CHAMPCAR/CART: Newman/Haas Racing Road America preview

Newman/Haas Racing is Confident Heading to Road America, Site of Both The Team's First Victory as Well as The First Cart Victory For Christian Fittipaldi LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (August 15, 2001) --- The Newman/Haas Racing team, especially Kmart...

Newman/Haas Racing is Confident Heading to Road America, Site of Both The Team's First Victory as Well as The First Cart Victory For Christian Fittipaldi

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (August 15, 2001) --- The Newman/Haas Racing team, especially Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi, are looking forward to returning to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. for the Motorola 220, the next round of the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx series this weekend. Road America happens to not only be the site of Fittipaldi first CART victory but was also the location of the first win for Newman/Haas Racing, CART's second most successful team, in their first season of competition in 1983.

Currently, going for his third CART victory, 1999 marked the year Fittipaldi scored his first win in his fourth season in the series after coming close many times before. His second victory came at Fontana in last year's season finale, The Marlboro 500. Newman/Haas Racing was able to score their first victory in their inaugural season as Mario Andretti took the checkered flag in only the sixth Champ car race for the team. Since then, the team has chalked up 59 victories in 19 seasons and they are looking to grab win number 60 at the same venue they picked up their first.

Of their 59 victories, the team has scored seven wins at Road America, as well as five poles and 14 podium finishes. Hoping to add to those statistics this weekend, Fittipaldi, who is 50 points back from first place in the CART FedEx point standings, is looking forward to returning to the track where he has yet to run lower than fourth place in his six events here to date. With 22 points available in a race weekend, and only eight races left in the CART FedEx Series, Fittipaldi, in the No. 11 Kmart Toyota-Lola, knows the importance of staying focused all season long.

"I think that at any part of the season you really have to be up there in contention and try to go for it," Fittipaldi said. "It's not because your running four road courses that you're giving a lot stronger effort or that your going to be more motivated to come to these places. I think you really have to be prepared in advance in any part of the season and that's definitely what we're trying to do. There is still half of the season ahead of us and there is still a lot of championship to go and racing yet to come."

Despite considering the CART events in Milwaukee and Chicago 'home races' due to their proximity to the Lincolnshire, Ill. base for the team, Fittipaldi feels Road America is a home race as well and hopes for continued success there. Road America also has a familiar feel to it for team co-owner Carl Haas, as he serves on the Board of Directors for the track and is a stockholder.

"Elkhart Lake has always been very good to me," Fittipaldi said. "I have always run well there and last year I was running second and had to stop because of a fire (caused by an exhaust failure). It's very good to go back to Road America. The team is just down the road from Elkhart Lake. We have a lot of people come to the race and I remember in '99 when I won the race and Michael finished second, it was one of those dream weekends for the team. We had qualified the cars in the top four and we finished the race first and second. A lot of sponsors were there, a lot of friends were there and it couldn't have been better."

Fittipaldi has had some very memorable moments over his past six starts at Road America. Prior to his early exit in last year's race, and a win in 1999, Fittipaldi's first start at the course came in 1995 with Walker Racing. Running third that year, he finished eighth after a missed pit stop due to the wrong strategy under a caution period. In his first Road America start with Newman/Haas Racing, Fittipaldi was running in second place in 1996 until his engine blew just a few laps from the end of the race.

In 1997, Fittipaldi finished fourth despite intermittent electrical problems that limited his engine's power by 40 percent. In fact, Fittipaldi charged all the way from the 18th position while post-race, downloaded information from his car showed that the valve opened a total of 1,888 times, when the average for a race at Road America should have been between 20 to 50 times! Despite experiencing a neck problem that wouldn't even allow him to turn his head prior to the race in 1998, Fittipaldi still started and was able to finish third.

In order to continue his success at Road America, Fittipaldi understands how difficult and crucial qualifying will be on the 4.048-mile road course - the longest track of the season. Fittipaldi recalled, "Road America is a lot like (the track in) Spa, Belgium where I ran in Formula One and 3000. It reminds me of Spa a lot and I really enjoyed that place. Four miles is a very long lap, especially in qualifying. It's unbelievably difficult for you to put a whole quick lap together because there are so many turns and so many braking areas that you always have a tendency to over drive one corner or loose a couple of tenths of a second somewhere. When it comes down to qualifying, I think it's the most important thing that we face at Elkhart Lake. Racing there, in my opinion, is a lot calmer than qualifying."

Fittipaldi's teammate, Cristiano da Matta, has only had two previous Champ car starts at Road America but he scored his first road course victory in his debut for the team in the Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota at the 2001 season-opener in Mexico. Racing for PPI Motorsports at his previous two events at the track, da Matta's day ended early last year due to a pit accident after running as high as 10th. In 1999, da Matta suffered transmission failure after starting in 11th place, and ending up 21st.

"I've never finished the race before, so I'm really looking forward to going to Road America this year because I always feel like I do a good job driving around that place," da Matta said. "Never having been able to get to the finish line has been a little bit of a frustration for me."

While not running well at Road America in his first two Champ car starts, da Matta, driver of the No. 6 Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola, still enjoys the course, as it reminds him of the type of tracks he grew up racing on. He said, "Of all the tracks in CART, Road America is probably the most similar to the tracks we have in South America and in Europe. The only difference is that it's a little narrower than tracks we have in Brazil and the Grand Prix tracks. It's a nice track and it's very long. It's probably one of the nicest tracks we go to on the circuit. I always prefer going to road courses, so I always feel very good going to Road America. It's a place that's immensely fun driving around because we have every kind of turn. The track is so long - there's more than four miles. I just enjoy it. It doesn't fell like a challenge, it just feels like pleasure."

Da Matta led the Championship standings for the first four events before dropping to his current spot of sixth place, a mere 30 points out of the lead and looks to make up some lost ground starting with the Motorola 220. "I always like to be optimistic to start the race weekend, but I like to wait until the first session to see what I have in my hands and estimate what my real chances are," da Matta said.

Qualifying for the Motorola 220 will air 1 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2 CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. Sunday on ESPN, while ESPN's live race broadcast begins 1 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 .

Cast your vote for Christian Fittipaldi or Cristiano da Matta for the 2001 MCI Worldcom Most Popular Driver on cart.com or texaco.com/racing until October 9.

-NHR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Christian Fittipaldi , Mario Andretti , Carl Haas , Cristiano da Matta