LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (Sept. 19, 2001) --- After racing in front of a crowd of 87,689 at The American Memorial, in Lausitz, Germany last Saturday, Newman/Haas Racing and the rest of the CART FedEx Championship Series have now set their sites on their...
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (Sept. 19, 2001) --- After racing in front of a crowd of 87,689 at The American Memorial, in Lausitz, Germany last Saturday, Newman/Haas Racing and the rest of the CART FedEx Championship Series have now set their sites on their debut at Rockingham Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile, four turn oval located just north of Corby in the East Midlands region of England. Both Newman/Haas Racing drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta are looking forward to returning to race in the United Kingdom, a country that played a big part in the early years of their racing careers.
"Before actually getting to the track, the only thing I know about it is from seeing it on the map while I was flying to the Vancouver race," said Fittipaldi, driver of the No. 11 Kmart Toyota-Lola. "Other than that, I know it is close to Milton Keynes and I spent a good amount of my years in England in that city. I basically ran everything (series) in England. I ran Formula 3 (1990), Formula 3000 (1991-CHAMPION) and Formula One (1992-1994) before coming to CART. I won a couple of races in Formula 3 in England and finished third at Brands Hatch in Formula 3000. Other than that I don't remember my results there because that was a long time ago and, man, I am getting old."
Though this weekend will mark the first FedEx Championship Series event contested in England, it will not be the first appearance for Champ Cars in the country. In October of 1978, one year before the formation of CART, the United States Auto Club contested back-to-back road course events at Silverstone and Brands Hatch, which were won by A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears, respectively.
The Rockingham 500 will mark the seventh oval stop of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series campaign, and the final one before the season ending The 500 Presented by Toyota on Nov. 4 at California Speedway, a race won by Fittipaldi. He believes this new track will be unique among the ovals contested by the series. "Based on what I have heard about the track, it reminds me of Homestead (Fla.) in the early days when it was like Indy before they re-did it. It had four turns then they re-worked it to make three turns instead. We have been struggling to make the car good on the shorter oval tracks but should be competitive on the Superspeedway in Fontana and on the remaining road and street courses. We will take everything one day at a time. There is still five races left and many points on the table."
Currently, Fittipaldi is 74 points out of the CART FedEx Championship lead, with 56 and is in 13th place to leader Kenny Brack who has 131 with five events to go that offer 22 possible points maximum per weekend.
Brazilian native and driver of the No. 6 Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola, da Matta lived in England for two years beginning in 1995 when he competed in the British Formula 3 series. Scoring one win and eight top-10 finishes, da Matta finished eighth in the series. The following season he competed in the European Formula 3000 Championship against fellow CART driver Kenny Brack before finally moving to the U.S. to take part in the Indy Lights competition. Both da Matta and Fittipaldi credit the experience important to their success.
"I have had some good races in England - especially in British Formula 3," said da Matta who celebrated his 28th birthday on September 19 (today). "I had some races where I remember getting to the end and thinking 'I really drove well today' but I wasn't driving a very good car. I won a race in that series but I don't consider that my best drive. My best drive was at Silverstone nationals when I finished seventh and I thought I drove the hell out of the car that day but I just couldn't get anything better than seventh place but I was very happy with my performance that day. I just didn't have the equipment. I have good memories about racing in England. It is for sure the part of my racing career that added more to make me the driver I am today. The 1995 British Formula 3 experience was extremely important to my career. It was the most important year. I learned about living in another country but above all I learned a lot about racing. It was very important for my whole career."
Winning his first Champ car race on a 1.5-mile oval in Chicago last season, da Matta is looking forward to driving on the 1.5-mile oval in Corby. "I heard the facility is good," said da Matta. "From what I have heard, the track is a 1.5-mile oval with four turns and that is something very different from the ovals we have anywhere else. There are elevation changes as well, which is also different from the other ovals we race on apart from Nazareth. I heard the surface is incredibly smooth with grip already so it should be interesting."
Currently, da Matta is 52 points out of the CART FedEx Championship lead with 78 and is in eighth place to leader Kenny Brack who has 131 points with five events to go.
After seeing the 87,689 fans that attended the event in Germany, the team is looking forward to providing the fans in England their first up-close oval race experience. "British fans are sick about racing," said da Matta. "Silverstone would be full of people just to watch a fire truck race so I think they will like our racing. I remember at Brands Hatch in British F3 and there were around 46 races in one weekend. They can't get enough of racing. Racing has always been very big in England. It is probably the country where racing is the biggest in the whole world."
The Rockingham 500 will mark the second European event sanctioned by Championship Auto Racing Teams in the organization's 23-year history. The Rockingham 500, round 17 of 21, will air live in the United States beginning at 7:30 a.m. on ESPN. 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. Saturday'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 Rockingham 500, the FedEx Championship Series returns home for Round 18, the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston, Oct. 5-7 on the streets of downtown Houston, Texas. Newman/Haas Racing co-owner Carl A. Haas is a co-promoter of the event with Texaco/Havoline.