CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana: Newman/Haas preview

CRISTIANO da MATTA, ...

CRISTIANO da MATTA, #6 Chevron Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone: 

- DEFENDING WINNER IN FONTANA: 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.

- 2002 CHAMPION: Holds an insurmountable 75-point lead over second place in the point standings with two events to go.  Led 52 laps in route to victory in the 2002 season-opener in Monterrey Mexico which was his third consecutive win in the series dating back to the final two rounds in 2001 (Australia, Fontana).   It was also his second consecutive victory in the season-opener in Mexico.  In Long Beach, he looked set to match a CART record fourth consecutive victory when he built a seven second lead after taking over the top spot for the first 30 laps before he was taken out of contention when hit departing his second of three pit stops and ultimately finished eighth after starting second.  He started 8th in Japan but mechanical failure sidelined him near the end of the race in 13th place.  Was in sixth place in Milwaukee when a fuel pressure problem forced a 10-pit stop race (instead of 3) and dropped him to an 11th place finish.  Ran in front of eventual third place finisher Max Papis. Won his first pole as well as his first win from the pole in Monterey, Calif. (6-9) after leading 82 of 87 laps. Won all 23 points available in Portland (prov. pole, pole, win, most laps led).  Earned 21 of 22 points available in Chicago (win, most laps led) to build a 25 point lead over 2nd place in the standings.  Won all 23 points in Toronto to build his lead to 48 over second place in the standings.  Won each point available on Friday and Saturday in Cleveland by setting the fastest lap times in qualifying.  Led the first 19 laps of the Cleveland race from pole and build a 2.3-second lead on second place before he suffered mechanical failure and ended his bid to earn a CART record fifth consecutive win.  Led 36 laps in Vancouver and increased his lead over second place to five seconds in his first stint before a drive shaft failure later ended a highly possible victory while leading on Lap 64 of 100.  Started third in Mid-Ohio and was in second place when he slid off course while alongside the race leader on lap 69 of 92.  Ran fastest race lap.  His 13th place finish shrunk his lead from 38 to 27 points over second place.  Won one point for the provisional pole in Road America, started second, led 22 laps and won his sixth race of 12 so far this season and increased his point lead from 27 to 42 over the weekend.  Earned one point for setting the fastest times in each of the qualifying sessions and led 35 of 80 laps but finished second after running a conservative pit stop strategy.  Finished third in Denver after starting seventh but his points lead dropped from 55 to 52 over second place.  Earned his fourth consecutive podium finish of second place in England.  Clinched the 2002 Championship with a win in Miami and led the most laps.  Led all laps run under racing conditions in rainy Australia but finished 8th after the race was shortened. 

- GOAL IS RECORD FOR MOST WINS IN A SEASON OF NINE: With his victory in Miami  (10-6), da Matta scored his ninth victory in the past 18 races dating back to his win in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia.  Won '01 races in Australia and Fontana and 2002 races in Monterrey, Mexico, Monterey, Calif., Portland, Ore., Chicago, Toronto and Elkhart Lake.  (Monterey, Portland, Chicago and Toronto wins earned him four consecutive victories, which matched a CART record set by Al Unser Jr. and Alex Zanardi.)  A string of three bad races (mechanical failure while leading in Cleveland; drive shaft failure after leading 36 laps in Vancouver; off course excursion while 2nd in Mid-Ohio) shrunk his points lead although he increased it after scoring points with a win in Elkhart Lake, 2nd place in Montreal, 3rd in England and his seventh victory of the season in Miami.   With seven victories, he is just one shy of tying the all-time CART single-season record for wins in a season of eight currently held by Al Unser Jr. (1994 - in his 12th full season) and Michael Andretti (1991 with NHR - in his 8th season). His seven victories makes him one of just five drivers to win that many in a season, joining Unser, Andretti, Juan Montoya (1999) and Alex Zanardi (1998).

- CART FedEx ALL-STAR TEAM: Was nominated to the five-driver 2001 CART FedEx Championship All-Star Team. The elite group is voted on by drivers, a select group of motorsports media and fans.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, #11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone: 

- IN FONTANA: 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.

- IN 500-MILE EVENTS: Fittipaldi surpassed his previous best 500-mile finish of 2nd place in the 1995 Indy 500 when he won the 2000 Marlboro 500 at The California Speedway.

- FIFTH IN 2002 CHAMPIONSHIP: Has SEVEN top-five finishes and NINE top-7 finishes in 17 races to date.  Has run in the TOP-THREE in 11 of 17 races this season and in the TOP-FIVE in 14 of 17 races this season.  At the season-opener in Monterrey, Mexico, Fittipaldi ran the fastest qualifying lap but it was disallowed after he brought out a red flag due to hitting the concrete barriers.  His second fastest lap resulted in a fourth place start and a subsequent third place finish after running as high as second. In Long Beach, Fittipaldi set the second fastest time in provisional qualifying but dropped to a 9th place start in final qualifying, ran as high as 3rd and retired in 13th after gearbox failure.  Struggled at the first short oval race of the season in Japan and finished 11th.  Team improved their short oval set up for the race Milwaukee where he finished fourth after leading three laps.  Drove to his best finish of second place since his victory in the '00 season-finale at the California Speedway 500-mile race in Monterey, Calif. after leading four laps.  Was third fastest in prov. qualifying in Portland but failed to improve his time on Saturday and started fifth.  A mid-race collision with Paul Tracy, who attempted a pass, dropped him 10 laps down to the leader by the time he resumed racing although he ultimately retired from the race in 13th place with seven laps to go.   A probable top-six finish eluded him in Chicago after his left rear wheel came following his second pit stop.  He finished third in Toronto.  He was running third in Cleveland but ran out of fuel before his final stop.  A third place finish would have put him second in the point standings but he fell to seventh place.  Drive shaft failure ended his race in Vancouver after running ahead of eventual third place finisher Kanaan.  Earned his highest starting spot of second place since Nazareth 2000 in Mid-Ohio and finished second despite 14-second pit stop due to his airjack malfunctioning.  Pit strategy enabled him to move from his 11th place start into a sixth place finish although a top-four finish was possible had the caution flags not come out or a problem on his final stop not occurred.  In Montreal, was fifth fastest in provisional qualifying but slipped to an 11th place start.  Picked up three spots on the first lap but a slow pit stop dropped him in running order and he eventually finished seventh despite late race gear problems.  Started fifth in Denver and was in third place during his final pit stop when the airjack failed for the second time in three mandatory stops thus dropping him to a fifth place finish.  Retired from England race due to mechanical failure. Second in Miami.  Looked likely to finish second in Australia but finished 11th after the race ran under caution for all but seven laps before ending early.

* CART VICTORIES - 2: Scored his first CART victory in the Texaco/Havoline 200 at Road America (7-11-99/71st CART start), He bettered his previous best 500-mile finish of 2nd place in the 1995 Indy 500 by winning the 2000 season-finale Marlboro 500. For his 2nd place finish to (eventual 1997 Formula One World Champion) Jacques Villeneuve, he was also named 1995 Indy 500 "Rookie of the Year."

* CART POLES - 1: Fittipaldi set a track record en route to his first CART pole in his homeland of Brazil on May 14, 1999.

What They're Saying About:

CRISTIANO DA MATTA, #1 Chevron Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone:  "It's good to be the defending winner of the race and know that Newman/Haas Racing has won the past two events in Fontana but 500-mile races are not only about having a good car, they also involve a little luck.  You need to not only have a reliable car for 500 miles you also need to stay out of trouble.  The Toyota-Lola has been a strong combination all season and we believe we will be competitive again this year in Fontana.  This is our first 500-mile race since winning The 500 last year but we have no reason to think we won't be strong here.  Our goal since winning the championship has been to beat the record for most wins in a season and to do that now we have to win both of the races left this season.  We had a good car in Australia and felt like we could have matched the record but Mother Nature wasn't working with us.  To win a 500-mile race is difficult but to win back-to-back 500-mile races is probably more difficult but that's our goal and the Chevron team has the potential to do it.  We came close to winning the pole last year but started second.  We have won seven poles so far this season and it has been an indication of the hard work the engineers have put into our program but to win the pole in Fontana would be nice because Newman/Haas hasn't won a pole on an oval since Christian won the pole in Rio in 1999."

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, #11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone:  "The 500 is always a tough race because of the length and strain on equipment.  For the driver it is more of a mental challenge than physical but you are totally drained at the end of the race because of the level of attention for 500-miles.  Things happen so quickly on a Superspeedway so you have to give 110 percent of yourself the entire race.  This year will be even more important because of the mandatory pit stops.  There will not be any fuel economy runs and everyone will be driving 110 percent, 110 percent of the time instead of trying to conserve fuel.  Newman/Haas Racing won the last two events at California Speedway and we led the race at some point in each of the years it has been on the CART schedule so we know we have a good baseline set-up.  There are two more races left in the Championship and everyone is trying to finish as high as possible in the year-end standings.  A second place finish looked possible in Australia and we would have gone into the Fontana (Calif.) race in third place but instead we finished 11th and have our work cut out for us to catch (fourth place) Patrick and (third place) Dario in the standings.  If we can finish the race in Fontana, we have a good shot at winning.  That would not only be great because we want to win a race before the season is over but it would also help us in the Championship."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Max Papis , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi