Da Matta Wins Again In Mexico Scott Dixon Finishes Sixth
Reigning Honda Indy 300 champion Cristiano da Matta picked up from where he left off in last year's FedEx Championship Series when he won the opening round of the 2002 title chase in Monterrey Mexico today.
Da Matta's win in the Tecate Telmex Grand Prix saw him collect his third consecutive winner's trophy after he won Honda Indy 300 on the streets of the Gold Coast in October and then the $US1 million season finale at the California Speedway in Fontana a week later.
Da Matta started fifth in his Texaco Havoline Toyota and took the lead after the first round of pit stops and did what was needed to win his second race at Monterrey in as many years. He stayed in the contest despite an incident with Shinji Nakano in the early stages, which slightly damaged his right front wing.
Da Matta took the chequered flag ahead of 1999 Honda Indy 300 winner Dario Franchitti and his own Newman-Haas teammate Christian Fittipaldi who is now competing in a car sponsored by major drug company Eli Lilly.
An incident involving Tony Kanaan brought out the yellow flags on lap 78, but da Matta managed to get away from Franchitti and win a three-lap race to the chequered flag by 1.67 seconds.
"The team's strategy to have me pit with an empty tank ahead was perfect," said da Matta. "I couldn't believe the wing was still there after the incident with Shinji. When I saw the car was not too different, I just kept on it.
Mexican Michel Jourdain Jr did a fantastic job on debut for Team Rahal finishing fourth ahead of Canadian Alex Tagliani.
Brisbane-born Kiwi Scott Dixon qualified 14th for the 85-lap race and fought his way through the field to finish a strong sixth.
"The start of the race was very good for us," said Dixon.
"We picked up some positions at turn two on the first lap when some of the cars dove to the inside.
"Then at turn five Brack had an incident and made contact and we picked up some more spots, moving up to eighth position. The car was very consistent throughout the race and we made a good decision when we made an early pit stop to get out of some traffic.
"My crew did a great job on pit stops and we made up plenty of time, which helped us to stay up there in spots. I did have a problem with my brakes a little over half way through the race, so I wasn't able to push as hard as I wanted.
"We'll work on that and be in great shape going into Long Beach."
The race started in spectacular fashion when rookie Townsend Bell made an attempted pass on his former Patrick Racing teammate Jimmy Vasser at turn five on lap one.
He slid into the back of Kenny Brack who then crashed into Vasser taking all three cars out of the race.
"I was going up the inside of turn five trying to make a move on Jimmy Vasser and went on a part of the track where there was little to no grip," said Bell. " I got into Kenny Brack's left rear with my right front as he was turning into the corner. It was a little bit of an optimistic move on my part and the incident was my fault."
Adrian Fernandez delighted the Mexican crowd when he took provisional pole on Friday and then held it because of rain on Saturday he eventually finished 13th in the race, but not before leading 14 laps early in the race.
The next round of the championship will be in Long Beach California on April 12-14.