CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Newman/Haas race report

Long Beach, Calif. - April 14, 2002 Flawed pit stop hindered Chevron driver da Matta from scoring fourth consecutive win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach CART FedEx race and he ultimately finished eighth --- Lilly driver Fittipaldi ran as...

Long Beach, Calif. - April 14, 2002

Flawed pit stop hindered Chevron driver da Matta from scoring fourth consecutive win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach CART FedEx race and he ultimately finished eighth --- Lilly driver Fittipaldi ran as high as third before a gearbox failure ended his race.

- Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta failed to match a CART record four consecutive victories by winning the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach although he led 30 laps and was building on a three second lead before a bad pit stop dropped him to 16th place. He charged back into eighth place by the end of the 90-lap race and maintained his lead in the CART FedEx Championship after scoring six points.

Da Matta earned the pole position in provisional qualifying on Friday and was guaranteed a front row start as well as one championship point. On Saturday, when the final qualifying session ended early due to a crash by Michael Andretti, the official timing system scored the Brazilian a mere 3000ths of a second slower than polesitter Jimmy Vasser. While on a final attempt to earn his first career Champ car pole, the display in his car showed that his lap time thus far was one-tenth quicker than his best at that point. Had he been able to complete the lap trouble free he might have been able to take pole position for the event. Always the realist, da Matta admitted that others were probably running their best laps times as well but he would have liked to see the results.

On the first of 90 laps, da Matta took the lead from polesitter Jimmy Vasser in Turn 1 and steadily built his lead to 2.5 seconds before his first pit stop on lap 18 while the caution flag was displayed for the stopped car of Tony Kanaan. He returned to the race in the lead and held it through the restart and until lap 33 when the majority of the field pitted during the caution period for Scott Dixon. Da Matta entered the pit lane and came into his pit box, which was stationed in the second box from the entrance of the pits. When his pit stop was complete and he was signaled out of the pits he joined the lane to depart the pits and came alongside fifth place runner Adrian Fernandez who turned sharply into da Matta while trying to enter his own pit box which was the fourth one along pit road. He made contact with da Matta and the two slid into the pit wall of Shinji Nakano's pit box. Da Matta's crew rushed to his car and brought it back to his pit box, restarted it and sent it back on track. Although the crew worked quickly, da Matta returned to the track in 16th place. He passed Nakano on lap 37 and was in 13th place by lap 47 after race leader Michael Andretti and second place Max Papis, who were on a different pit strategy after starting 15th and 18th respectively, made their second stops. Bruno Junqueira made a pit stop after contact with Mario Dominguez and da Matta moved into 12th place.

On lap 57, eighth place runner Townsend Bell made contact with backmarker Alex Tagliani and enabled da Matta to move into 11th place before the caution flag came out. Once the race went back to green flag conditions, the majority of the field made their third and final pit stops on lap 61. As da Matta entered his pit box, his outside rear tire changer was slightly slowed due to an errant airgun from Fittipaldi's crew and he returned to the race in 12th place. He regained 11th place when Fittipaldi stopped on course with mechanical failure and on into 10th when he passed Dario Franchitti. On lap 80 Oriol Servia pit and da Matta moved into ninth place which he held until lap 87 when he passed Adrian Fernandez for eighth place and held the position until the checkered flag after 90 laps. He collected six points for eighth place and maintained his lead in the CART FedEx Championship with five over second place Michael Andretti who drove to victory after starting in 15th place and was on a different pit strategy due to his starting position. Following are da Matta's post race comments:

"I haven't seen the tape so I don't know exactly what happened," said a disappointed da Matta. "I think we made a mistake in choosing this pit spot (at pit in) and we learned from our experience today. In qualifying you are the last guy to get on track and therefore have more traffic and run the chance of getting held up. If you are running well in the race, you pit and then have to exit your box when everyone else is coming in. There is a lot more of a possibility that something is going to go wrong. It was a big mistake to let this one get away. The car was running strong and the team was strong. I saw Adrian coming in as I was merging in from my pit box. I didn't expect him to brake and turn in so quickly. I don't blame him and I also don't think I did anything wrong. The car was great, we had a good start and I was able to pull away. It is so difficult to win races so it's a huge disappointment to give the opportunity away when you are the fastest guy on track. We were hooked up today but being in the wrong end of pit lane hurt us."

- Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi ran as high as third place in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach but retired from the event after gearbox problems on lap 67 or 90. The Lilly team expected to be a contender for the win today after Fittipaldi was at or near the top of the time sheets for most of the weekend. He set the fastest lap in practice on Friday and went on to set the second fastest time in provisional qualifying. He ran the third fastest time in practice on Saturday but was disappointed with his performance in final qualifying where he set the ninth fastest time. At the start of the race, he moved into eighth place after rookie Townsend Bell dropped back from his fifth place start. He briefly moved into seventh place on lap 17 when Tony Kanaan stopped on course and brought out the caution flag. The majority of the field made their first of three pit stops on lap 18 and Fittipaldi returned to the race in seventh place after a flawless stop. On lap 22, he moved into sixth place when fifth place runner Junqueira had to pit for a pit road safety violation. He held sixth place through the second pit stop on lap 32 but was ultimately in fourth place as race leader Michael Andretti and second place Max Papis were on a different pit strategy. He passed Paul Tracy on lap 38 for fifth place and moved into fourth place when Papis had to make his second stop on lap 46. On the following lap, Andretti pit and Fittipaldi moved into third place, which he held until his final stop on lap 61. Once the stop was completed, his outside front tire changer threw the airgun back toward the pit wall but it came to rest in the path of da Matta who hit it on his way into the pit box and Fittipaldi was given a pit road safety violation that would result in a drive through penalty once the race resumed from a brief caution period for Mario Dominguez. Before Fittipaldi could serve his penalty, his car stopped on course near the pit entrance due to a gearbox failure. He was scored with a 13th place finish and did not earn points toward the championship thus dropping from third to seventh in the standings. Following are his post race comments:

"We had a podium finish car today but we didn't make it to the end of the race because of a gearbox failure," said Fittipaldi. "I was being called in for a drive through penalty for an airhose being left in a bad spot so that would have hurt us. The car was good enough to move up from ninth place into podium contention so the good news is that we were competitive."

- New Name/Look -- Newman/Haas Racing sponsor, ChevronTexaco, will feature the Chevron logo on the No. 6 car driven by Cristiano da Matta for this weekend's race in Long Beach as well as CART FedEx events in Laguna Seca, Portland, Vancouver, Miami and the season finale in Fontana. For all other events in 2002, the car will be in the Havoline livery as it was when da Matta drove to his third consecutive victory in the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix.

- On to Japan -- Round 3 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship Series will take place April 25-27 at the Bridgestone Potenza 500 at Twin Ring Motegi in Motegi, Japan. Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta failed to complete one lap after being taken out by the spinning car of Bruno Junqueira in an accident triggered by Max Papis. Fittipaldi drove to a fourth place finish and has finished on the podium (third place, 1999) once in four starts.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Shinji Nakano , Townsend Bell , Mario Dominguez , Cristiano da Matta