Texaco/Havoline/KMart Driver da Matta Drove To His First 500-Mile Win In The CART Season-Finale Marlboro 500 and Brought Newman/Haas Back-To-Back Wins Here - 2000 Marlboro 500 Winner Fittipaldi Struggled With Loose Car and Finished 13th - ...
Texaco/Havoline/KMart Driver da Matta Drove To His First 500-Mile Win In The CART Season-Finale Marlboro 500 and Brought Newman/Haas Back-To-Back Wins Here - 2000 Marlboro 500 Winner Fittipaldi Struggled With Loose Car and Finished 13th
- Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta won his third race of the season and fourth overall in today's CART FedEx Championship Series season-finale Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota and was one point and one lead lap away from finishing fourth overall in only his third season in the series but finished fifth. He was mere inches (.007 seconds) ahead of Max Papis heading across the start/finish line prior to a caution flag coming out with five laps to go and ultimately the race ended under caution. With the victory, he collected 20 points and was initially told he tied for the number of laps led with second place finisher Max Papis and therefore earned an additional point to tie with Helio Castroneves and finish fourth in the Championship after a tie-breaker. Later an official document disclosed that he did not get the point for most laps led and ultimately finished fifth. He did however score back-to-back wins for Newman/Haas Racing at The California Speedway with his first 500-mile win as well as earned the highest paycheck for a single race in the series of $1 million in an event that saw a record 73 lead changes among 19 different drivers. After scoring his first three wins on a short oval (Chicago), road course (Mexico) and street course (Australia), da Matta's fourth career win came on a Superspeedway, the final different type of track the series competes on.
In addition to scoring the 61st win for Newman/Haas Racing, he won the 107th race for chassis manufacturer Lola and the 11th overall victory for Toyota in the series, four of which he won for the engine maker. Initially the race was scheduled to run 250 laps but was shortened to 220 due to impending darkness after persistent light drizzle delayed proceedings during the morning. Once underway at approx. 1:25 PM PT, da Matta quickly jumped from his second place starting position into the lead on the first lap although he relinquished the lead before crossing the start finish line. This was the case for much of the race except for the 53 laps he ultimately led. Race strategy for the majority of the field included hovering at the front of the pack as much as possible without leading the event due to the additional fuel used to run at the front rather than utilizing the fuel saving draft while running behind other cars. By the time he made his first pit stop on lap 34 under caution to remove the car of Kenny Brack, he had run in the top-three for the majority of the time and fell no lower than seventh place. He returned to the race in third place and again dropped no lower than the top seven before his second pit stop on lap 77 to remove the stopped car of Dario Franchitti who retired with mechanical failure. After a quick stop, da Matta returned to the race in second place and on into the lead on lap 80 before he relinquished it. Prior to his third stop, da Matta maintained his run in the top-three but momentarily dropped to sixth place before he pitted while in the lead on lap 121. As the field completed their stops, da Matta moved back to the front of the field until his next stop on lap 156 under caution to remove the car of Mauricio Gugelmin, who retired with mechanical failure. He returned to the race in the lead and held it for 12 laps before relinquishing it in order to save fuel as the crew reported to him that he needed to run a more conservative pace in order to win. At 3:48 PM local time and while the field was under caution and more specifically contemplating pit stops based on a 250-lap event, CART Chief Steward Chris Kneifel announced that due to diminishing light from the late start, the race would be shortened to 230 laps. On the following lap, the field pitted during this caution to remove debris on track. Da Matta returned to the race in sixth place but worked his way back up to third place by lap 190. Due to extended caution periods, Kneifel again shortened the race to 220 laps at approx. 4:13 PM after 199 were complete. At this point, the field did not have to conserve fuel and could run "full rich" until the end of the event. Da Matta was finally able to run the pace he was capable of and immediately took over the official lead on lap 203 which he officially held until the end of the race although Max Papis temporarily passed him on lap 213 in turn one although da Matta regained the lead before the start/finish line and was credited for leading the following lap. On lap 215, da Matta held the lead over Papis by .405 seconds and crossed the start/finish line approx. six inches ahead of the Italian before the caution flag immediately came out for the hard crash of rookie Scott Dixon who had been running in fifth place. The debris from the accident littered the track so much that the race had to end under caution. Da Matta earned 20 points from the victory to bring his total to 140 and a fifth place finish in his third season in the series. Overall, he scored championship points in 13 of 20 starts, won three events and finished on the podium five times. Following are his post race comments:
"I knew I would cross the line ahead of him (Max)," said da Matta, who plans to save the $1 million rather than spend it impetuously. "I knew it was close, but I didn't know the yellow was coming that lap. I thought a bigger battle was coming. I thought I had to stay in the lead and that's what I was trying to do. I was pretty confident in the car, and could go flat out to the end. You need to be a little lucky being in the right place at the right time. For everybody, it's a very exciting race. We were racing all together all the time. I've been all over the world, and I think that's the kind of racing that the fans like to see. It's a very, very nice race. I was working on making the mileage and the car was so good it was easy to stay at the front. But the team was screaming at me lap after lap to back off and give up the lead. It's ironic that we were only one lap away from finishing fourth in the Championship now but their priority was to win the race. I'm sure if we had known that at the time, we would have led a few more laps. Tony (Kanaan) got a bike from me after my win in Mexico and now, I not only have to buy him one from Australia but another one today. I'm gonna tell him to open a bike shop. The first one cost around $3,300. I told him he could but a motorcycle or dirt bike for that price. I'm gonna get the next one at Kmart and maybe I can get a discount. To win today is great. We started the season off strong but in the midseason we weren't doing so well. I think we were working too hard and overdoing everything. We were being too precise and we lost some speed. We started to get our momentum back before Vancouver and were in a good position to finish well there and possibly win but the pits were closed during a caution when we were about to run out of fuel. We finally got another win in Australia and today. We learned a lot this season and we can build on that for next year and make another run for the Championship."
- Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi returned to The California Speedway to attempt to score back-to-back victories after winning the 2000 Marlboro 500 but unfortunately the highlight of his day turned out to be leading four laps and setting the second fastest race lap en route to a 13th place finish in the event. He dropped from 14th place in the final standings of the 2001 CART FedEx Championship to 15th after retiring from 9 of the 20 events due to a variety of reasons.
After being very happy with the feel of his race car on Friday, Fittipaldi was able to celebrate his 2000 win again on Saturday morning when he participated in the annual Walk of Fame by putting his footprints in concrete in the area for CART winners. Later on Saturday, he earned the second highest qualifying position for a Toyota-powered driver of fifth place. In the delayed race on Sunday, Fittipaldi went from fifth in to fourth place briefly until he dropped back to run a conservative race until the final stages as he did with his 2000 victory. At one point, he dropped back as far as 22nd place but was in 16th before his first stop on lap 34. He returned to the race in 17th place and took advantage of the caution period to remove Brack's car to top-off his fuel since he was running mid-field. He returned to the race in 23rd place after his stop on lap 42 and was up as high as 12th place by lap 68 before making his third stop on lap 77 during the caution to remove Dario Franchitti's car. After a quick stop, he returned to the race in ninth place and began his charge back to the front. By lap 86 he officially ran as high fourth place before he dropped back but remained in the top-12 until he moved up to second place before making his fourth pit stop on lap 123. He returned to the race in 13th place but worked his way back to the front of the field and into the lead for laps 133-136 before dropping back to a consistent top-14th place run before making his fifth stop on lap 156 with the reminders of the field during a caution to remove the car of Mauricio Gugelmin, who retired with mechanical failure. He returned to the race in 15th place but the team elected to bring him back in the pits near the end of the same caution period in order to top off his fuel tank since he was at the back of the field that was on the lead lap as well as use the time to make minor modifications in an attempt to make his car handle better. He made his sixth stop on lap 162 when the team thought the race would resume the following few laps. Due to an extended clean-up period, Fittipaldi again took advantage of the caution period and pitted on lap 166 to top off his fuel tank before the race was restarted. He remained in the back of the field although briefly holding 14th place as other topped off their fuel tanks as well. He moved from 17th to 18th place until his eighth stop on lap 180 during caution to remove debris from the course. He returned in 18th place but moved into ninth place on laps 191 and 192 before dropping back again before his ninth pit stop during caution to remove the race car of Roberto Moreno who retired with mechanical failure. As the race was shortened the second time, Fittipaldi moved from 16th place up to 14th by lap 213 before he moved past Tora Takagi to take 13th place before the checkered flag came out. Following are his post race comments:
"I'm very disappointed that we didn't finish better," said Fittipaldi. "The car was awesome the first half of the race. I was just hanging back playing it conservative like last year. I got back to the front pretty easy and was just seeing how the car felt in the front to plan for the last stages of the race. After that it's almost like something broke in the car because it went completely loose and I was just hanging on every turn of every lap. We made some changes in the pit stops but nothing would get the car back to how it was at the beginning of the race. The season didn't go that well for us but we are already planning for 2002 to make another run at the Championship."
<pre> Top-Five Results from the Marlboro 500 - After 20 of 20 events DRIVER TEAM STARTED 1. Cristiano da Matta Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola 2 2. Max Papis Miller Lite Ford- Lola 6 3. Alex Tagliani Players Ford-Reynard 1 4. Bruno Junqueira Target Ganassi Toyota-Lola 8 5. Tony Kanaan Hollywood 14 13. Christian Fittipaldi Kmart Toyota-Lola 5
2001 CART FedEx Championship Series Point Standings 1. Gil de Ferran Marlboro Team Penske Honda-Reynard 199 2. Kenny Brack Shell Ford-Lola 163 3. Michael Andretti Motorola Honda-Reynard 147 4. Helio Castroneves Marlboro Team Penske Honda-Reynard 141 5. Cristiano da Matta Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola 140 15. Christian Fittipaldi Kmart Toyota-Lola 70
- Awards Banquet-- The FedEx Championship Series will honor 2001 champion Gil de Ferran and Marlboro Team Penske during its annual awards banquet on Tuesday, November 6, at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev. Also honored will be the top 10 finishers in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series, the Manufacturers and Constructors champions and Rookie of the Year Scott Dixon.
- Fittipaldi to Venture into NASCAR Busch Grand National Race -- While the rest of the CART FedEx Championship Series are taking a few well-deserved days off following the conclusion of the season, Kmart CART driver Fittipaldi will be attempting to qualify for the Busch Grand National stock car race 45 minutes from his home in Homestead, Fla. Fittipaldi will pilot a Mike's Hard Lemonade-sponsored Chevrolet for the event on Saturday, November 10.