da Matta Takes Third Straight Cart Fedex Championship Series Race Victory In Season-Opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix MONTERREY, Mexico (March 10, 2002) - Before an estimated crowd of 95,000 raucous Mexican race fans, Newman/Haas Racing...
da Matta Takes Third Straight Cart Fedex Championship Series Race Victory In Season-Opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix
MONTERREY, Mexico (March 10, 2002) - Before an estimated crowd of 95,000 raucous Mexican race fans, Newman/Haas Racing pilot Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) earned his third consecutive Champ Car victory and his fifth career victory in the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix.
In an event that saw six lead changes among six different drivers, da Matta led twice for a race-high 52 laps and beat Team KOOL Green driver Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) to the stripe by 1.679 seconds to successfully defend his title. He has now won both of the events staged here, having captured the inaugural event in 2001. Da Matta's Newman/Haas Racing teammate Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Eli Lilly and Company Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) finished third.
The event began with Mexican hero Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) leading from the pole position. Fernandez led for the first 14 circuits before Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) barged past in Turn 8 on Lap 15. The French Canadian would hold the lead until his first pit stop on Lap 27 but problems during the stop removed him from contention for the victory. Tagliani would go on to finish fifth.
As Tagliani and the top six drivers made their first of three mandatory pit stops, his Player's/Forsythe Racing teammate Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) claimed the point. Carpentier made his first pit stop on the fourth lap, and CART rules mandated that each competitor must make a pit stop and change four tires within a 27-lap window, which meant that Carpentier was due back on pit lane again on Lap 31.
However, Carpentier continued past the entrance to pit lane on the 31st lap and was subsequently black-flagged and given a drive-through penalty. With that, Carpentier's chances for the victory were effectively lost and he came home with a seventh place finish.
When the penalty was assessed on Carpentier, da Matta made his first appearance at the head of the field and he quickly pulled out to a sizable lead. On Lap 38, he made contact with the rear of the car driven by Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone), but was fortunate to escape with superficial damage. Da Matta maintained his position in the lead until he made his second pit stop of the afternoon on Lap 50.
After Franchitti and Max Papis (#22 ROCKWELL FIRST POINT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) lead the race for one lap each, da Matta reclaimed the lead once again on Lap 53. From that point on, da Matta clearly had the fastest car on the circuit and he built up enough of an advantage over second-place Franchitti and the others that he was able to retain the lead following his final stop on Lap 77.
As da Matta exited the pits, Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) spun at the entrance of Turn 1 and made contact with Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/DENSO Special Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone). Takagi managed to continue despite the contact, but Kanaan's car was damaged and stopped on-course without power, bringing out the full-course caution flag.
The caution flag bunched up the field for a four-lap dash to the finish, but da Matta was never challenged and sped off to victory. Da Matta closed out the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series season with victories in the penultimate round in Surfers Paradise, Australia and the season finale at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., making today's victory his third in a row.
In the process, da Matta became the first driver to win three consecutive Champ Car races since 1999. CART FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya won three straight events at Mid-Ohio, Chicago, and Vancouver en route to the '99 title.
Da Matta also opened the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series with a victory in Monterrey, making him the first driver to win consecutive season-openers since Michael Andretti won the 1997 and '98 openers at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Ironically, Andretti's victories also came in the cockpit of the #6 Newman/Haas machine.
Franchitti's second place run marked the fourth consecutive season-opening podium result for Team KOOL Green. Franchitti also finished third in 1999 at Homestead, while his teammate Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) finished third in Monterrey last season and also finished third in the 2000 opener at Homestead.
Fittipaldi's third place effort represented the first time that Newman/Haas Racing had two cars on the podium since Fittipaldi won his first Champ Car race at Road America in 1999. Andretti finished second to Fittipaldi on that day.
Mexican driver Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) registered a popular fourth-place result in his maiden start with Team Rahal, while Tagliani rounded out the top five. The race was slowed by full-course caution flags two times for a total of eight laps.
Next up for the CART FedEx Championship Series is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the weekend of April 12-14. Extensive television coverage will be provided throughout the weekend on SPEED Channel, and the live race broadcast is scheduled to air on the FOX television network at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Quotes from the day's top three finishers follow below:
* Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I was talking to Michel (Jourdain Jr.) and I was asking him if there's someplace to rent in Monterrey. Every time I come here, it's just so great. It was one of those weekends where we didn't have to work very hard to go fast. It is great for the team, and I have more sweet memories from this place. I can't wait to come back. With the new regulations, the race was a lot more fun. It's difficult to push 100 percent for the whole race. The race was ten times more fun, ten times more challenging, and much more up to the driver than before. I had one mistake with (Shinji) Nakano. I was trying to lap Nakano and (Bruno) Junqueira, and I thought Nakano saw me, but he didn't and I hit him. I was really lucky that I didn't do any big damage. It was a little too exciting for me! I don't want to go through that again."
* Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone): "To race in front of such enthusiastic fans is really, really special. I didn't want to take Adrian (Fernandez) out on the first corner, because I feared that I wouldn't get out of the country! My only real mistake of the day was at the first pit stop, when I lost a few positions. That was fun for us to give it absolutely the maximum for the whole race. I have to say that it's great for everyone at Team KOOL Green and it's a great start to the season. Honda's worked really hard and given us a great engine, and Reynard gave us a great car, too. The Bridgestone tires were also great, and I know we were faster at the end of runs than at the beginning. It's a pretty good start to the season. Hopefully, we'll be up here a lot this year."
* Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Eli Lilly and Company Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "As usual, it was a great weekend here. These Mexican fans really like motor racing. As far as the race was concerned, I was a little bit worried that we'd be off the pace in the warmup this morning, but when we started the race, I was very confident. But for some reason, on the second and third stints, the car was a little bit inconsistent. It would have been interesting if I would have gotten out of the pits ahead of Dario, because I think he was a little bit faster than me. After the yellow, Dario was a real gentleman, and he gave me just enough room to try. I passed him, but I went off onto the dirt, and that was it. Dario was second, and I was third, but I'm really happy to have the points. It was pure racing out there, and it hasn't been that way in a long time. There are still 19 races in front of us, and it's good to have 14 points in the bag. This championship is all about points."
* The race day attendance estimate of 95,000 fans brings the three-day estimated total to 236,000 fans. For the second consecutive season, all of the grandstand seats in Fundidora Park were sold out for the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix.
* Sigma Autosport driver Max Papis (#22 ROCKWELL FIRST POINT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) made his 100th career Champ Car start in the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix. After starting 18th, Papis worked his way into the top ten by Lap 19 where he would remain for the duration of the event. Through pit stops, Papis managed to lead Lap 52 before ducking onto pit lane for service on Lap 53. He came home with a ninth place finish in his Sigma debut.
* Just after the drop of the green, a full-course caution came out on Lap 1 for a multi-car incident involving rookie Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone), Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone), an Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone). The cars of Brack and Bell were terminally damaged in the incident, while Vasser managed to limp away from the incident only to make contact a few seconds later with Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone). The contact with Tracy brought Vasser's day to an end. Despite a first-lap spin prior to the contact with Vasser, Tracy managed to continue and went on to an eighth place finish. Junqueira was also able to continue and emerged with an 11th place result.