CHAMPCAR/CART: Newman/Haas Racing Portland preview

Fittipaldi and da Matta "Wouldn't Sell Portland Set-up for All the $ Newman/Haas Racing Looks for Sixth Win at Team Sponsor/Race Promoter Texaco'S 200 Mile Affair after History of Strong Runs in the Freightliner/ G.I. Joe's Portland GP Presented...

Fittipaldi and da Matta "Wouldn't Sell Portland Set-up for All the $

Newman/Haas Racing Looks for Sixth Win at Team Sponsor/Race Promoter Texaco'S 200 Mile Affair after History of Strong Runs in the Freightliner/ G.I. Joe's Portland GP Presented by Texaco

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (June 20, 2001) - "Close" just isn't enough for Newman/Haas Racing as they take to the Portland International Raceway for the Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200, Presented by team sponsor, Texaco. Portland's Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx Championship Series event has proven to be a good one for Newman/Haas Racing as they have chalked up five wins and two poles at the track. (wins: Ma. Andretti - 1985, 1986; Mi. Andretti - 1990, 1991, 1992; poles: Ma. Andretti - 1984; Mansell - 1993). However, those victories all came with former drivers like Mario and Michael Andretti as well as Nigel Mansell, while the current drivers, Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta have four top five finishes between them at the course, but will both strive to finish in the number one spot for the first time this weekend.

There's no doubt that the Newman/Haas team and drivers feel confident at 1.969-mile permanent road course, "Portland is a place where I really like racing and we always run very well there," Fittipaldi said. "I think, apart from one season I ran in Portland, I qualified well and have always been pretty competitive in the race."

Running good in Portland is something that Fittipaldi definitely does. Behind the wheel of the No. 11 Kmart Toyota-Lola, Fittipaldi has finished in third twice, one in 1996 and the other just last year. His next best finish at Portland was fourth in 1997 in his first race after coming back from a broken right tibia and fibula as well as a broke left foot suffered in the second event of the season in Australia, being hit on the second race lap of the event. Despite having to be lifted in and out of the car due to his inability to walk, Fittipaldi fought through excruciating pain to run as high as second before a drying track favored those farther back on the track who gambled and made a late race tire change to slicks and Fittipaldi dropped from second to fourth on the last lap.

Considered to be one of the more difficult courses on the 21-race circuit, Fittipaldi is ready for the challenge of the Portland International Speedway. He said, "I enjoy the track. It's very nice and it's very physical. In my opinion, it's one of the hardest tracks of the year to drive because the drivers are used to left-hand corners and there you have a very big, long right-hander and your having to work the opposite side of your neck as opposed to when your driving on the tracks where you driving left most of the time. I would put Portland and Mid-Ohio as the two toughest tracks, physically, of the year."

Changing to Toyota power this year, Newman/Haas was placed on a learning curve since the end of the 2000 season. However, the Toyota engine proved to be a wise choice, especially on road/street courses as da Matta finished first and second, respectively, at the first two races of the year at Monterrey, Mexico, and Long Beach, California. "We have secret set-ups that we wouldn't sell for all the money in the world," Fittipaldi said. "There are two or three corners in Portland that maybe we have a special little trick for and because of that we have a little edge on all the other cars."

Da Matta, who is no stranger to Toyota engines after running them the past two seasons with PPI Motorsports, has earned a top five finish at Portland in only two Champ car starts there. He ran as high as second place last season before a fuel usage strategy proved costly and he dropped to a fifth place finish due to making a last minute pit for fuel. In his rookie season, he finished 11th place finish in1999.

Now that da Matta is in the No. 6 Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola knows he can perform well in Portland. "Portland was a tough race for me," said da Matta. "I started ninth, went to sixth on the start, and worked my way up to fourth and then third and gained a few positions during pit stops. Our finish was the result of the wrong pit strategy. They let me use more fuel than I should have been using. Maybe I should not have been running in second. Instead, maybe I should have stayed in third or fourth then finished third or fourth, but we had the wrong strategy. I wasn't very happy with the race itself, but I was happy with my performance."

With two podium finishes on road/street course this season, da Matta is looking to apply his previous experiences as well as the developments the team has devised since the Monterrey race. "The tracks in Monterrey and Portland are very different," da Matta said. "Monterrey was very smooth and there was not a lot of grip whereas Portland was a little bumpier in a few places, but it has a lot of grip. So the loads in the wheels and downforce on long straights will be very different which will be interesting."

Da Matta also said, "Since the first race we have really developed a few things. Not just in one or two things, but many things have developed since then. We also learned a lot of things at Long Beach that we can carry over and try in Portland and I have confidence that they are going to work."

Like his teammate, da Matta is also looking forward to the unique and challenging characteristics Portland exudes. "I like the high speed chicane a lot and that's probably one of the most fun turns for the whole series," da Matta stated. "The whole track is very nice. It's a proper road course. You can really explore the maximum edge of our cars. It's a good feeling to drive at that track because the limit of the cars is further away. Not like a street course where the limit is closer because the speeds are slower. The limit is further away and you have to work harder and I like that challenge."

Finally breaking the 40-point mark in the CART FedEx Championship points race, after holding it for several weeks, was greatly welcomed by da Matta as he reached 46 points after last weeks race in Detroit. After a seventh place finish in Detroit, da Matta has moved within 28 points of the leader, Kenny Brack with 74 total points. Twenty-two points are the maximum available per race weekend.

Racing a Champ car is not the only highlight of the weekend for Fittipaldi as he is set to be honored by the Portland area Boy Scouts. Part of the official Rose Festival of Portland, Fittipaldi will attend the 12th annual Motorsports Breakfast. At the breakfast, Fittipaldi is to be awarded the honor of "Motorsportsman of the Year" by the Cascade Pacific Council and Boy Scouts of America, an award previously won by such racing "greats" as Mario Andretti, Roger Penske, Bobby Rahal, and Tony George. (See separate release for details.)

Qualifying for the Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200 Presented by Texaco will air 7 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, while ESPN's live race broadcast 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 and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com .

-NHR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Kenny Brack , Nigel Mansell , Tony George , Roger Penske , Cristiano da Matta