CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Newman/Haas Racing preview

Newman/Haas Racing Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach- Long Beach, Calif. ...

Newman/Haas Racing
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach- Long Beach, Calif. #Round 2 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship

DATE: April 12-14
RACE BROADCAST: Fox, 3:30 PM ET
RACE LENGTH: 90 laps
TRACK LENGTH: 1.968-mile temporary street course
PREVIOUS WINNER: Helio Castroneves
PREVIOUS POLE SITTER: Helio Castroneves

Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) - Long Beach, Calif. Track Stats

BEST FINISH: Three wins (Ma. Andretti - 1984, 1985 and 1987)

BEST STARTING POSITION: Seven poles (Mi. Andretti - 1995, 1992, 1991; Mansell - 1993; Ma. Andretti - 1987, 1985, 1984)

WINS ON ROAD/ STREET COURSES: The team has won 40 of their 62 victories on road/street courses.

POLES ON ROAD/ STREET COURSES: The team has won 48 of their 63 pole positions on road/street courses.

DA MATTA'S BEST START/FINISH: 4th/2nd - both in 2001

FITTIPALDI'S BEST START/FINISH: 10th in 2001 / 5th in 1999

Driver Stats and Quotes:

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

* IN LONG BEACH: Will be his seventh race in Long Beach. This event has not been one of Fittipaldi's luckiest. In 2001, an installation mistake caused him to finish 24th. Ran second in the 2000 event before an exhaust failure caused his car to ignite in flames thus ending the race. In 1999, he finished in 5th place, retired after contact in 1998 (Tracy) and 1996 (Moore), suffered car problems in 2001(installation mistake), 2000 (fire) and 1995 (transmission), and did not compete in 1997 due to an accident in Australia. His highest start is 10th in 2001 and 1996. His highest finish is 5th in 1999.

* NEW FOR 2002: He will work with a new race engineer, Craig Hampson, 32, a nine-year veteran of the team who was promoted from assistant engineer to da Matta.

* SUCCESS IN 2002: In Monterrey, Mexico at the season-opener, 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 subsequent third place finish after running as high as second.

* OTHER 2002 RACING PLANS: When the 2002 race schedule permits, Fittipaldi plans to compete in six NASCAR-sanctioned Busch Grand National (BGN) events after enjoying his first experience in the BGN 2001 season finale near his home in Fla. He qualified his mike's hard lemonade Chevrolet 33rd out of a field of 43 for the GNC Live Well 300 and retired in 39th place due to contact with Hank Parker Jr. after completing 106 of 200 laps on November 10, 2001. He ran as high as 10th place.

* 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.

How competitive do you think the team will be in the TGPLB?

"I had a very good test in Sebring (Fla.) about two weeks ago to prepare for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. We were very competitive in Mexico and ran well in the test at Sebring in so I definitely feel confident about the race. We will be strong in Long Beach. It would be good to win a race again not only for myself and the Eli Lilly team but to also be able to bring Newman/Haas their fourth consecutive victory."

What do you like about the Long Beach race and track?

"What I like about the track, believe it or not, is the tight hairpin area, especially during the race. You really need to be able to put the power down very well. If you can do that, you actually create a very good passing place at the end of the straight. Right after you leave the hairpin, you have a long straightaway ahead of you, so you need to exit that space as quick as you can. Then after that, I really think the new part of the track, the fountain area, and the two quick right-handers are also very nice. I like the parts of the track that were changed for the 2000 race. Those changes really improved the overall racing. As for the event, it is one of the best all season. It is a really important one for us to win because Toyota not only sponsors the race but the racing part of the company has their headquarters there.

Was it frustrating to know the car was good after being fastest in the morning warm-up but not finish the race last year?

"It was a big frustration not to finish the race last year, especially because the car was running well. The car was very good the morning of the race but we only lasted for half of the race. We are due for a good finish in Long Beach."

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

* IN LONG BEACH: This will be his fourth race here in a Champ car and sixth overall. Started 4th and finished 2nd in 2001; started 12th in 2000 but mechanical problems ended his race; started 16th in 1999 but contact ended his race. Won the 1998 Indy Lights race here and finished 2nd in the 1997 Indy Lights event.

* NEW FOR 2002: He will work with a new race engineer, Guillaume "Rocky" Rocquelin, 32, who begins his first season at NHR since joining the team in December of 2001.

* SUCCESS IN 2002: Led 52 laps in route to victory in the 2002 season-opener in Monterrey Mexico. He scored his third consecutive win as well as back-to-back wins for the team.

* GOING FOR FOURTH CONSECUTIVE WIN: With his win in the 2002 season-opening race in Mexico, he became the first driver to win three in a row since Juan Montoya accomplished the feat in 1999. If he wins the TGPLB, he will be in a three-way tie for first with Al Unser Jr. ('90) and Alex Zanardi ('98) for the most consecutive wins in the CART Champ car series at four. Four consecutive wins would also be a record for NHR in their 20 seasons. Mi. Andretti and da Matta have each won three in a row.

* DIVERSE TALENT: Of his five wins in CART, four of them have come on one of the four different type of tracks the series competes on (Chicago '00 - oval; Monterrey '01 and '02 - road course; Australia '01 - street course; Fontana '01 - Superspeedway/500-mile).

* FIFTH IN 2001 CHAMPIONSHIP: Drove the Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola to three victories (Mexico, Australia, Fontana) and a total of five podium finishes (2nd in Long Beach, 3rd in England), to take fifth place in the CART season-ending point standingsLed the Championship for the first time in his Champ car career through the first four eventsLed the series standings in 2001 earnings of $1,784,000 which was aided by his $1 million prize from winning the season-ending Marlboro 500With his win in Mexico, da Matta brought the team its eighth victory in a season-opener in its 19 seasons as well as became one of only two drivers to win in his debut with the team. Reigning Formula One Champion Nigel Mansell was the other.

* 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.

Before finishing 2nd in 2001, what was your weekend like?

"It was a difficult weekend last year. I started the weekend really bad. I don't remember if I was even in the top fifteen on the first day. I just couldn't get a hand on the car set-up, but we worked hard on the Friday night and the car was a lot better Saturday morning, but it rained so we couldn't measure how good we were. I just knew that it was a little better. Then in qualifying it was wet and started getting drier and drier and on the very last lap I got up to fourth. I knew I could have done a better lap, but I just got behind some slower cars on my fast laps but I knew I had a good car for the race. My teammate Christian was the fastest in the morning warm-up and that was another indication that the car was ready for the race. In the race, I just couldn't find my way around Helio. He was driving a wide car and Long Beach is a difficult track to pass. He didn't do anything that was unfair; he was just defending his position. Of course, I would have been doing the same. I just remember that with 10 laps to go we were really fighting.

Why do you think the race is one of the most popular in CART?

"I think one reason that the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is such a great event is the tradition. The race has been on the schedule for a long time. I think there is a lot of promotion for the race and I think promotion is the key. As with any other event, you need good promotion, and they really know how to do it. It is the only race where all the drivers have to arrive in town on Wednesday because we have a lot of events. There is a build-up of drama until we get to the race time. We have many things going on.

Where will the fans see the passing on the track?

"At the end of the main straight and at the end of the back straight are still going to be the two best passing opportunities. There are some other places where it is possible to pass, but the main passing is breaking going into Turn One and breaking going into Turn Eight or Nine, at the end of the back straight basically.

How do you explain the level of competitiveness you showed at Mexico, what you're going to hope to continue into the season?

"I think the changes that we made on our team during the off-season, especially in the engineering department, is one of the biggest reasons, probably the biggest reason, why we started the year strong. We've been strong in the off-season too. We had a good off-season. Now in the last couple of weeks, Christian had a great test at Sebring, so probably we will be even better in Long Beach. It's looking like we're going to have a pretty good car.

What do you like about the Long Beach race and track?

"I think it's one of the most challenging street tracks we go to. Maybe together with Surfer's Paradise, which is another long, challenging course. I think the Long Beach track is a big challenge. You have some hard braking areas and fast straightaways. You have to be fast on the straights, but you can't take too much downforce away from the car or you will struggle in the twisty parts. It's a challenge to set up the cars there. It's quite different than other street courses where you can just go, you don't even have to think about it, you just put the maximum level of downforce in the car, and that's it. The Long Beach track has something particular about it that you cannot do this.

What is it like racing in the Long Beach environment you for?

"I think it's fun to go to a place that it's not only a big race, but it's a big event, too. So there is a lot of people there and a lot of things going on - not only the race - but a total event with a concert and other things. Of course, the race for us is what matters, but the atmosphere around the whole event is great. It's just a fun place to be. The races I won in Mexico (2001 and 2002) and in Australia (2001) were huge 'party-like' events and winning them was even more special because of that. A win in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach would be another huge victory!"

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Hank Parker Jr. , Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Alex Zanardi