CHAMPCAR/CART: Monterey: Newman/Haas preview

NHR hopes to maintian dominance on road courses at the Bridgestone GP. Newman/Haas Racing Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey - Monterey, California Round 5 of 20 in the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Driver Stats and Quotes: CRISTIANO DA...

NHR hopes to maintian dominance on road courses at the Bridgestone GP.

Newman/Haas Racing
Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey - Monterey, California
Round 5 of 20 in the 2002 CART FedEx Championship

Driver Stats and Quotes:

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

* ONLY 13 POINTS OUT OF FIRST IN 2002 CHAMPIONSHIP: 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 in Mexico. Looked set to match a CART record fourth consecutive victory at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach after he built a seven second lead that totaled 30 laps at the front before he was taken out of contention when hit departing his second of three pit stops and ultimately finished eighth after starting second. To date, da Matta has led a series-high 82 laps on road courses, almost double second-place Michael Andretti. 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 dropped him to an 11th place finish. Ran in front of eventual third place finisher Max Papis.

* AT LAGUNA SECA: Will be his fourth Champ car race here. Set the quickest lap times in each of the four practice sessions at the annual pre-season CART Sneak Preview. Best start here was seventh place in 2001 and best finish was 15th in 2000. Ran as high as fifth in the 2001 race before making contact with Dario Franchitti while attempting a pass forcing him to retire in 20th place. Won the 1997 Indy Lights series race here.

* CONSECUTIVE WINS - 3: 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.

* 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).

* 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:

* ONLY 15 POINTS OUT OF FIRST IN 2002 CHAMPIONSHIP: Has two top-4 finishes in four races to date. 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.

* AT LAGUNA SECA: Will be his seventh race here. Ran well at Sneak Preview here in February and set the fifth fastest time despite limited track time due to mechanical problems. His best start is 8th place (2000 & 1996) and has four top-10 finishes, the best of which is 9th place (2001, 1998). Last year, the timing of the yellow flags disrupted his race. After running as high as fifth place he finished 9th.

* 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.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT:

CRISTIANO DA MATTA, #6 Chevron Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone: "We had a very good -- probably too good -- Sneak Preview at Laguna Seca so we are pretty optimistic about the Bridgestone Grand Prix this weekend. In fact, for all of the road courses we are pretty optimistic because we were pretty strong in the off-season as well as after winning the "other" Monterrey (Mexico) race. Of course we have very high expectations for the Bridgestone Grand Prix because we were a half-second quicker than anyone at Laguna Seca so we have lots of reasons to be optimistic. Of course everyone has made improvements since then and have probably closed the gap but hopefully we will still be at the head of the pack for race weekend. We tested at Laguna Seca in February and are going back in June when the temperatures should be higher but it was pretty warm in February so we expect to find similar conditions and hopefully similar competitiveness. The Lola chassis has made huge progress over the winter and has not only caught up with the Reynard (chassis) but is probably a little bit ahead. That is the biggest thing we have gained compared to last year at Laguna Seca. Last year I had a racing incident with Dario that was totally my fault. I tried to pass him going into Turn 2 and went a little wide, hit his tire and that put me out of the race. It was a shame because of all of the Lola's we were doing the best and in a good position to score some strong points which would have made a big difference at the end of the Championship as we finished only one point behind fourth place so it cost us a lot at the end but hopefully I've learned a lesson. Laguna has always been a hard race because of the length -- 200 miles. There are usually two pit stops but you're tight on fuel in two of the three stints so you would basically hold back and save fuel until the end of the race so you could go for it. This year we will be able to go from green flag to checkered driving as fast as we can and the race is going to be harder than ever. The race here demands a lot from the driver both physically and mentally. The level of concentration is huge because there are so many corners and the straight-aways are short. The flat-out pace will make the race more challenging and because of that there might be more drivers making mistakes. I learned my lesson last year and plan to have a trouble-free race this year."

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, #11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone: "I am really looking forward to the Bridgestone Grand Prix. The entire team has been looking forward to the race after we ran well at Sneak Preview and again in Mexico and Long Beach. We had a lot of new car teething problems on my car at Sneak Preview so we only ran half of the time but we were encouraged after setting the fifth fastest time and with Cristiano being fastest in every session. I think some teams have probably closed the gap on us that we had at Sneak Preview but it would be great if they haven't. Road courses seem to be the best kind of track for our team this year so I'm hoping to have an opportunity to put Lilly back on the podium as well as score some good points toward the Championship. Usually when we race at Laguna Seca, the Championship is winding down and there are a small group of guys that are contenders. Now the points are tight and we have 16 races ahead of us and it's exciting. It's anyone's game and it is a perfect opportunity for us to be able to build some momentum to carry us through the summer."

If CART's annual Sneak Preview held at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca this past February is any indication of this coming weekend's race results at the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey, then Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) is podium bound. After improved performance on the past two short oval races in Milwaukee and Japan, NHR is ready to flex its road course muscle as they head into Round 5 of the 20 race CART FedEx Championship Series.

Team driver Cristiano da Matta, in the No. 6 Chevron Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone, recorded the fastest lap times in each of the four sessions at the track during CART's annual Sneak Preview and is looking forward to returning to the track. "We had a very good -- probably too good -- Sneak Preview at Laguna Seca so we are pretty optimistic about the Bridgestone Grand Prix this weekend," da Matta said. "In fact, for all of the road courses we are pretty optimistic because we were pretty strong in the off-season as well as after winning the "other" Monterrey (Mexico) race."

Teammate Christian Fittipaldi, driving the No. 11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone experienced some mechanical difficulties during the pre-season event that limited him to fifth fastest, but both Fittipaldi and his engineers admitted that the potential was there. "I am really looking forward to the Bridgestone Grand Prix," said Fittipaldi. "The entire team has been looking forward to the race after we ran well at Sneak Preview and again in Mexico and Long Beach. We had a lot of new car teething problems on my car at Sneak Preview so we only ran half of the time but we were encouraged after setting the fifth fastest time and with Cristiano being fastest in every session. I think some teams have probably closed the gap on us that we had at Sneak Preview but it would be great if they haven't."

The two previous short oval events at the Twin Ring Motegi and Milwaukee Mile proved to be a challenge for NHR but 1000+ miles of testing in May proved that the most successful team competing in the 2002 CART championship will do everything in their power to be a contender for their fourth Championship. Fittipaldi rebounded from an 11th place finish in Japan to a fourth in Milwaukee while da Matta retired with mechanical failure in Japan and ran in sixth place in Milwaukee before a fuel pressure problem dropped him to an 11th place finish. Fittipaldi hopes the momentum from his fourth place finish will propel NHR to an even stronger finish at Laguna Seca.

"With the amount of progress we have made with our short oval car since Japan, finishing fourth was like a win for us," Fittipaldi said. "This finish is good for everyone on the team. I'm really looking forward to the next two races in Laguna Seca and Portland because we have been strong on road courses."

"Strong on road courses" is no understatement by Fittipaldi, as NHR is looking to pull off the Monterey/Monterrey double by adding a victory in California to their season-opening win in Mexico. The team anticipates being competitive in Laguna Seca after da Matta ran one half a second faster than the rest of the field during Sneak Preview. This season alone, da Matta, Fittipaldi, and the NHR crew has proved its dominance on road and street courses. In addition to da Matta's season-opening win, teammate Fittipaldi also finished on the podium at Mexico, in third place. Da Matta looked set to match a CART record of four consecutive wins in Long Beach after building a seven second lead on the field heading into his second of three pit stops. Unfortunately his bid ended abruptly when he pulled out of his pit box and was hit by another car that was coming in for their stop although he was able to salvage an eighth place finish after dropping back to 16th place and maintain the Championship lead.

However, strength on road and street courses is nothing new to NHR as they have scored 40 of their team total 62 wins on these types of tracks over the past 19 seasons. In fact, the team has two wins (Michael Andretti; 1992, 1991) and five poles (Mi. Andretti; 1992, 1991; Mario Andretti; 1987, 1986, and 1984) at Laguna Seca. With a high-powered Toyota engine, efficiently designed Lola chassis, good air and track temperatures, and experience, da Matta is optimistic that NHR can continue its tradition of road course success.

"We tested at Laguna Seca in February and are going back in June when the temperatures should be higher but it was pretty warm in February so we expect to find similar conditions and hopefully similar competitiveness," said the Brazilian. "The Lola chassis has made huge progress over the winter and has not only caught up with the Reynard (chassis) but is probably a little bit ahead. That is the biggest thing we have gained compared to last year at Laguna Seca. Last year I had a racing incident with Dario (Franchitti) that was totally my fault. I tried to pass him going into Turn 2 and went a little wide, hit his tire and that put me out of the race. It was a shame because of all of the Lola's we were doing the best and in a good position to score some strong points which would have made a big difference at the end of the Championship as we finished only one point behind fourth place. It cost us a lot at the end but hopefully I've learned a lesson."

What use to be a race that occurred at the end of the season and served as a season ending points battle, the 2.238-mile road course at Laguna Seca now serves as the beginning of the championship points fight. In 1991, NHR driver Michael Andretti clinched the points title at the final race at Laguna Seca by winning from the pole.

Championship points are on the top of the minds of both da Matta and Fittipaldi as they gear up for the weekend. Da Matta, who is currently in fifth, just fifteen points behind series points leader Michel Jourdain Jr., said, "We are heading to a couple of tracks (Laguna Seca and Portland) where we are strong so we can hopefully make up some ground there."

This year's race will mark da Matta's fourth Champ car start at Laguna Seca, with a best finish of only 15th in 2000 although he was in fifth place in the race last year before contact with Franchitti ended his race. However, da Matta did win an Indy Lights race at the road course in 1997. Despite, a handful of disappointing finishes at Laguna Seca, da Matta is confident that his experience and knowledge of the race will work to his advantage.

"Laguna has always been a hard race because of the length -- 200 miles," da Matta said. "There are usually two pit stops but you're tight on fuel in two of the three stints so you would basically hold back and save fuel until the end of the race so you could go for it. This year we will be able to go from green flag to checkered driving as fast as we can and the race is going to be harder than ever. The race here demands a lot from the driver both physically and mentally. The level of concentration is huge because there are so many corners and the straight-aways are short. The flat-out pace will make the race more challenging and because of that there might be more drivers making mistakes. I learned my lesson last year and plan to have a trouble-free race this year."

With a career best finish of 9th at Laguna Seca in both 1998 and 2001, Fittipaldi hopes the robust NHR road course set up will play to his favor this year. Currently only 15 points out of first place with a maximum of 23 points available this weekend, he is looking forward to surpassing his best finish of the season of third in Mexico. He noted, "Road courses seem to be the best kind of track for our team this year so I'm hoping to have an opportunity to put Lilly back on the podium as well as score some good points toward the Championship. Usually when we race at Laguna Seca, the Championship is winding down and there are a small group of guys that are contenders. Now the points are tight and we have 16 races ahead of us and it's exciting. It's anyone's game and it is a perfect opportunity for us to be able to build some momentum to carry us through the summer."

SPEED Channel will air live coverage of the entire weekend of activities beginning with Friday's afternoon practice session at 5:00 p.m. ET while CART Friday Night will air at 10:30 p.m. ET on June 7. Coverage of Saturday's qualifying session will air beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET while the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey is set to air at 4:30 p.m., ET on Sunday, June 9.

Newman/Haas Racing, owned by actor/race car driver Paul Newman and racing entrepreneur Carl A. Haas, is in the midst of its 20th season in 2002 and is the most successful active competitor with 62 race wins and 63 pole positions in the CART FedEx Championship series. 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, Fox and Fox Networks Group, including Speed Channel.

-NHR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Hank Parker Jr. , Michael Andretti , Max Papis , Christian Fittipaldi , Dario Franchitti , Paul Newman , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain