season.  He has won NINE of past 19 CART events dating back to his first three-peat (Australia and Fontana in 2001 and Mexico in 2002) where he became the first driver to accomplish the feat since Juan Montoya (1999).  Led 30 laps in Long Beach and built a strong lead before a pit accident derailed his bid for a CART record-tying fourth consecutive win.  Wins in Laguna Seca, Portland, Chicago and Toronto enabled him to tie two others (Unser, Jr., and Zanardi) with a CART record fourth consecutive win although he failed to score a fifth consecutive win in Cleveland after he lead the first 19 laps from pole but retired with mechanical failure.  Led 36 laps in Vancouver before a drive shaft failure ended his race.  Was in second in Mid-Ohio when he slid off-course and ultimately finished 13th.  He won in Elkhart Lake and his Miami win was his ninth in 18 events. Led all racing laps in Australia but finished 8th in a race dictated by rain. Led 53 laps en route to his first SuperSpeedway victory when he won The Marlboro 500 in 2001.  Will be his fourth race here.  Highest start to date was second in '01.  Retired in the '00 event after a piece from Paul Tracy's race car hit his front suspension and caused him to crash.  Engine failure led to a 23rd place finish in 1999.  He clinched the 2002 CART FedEx Championship in Round 16 of 19 in Miami after winning the event and building an insurmountable lead of 69 points over second place with 68 points maximum left in the season.  Is hoping to beat the record for most wins in a season at eight set by Michael Andretti (and Newman/Haas) in 1991 and Al Unser Jr. in 1994.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, #11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone:  "We only did long runs in the afternoon session so we didn't put in a particularly fast lap but that wasn't our goal.  We're here to try to win the race and to do that you need to have a car that works well alone as well as in the draft.  It would be great to win this race again."

* NOTES: Will be his sixth event here.  Won the 2000 race after leading 35 laps, finished 3rd in 1999, 7th in 1998 and 9th in 1997.  Last season he started 5th, led four laps and finished 13th.  In five previous starts, he scored two podium finishes (1st in 2000, 3rd in 1999) and finished in the top-9 four of five times (13th - 2001, 7th - 1998, 9th - 1997).  In the 1999 event, he set the fastest race lap and in 2001 set the 2nd fastest race lap.  Christian Fittipaldi led 5 laps in 1997; 6 in 1998; 37 in 1999; 35 in 2000 en route to victory after also setting the fastest race lap and led 4 in 2001.  He is currently in 5th place in the point standings and could finish as high as second place based on the maximum of 45 points available in the two remaining events.

CRAFTSMAN PIT CREW CHALLENGE: da Matta and the Chevron crew finished second to Jimmy Vasser's Shell crew in the annual pit crew shootout.  Fittipaldi and the Lilly crew finished third of the five teams to qualify for the competition.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW: The morning practice session will take place from 8:30-9:30 AM PT which will be followed by qualifying from 11:30-1:30 PM PT.  SPEED Channel will televise qualifying live.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy