MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 11, 2001) --- The diverse challenges of the CART FedEx Series include finding success on not one but four different types of tracks from the twisty road courses, tight street courses, short ovals and faster SuperSpeedways.
MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 11, 2001) --- The diverse challenges of the CART FedEx Series include finding success on not one but four different types of tracks from the twisty road courses, tight street courses, short ovals and faster SuperSpeedways. Many teams find greater success on a specific type of course but Newman/Haas Racing hopes to also expand those challenges to success in races held in cities named Monterey (or Monterrey).
After a victory in the season-opening event in Monterrey, Mexico, Newman/Haas Racing drivers Cristiano da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi will be hoping to add another "Monterey" win to the 2001 list of accomplishments at this weekend's Honda Grand Prix of Monterey, featuring the Shell 300 in Monterey, Calif. Da Matta, driver of the No. 6 Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola, is quick to point out the differences and hopefully, similarities, of the course where he won in his debut with the team and the one he will compete on this weekend.
"I think the only similarity between the road course in Monterrey, Mexico and the road course in Monterey, Calif. is the name of the city and hopefully the end result!" said da Matta, who will have cycled in the San Francisco area for three days prior to travelling south to Monterey for the event. "The track in Mexico is flat. There are virtually no hills but the one in California is all uphill and downhill. I don't think there is even one flat part of the track. There are a few bumps too and the one in Mexico was pretty smooth. I'm looking forward to the weekend. Some fans gave me a big box with tequila in it after I won. I bet that would be wine in this Monterey and that would be okay too."
In his first ever event at Laguna Seca Raceway he won the 1997 Indy Lights race but after two attempts at a return to Winner's Circle at Laguna Seca in a Champ car, he is hoping his first with Newman/Haas Racing here will bring him his sixth podium in CART and fourth of the season. After a very successful pre-season test where he unofficially set some of the fastest lap times, he is looking forward to returning to the track he enjoys.
"We had a good test at Laguna Seca in the off season so we hope that will carry over," said da Matta. "I think the Penske's will be tough but I'm going there pretty confident and I think we might have something for them. My favorite part of the course if the quick left and right-handers after the corkscrew going downhill. That part is probably the most exciting for me because it is fast and you are pulling a lot of G's (G-forces). It's like being on a roller coaster. When we get there it will have been almost one year from the time we have driven there. I always come back to Laguna Seca and think "Wow, I forgot how much fun this place is."
On the strength of his Monterrey, Mexico win and subsequent second place finish on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., da Matta led the Championship standings through the first four events, but a variety of circumstances have now placed da Matta sixth overall and only 63 points out of first place with a maximum of 66 points remaining in the Championship. He would view a top-five finish in the championship a huge success given it is his first season with the team.
Raced on the 2.238-mile, permanent road course, both Newman/Haas Racing drivers hope to capitalize on what appears to be the type of track the team has run strong on this season. Fittipaldi, driver of the No. 11 Kmart Toyota-Lola looks to score his first win of the season and third in CART in the final three races this season as well as build a foundation for his run at the 2002 Championship.
Many view race car drivers as super humans who are born with quick reflexes and are fearless but like all mere mortals they are susceptible to illness. Unable to call in sick like some professions allow, Fittipaldi strapped himself into his 850+ horsepower car and took on the challenging road course.
"You have to do what you have to do," said Fittipaldi who won a triathlon earlier this season as an addition to his training regime. "If you work in a bank and wake up sick one morning but have something important to do, you still have to go in. That's what happens when you have responsibilities. Obviously it's not nice to run in a race car like that but it's your job. You have to be at the track and psyche yourself up to do as good of a job as possible. Laguna Seca is a pretty physically demanding track especially after the corkscrew. The two left handers and the quick right hander down the hill are quite demanding on us but that's what separates the men from the boys."
In addition to a variety of types of courses, another challenge of the CART series is the level of competition where there is typically one second between the fastest lap time and tenth place. Because of this, it is more challenging to "get a run" on the competition and make the all mighty pass for one mere position. Fittipaldi, who has always run in the top-10 at this track, was in fifth place in the event in 2000 but pit strategy dropped him to a 10th place finish.
"It is pretty important to have a good pit strategy at Laguna Seca because although it is a road course, it is still pretty challenging to pass and last year, we definitely had the wrong pit strategy," said Fittipaldi, whose top finish this season of third place came at the road course in Portland, Ore. "The cars run so close in the race so you need to have a car that is a lot quicker than everyone else's and the series is so competitive that it doesn't happen that often. I think that race weekend will be more wide-open than in past years because we are used to testing before the Vancouver race or mid-season and no one has tested here since the winter because of the in-season testing ban. But, I still think the Penske's will be the cars to beat."
Qualifying for the Shell 300 will air 2 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2, while ESPN's live race broadcast of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey, round 19 of 21, begins 4 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 - which will provide audio to nearly one million American servicemen and women worldwide through the American Forces Radio Network - and on CART's official website, which will also carry Friday's qualifying, at www.cart.com .
Following the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey, the series will make its final international trip of the season when they travel to Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia for the Honda Indy 300 on October 28. The 2001 season-finale Marlboro 500 will take place on November 4 in Fontana, Calif. Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi is the defending winner.