CHAMPCAR/CART: Mont?rr?y: Cristiano da Matta looks to repeat

Havoline Driver Da Matta Eager To Start 2002 Cart Fedex Championship - Hopes To Score Back-To-Back Wins In Monterrey As Well As Score His Third Consecutive Victory In Series MONTERREY, Mexico (March 6, 2002) --- "He came. He saw. He got hung up...

Havoline Driver Da Matta Eager To Start 2002 Cart Fedex Championship - Hopes To Score Back-To-Back Wins In Monterrey As Well As Score His Third Consecutive Victory In Series

MONTERREY, Mexico (March 6, 2002) --- "He came. He saw. He got hung up at customs declaring the trophy!" was the headline on the Toyota ad after Newman/Haas Racing driver Cristiano da Matta won the 2001 season-opening race - the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix. Da Matta would be more than happy to get hung up at customs following a victory in his No. 6 Havoline Toyota-Lola in this Sunday's Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix, season-opening round of the 2002 CART FedEx series.

Newman/Haas Racing will begin its 20th season as the most successful team competing in the CART FedEx Championship series this weekend in Monterrey, Mexico. When da Matta drove to victory in the 2001 event here, he brought the team its eighth victory in a season-opener as well as became one of only two drivers ever to win in their debut with the team. Nigel Mansell, the reigning Formula One Champion at the time, scored the other in Australia in 1993. A win by da Matta or his teammate Christian Fittipaldi would bring the team an almost 50 percent average (45 percent) of scoring victories in season-opening races.

"I really want to win in Monterrey because of all the fans and how big the event is," said the 28-year-old da Matta. "Because, of course, the bigger the event you win, the more enjoyable it is for you. Monterrey fans, I am sure, are among the best ones anywhere. They know what is happening on track, what you do as driver, and understand about competition and I am feeling very honored to arrive to a place where people talk about me and enjoy what am I doing. I would also like to win because I enjoy the track. I want to keep my sweet memories from there. Of course it was a very special feeling to win last year because it was the first race with the team. Winning a race is always a great feeling, difficult to explain, but a great feeling."

Da Matta has already proven that he has what it takes to be successful this year. In February at the annual CART Sneak Preview in Monterey, Calif., da Matta was the fastest in each of the four sessions, as he continued the momentum from his back-to-back victories in the final two races of 2001 at Surfers Paradise, Australia and Fontana, Calif. Despite being the Defending Champion of the event, da Matta admits he doesn't feel extra pressure to repeat his victory.

"I don't feel any pressure at all because I am not thinking of one race in particular," said the Brazilian. "I am thinking more about winning the Championship, and I know that whether I win in Mexico or not, it is not going to make a big difference in my result at the end of the season at this point. It is just a start of the Championship so I don't feel a lot of pressure. Having said that, winning is always our goal and I wouldn't mind doing it again in Mexico. Not only did I get a trophy for the win but a fan also gave me a huge bottle of tequila in a box that was about two feet tall. We had a big celebration that night."

While da Matta has had a full season to get acclimated with the Toyota-Lola package as well as the team, he will work with race engineer Guillaume "Rocky" Rocquelin for the first time on a race weekend. Although the Brazilian and Frenchman converse with each other in English, the second language for both, they seem to have perfected their own version of "race speak" and have worked well together since the beginning. Da Matta and the entire Havoline team are excited about the 2002 season.

"The car is good but also the way the engineering department is working now makes everything even better," said da Matta, who led the standings for the first four events last season and scored a total of three races wins and five podium finishes. "Rocky and I work well with each other and we can only get better after more experience on race weekends. With Peter Gibbons moving up to oversee the engineering of both cars, adding Rocky (Rocquelin) and promoting Craig (Hampson) to race engineer for Christian has been a very positive change. My impression is that it is working out even better than anyone had hoped."

In addition to CART mandating the Head and Neck Support Device (HANS) that Fittipaldi actively assisted in the development of, the series has also added anti-intrusion panels on all cars to lessen the chance of side intrusion into the area of the chassis where the driver is seated. Traction control has recently been approved for use and the qualifying procedure has been changed in an effort to make the qualifying more fair for the drivers and more exhilarating for the fans. Da Matta views all of the changes as positive, especially the qualifying procedure after he was capable of winning his first pole position more than once in 2001 but failed to do so.

"I think the most important thing is the fact that all of us will be in one group to qualify," said da Matta who has earned his best start of second place four times in CART. "Friday qualifying is going to make the show more exciting for the fans because in the past we focused on setup and testing changes for the race. But I think that qualifying in one group, not in two groups as last year is more fair and exciting for the fans, and increases competitiveness -which is very high in CART- although I hope not so much because I want to win many races."

On-track action from the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix will be televised on the SPEED Channel Friday-Sunday, March 8-10. Friday's qualifying session will air at 9:00 PM while the all-new CART Friday Night show will air at 10:30. Saturday's qualifying session will air at 8:00 PM while race day programming will begin at 3:30. All times are Eastern.

Newman/Haas Racing, owned by actor/race car driver Paul Newman and racing entrepreneur Carl A. Haas, competes in the CART FedEx Championship Series. The team will begin their 20th season in the series in 2002 as the most successful active competitor with 61 race wins and 63 pole positions. For more information log on to www.newman-haas.com, www.texaco.com/racing or www.cart.com. The 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series 20-race schedule will be broadcast by new television partners, CBS and Fox Cable Networks Group, including Speedvision/Speed Channel.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Christian Fittipaldi , Nigel Mansell , Paul Newman , Peter Gibbons , Cristiano da Matta