Newman/Haas Racing Looks to Repeat Previous 1-2 Finish in Cart's Tenneco Automotive Detroit Grand Prix This Weekend With Fittipaldi and Da Matta LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (June 13, 2001) - Christian Fittipaldi's dominating lead of 64 laps until being...
Newman/Haas Racing Looks to Repeat Previous 1-2 Finish in Cart's Tenneco Automotive Detroit Grand Prix This Weekend With Fittipaldi and Da Matta
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (June 13, 2001) - Christian Fittipaldi's dominating lead of 64 laps until being overtaken by then-teammate Michael Andretti in 1996's Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) event in Detroit as the team went on to finish in the top-two podium slots, was a "picture perfect" day for Newman/Haas Racing. The team hopes to accomplish the feat again in this year's Tenneco Automotive Detroit Grand Prix with drivers Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta and is looking to utilize its strong road/street course set-up that brought them a win and second place finish earlier this season.
On the two road/street courses (Mexico, Long Beach) thus far in the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series, da Matta, in the No. 6 Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota, has finished 1st and 2nd respectively. However, Fittipaldi in the No. 11 Kmart Toyota-Lola has not finished as well after driving on a disintegrating part of the track in Mexico and subsequently hitting the wall and being the quickest in the pre-race warm-up for the following race in Long Beach before electrical problems as a result of an installation error forced his retirement. Despite this, Fittipaldi feels confident in the set-up of the Newman/Haas Racing cars, "We have secret set-ups that we won't sell for all the money in the world."
Since their first season of competition in 1983, Newman/Haas Racing has become the second most successful team in the CART series and Detroit has proven to be a city where the team has achieved a great deal of success in only 12 appearances. From 1989-1994, Newman/Haas drivers, Andretti and Nigel Mansell have started from the pole position. (Andretti 1989-1992; Mansell 1993 and 1994) Also, Newman/Haas Racing has won the Detroit race twice with victories in 1990 and 1996 by Andretti, giving them two wins and six poles at the venue. Fittipaldi is confident in the knowledge gained by the team will help both he and da Matta this weekend.
"Basically, the team has the tendency to set up the car well due to prior experiences on a track." said the 30-year-old Brazilian, who will be making his first appearance on the streets of Belle Isle in a car painted to commemorate the return of Michigan-based Kmart's Bluelight Special. "Detroit is a place we have run reasonable well every time that I have raced here and it's going to be the first street course after a series of ovals so there's going to be a lot of changes in our car. We were running in second place last year in the last stage of the race but our day ended when Gil tried to pass. Passing is pretty tough in Detroit so there is an added risk. You have to be 100 percent sure you can pull it off and that wasn't the case last year. It was a big disappointment for the team last year but we hope to turn that around this year and finish on the podium. We are pretty confident about being competitive in Detroit after running well in the street course in Long Beach."
Fittipaldi is gearing up for his fifth start at the Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit with his best performance being the second place finish in 1996. After a disappointing weekend at Milwaukee where he ran as high as fourth before being taken out of the race while trying to pass the lapped car of Nicolas Minassian, Fittipaldi is looking to regain some standings in the points race after a fourth place finish in Nazareth and fifth in Japan.
Coming into the Detroit race, Fittipaldi is 11th in the point standings with 22 which is good enough to keep him in the fast group for qualifying. "There are new qualifying rules for road courses which are going to make things different this year," Fittipaldi said. "It is very important to be in the fast group for qualifying because if you are in the fast group then you are running against the guys who are in the top 10 in the championship and that is who you need to measure yourself against. Also, in the street courses the track changes every five minutes so you have to be in the quick group and you have to try and use the last five or ten minutes of qualifying very well because that's when the track is the quickest. The track is tough to pass on so starting position will be very important."
Da Matta led the CART Championship standings prior to the past two races where he fell victim to the mistakes of others and was taken out of the race on the first lap but has amazingly managed to hang onto third place heading into Round 7 of 21 in Detroit. Starting off the season well on the road course at Mexico with a first place finish and the street course at Long Beach with a second place finish, da Matta is looking forward to the 2.346-mile temporary street course on Belle Isle. "We have been improving on our road course set-up and at Long Beach we proved that our car was strong," da Matta said. "We definitely had the chance to win the race and we were fighting for the win. I think we have to get back to that pace of always finishing in the top three on the street courses and hopefully get our first win together on a street course this weekend."
Sunday will mark only the third start at Detroit in a Champ car for da Matta. Even though in 1998 he did finish second at Detroit en route to a Dayton Indy Lights Championship, Detroit has not been the kindest of tracks for da Matta as he finished 19th in 1999 due to contact and 23rd in 2000 because of mechanical problems. However, da Matta is not phased by his previous misfortunes at the Raceway on Belle Isle. "Detroit is a track I enjoy a lot," da Matta said. "It is one of the most challenging street courses for me because usually the street courses only have slow turns, but this one has a couple of fast turns and a couple of blind turns too, so its challenging for the driver. It is what a driver expects from a racetrack."
He also noted, "Detroit is a fun race to race. It's tough to pass, it's usually a low mileage race, and there's a lot of skill involved in it. It's tough to race in such tight parameters and it's very easy to get anxious behind people and make a mistake by trying to be too aggressive. It's a place where you've got to have a lot of self-control and not let your emotions take over. After not even getting to the second lap in the previous two races, I hope everyone is going to have a lot of self-control. We need to not only finish this race. It would be great to win it and make some progress with the real goal - winning the Championship."
Newman/Haas Racing is hoping that this weekend's "Bluelight Special" is a 1-2 finish for the team in the city where the American retail icon calls home. The 2001 season marks the 14th for Kmart as a sponsor of the team, which is in its 19th season. Additionally, Kmart is located only one-half of a mile from CART's headquarters in nearby Troy, Mich.
Qualifying for the Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit will air 5:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, while ABC-TV's live race broadcast begins 2 p.m. ET. Twenty of 21 FedEx Championship Series events are being televised live on ABC-TV or ESPN, and 18 are being televised live on Eurosport, a European network that reaches 250 million viewers in 54 countries. Sunday's race will also air on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com.