CHAMPCAR/CART: Newman/Haas Racing Vancouver preview

Fittipaldi and da Matta look forward to a successful weekend in one of their favorite cities - Vancouver - for the Molson Indy Cart FedEx race LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (August 28, 2001) --- With a hefty fan base, exciting 1.791-mile street course, and...

Fittipaldi and da Matta look forward to a successful weekend in one of their favorite cities - Vancouver - for the Molson Indy Cart FedEx race

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (August 28, 2001) --- With a hefty fan base, exciting 1.791-mile street course, and previous success, Newman/Haas Racing drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta are looking forward to returning to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, for the Molson Indy Vancouver, the 14th Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx series event of the season.

Since the first Vancouver race in 1990, Newman/Haas Racing has scored three wins (Michael Andretti - '96, '92, '91), just as many poles (M. Andretti - '92, '91, '90) and a total of seven podium finishes (Mario Andretti - 3rd in '90; Mi. Andretti -2nd in '98 and 3rd in '94; and Fittipaldi - 3rd in '96). In addition to a history of competitive runs here, both team drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta list Vancouver as their favorite race city of all 21 events on the 2001 CART schedule that spans seven countries.

Among Newman/Haas Racing's seven podium finishes at Vancouver, is Fittipaldi's best finish at the temporary street course, which was third place in 1996. Fittipaldi narrowly missed another podium finish last season when he finished fourth, he hopes to score his first win this year in his sixth start in the cockpit of the No. 11 Kmart Toyota-Lola. In 1999, Fittipaldi did not compete while recovering from a subdural hemitoma and in 1997 and 1998 he was knocked out of the race due to contact finishing ninth and 14th, respectively. He retired from his first event in Vancouver, in his rookie season driving for Walker Racing, due to a faulty exhaust system.

Fittipaldi knows that the track is much different from the one where he earned his third place finish in 1996, but with a fourth place finish last year, he feels that he has a good handle on the track. "Finishing third in '96 was good but the course is different since I did that," Fittipaldi said. "The layout changed a few years back and I think it is better suited to our cars now. The thing that stands out about last year's race is the tires. I don't know if the tires were extremely hard, it just felt that it took a long time to get them up to temperature. That played a huge part in race last year. It was very tough when it came time for pit stops and changing tires. Once you got back on track, it really took about three or four laps for them to get to temperature. It was really strange."

Already competing in five Champ car events in Vancouver, Fittipaldi understands well the character of the Vancouver course. "There is definitely a long straightaway, which is in the back of the track," recalled Fittipaldi. "There is also one quick corner that puts you onto the backstraight. In qualifying, we're almost flat there and only have a tiny lift. There are also a couple of tight turns. Turn one, two, and three are very tight. There is a good mixture of high and low speed corners. The track offers a good balance of challenges."

Fans keep the sport of auto racing alive and Canada happens to be home to many CART fans who Fittipaldi thinks will be in attendance at Sunday's race. He said, "The atmosphere is great at races in Canada and the ones overseas. Races overseas and outside the country have proven to be very special for CART and we get a lot of following there. There are a lot of fans at those races. Toronto had 50-60,000 people on Friday, more on Saturday and even more on Sunday. I think that we will have a full house in Vancouver."

Fond of the surroundings Vancouver offers, Fittipaldi is in great anticipation of returning to the city. "I like Vancouver. I think the city is awesome," stated Fittipaldi. "It provides great scenery and a great race venue, plus some very good restaurants. I eat very well every year at Vancouver. I am always excited to go back there."

Currently, Fittipaldi is 56 points out of the CART FedEx Championship points lead, with 54 and is in 11th place to leader Helio Castroneves who has 110 points with seven events to go that offer 22 possible points maximum per weekend.

Driving the No. 6 Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola, da Matta hopes to end up in Winner's Circle at the track as he has in past visits to Vancouver. In his only two Champ car starts at Vancouver, driving for PPI Motorsports, he ran in third place until a late race pit stop for fuel with five laps to go dropped him to a seventh place finish. He drove to a fifth place finish in 1999 after charging from 17th place. However, da Matta has far more memorable moments that occurred on the streets of Vancouver. In 1997 and 1998, da Matta won the Indy Lights races held there with his 1998 victory enabling him to clinch the Indy Lights Championship with two races to go.

Da Matta is optimistic heading into Vancouver and he is aware of just how important the 14th event is, with only seven races remaining. "Since 1999 the track has been the same, but in '97, '98, '99 it was always new to us," da Matta said. "Last year I was likely going to get a podium finish, but a mistake in strategy put us in seventh but before that I ran in third place a good portion of the race. This year our car has been good on some road and street courses. I learned a lot recently and I know a lot more things in order to have a situation under more control than I used to have. I think we'll be in good shape in Vancouver and I think it will be a good performance for us. If I want to be in the fight of the championship, then I must do well there."

With some great Indy Lights performances at Vancouver, combined with an improved track, da Matta is looking forward to returning to the venue. "I like the track better now than it used to be," stated da Matta. "I think that they've done a great job adapting the track to the needs of our cars and our series. Seventy percent of the track is resurfaced and it is really smooth. The backstraight is a little bumpy, but not too bad. I enjoy driving there and I have great memories in Vancouver. I won the Indy Lights championship there. It was the first American Championship I won. I'm happy to be going back there. It is always great going there."

Racing at Vancouver several times has allowed da Matta to develop a good idea of what a successful race set-up would be for the race. He said, "The biggest thing for Vancouver is to have grip and power. It is a busy track where most of the turns are low speed and there is just one high-speed turn, which you usually take flat. You need a car that is good with low-speed balance and very good traction out of the turns. The car needs to have good acceleration with no wheel spin. Most of the race is spent in second gear so if you can get the car working good at this speed, you will have a better chance at doing well."

As a driver who appreciates the fan support, da Matta is excited to race before a crowd that has a great deal of racing savvy, in a first rate city. "It is always good to go to the Canadian races," da Matta said. "I have felt this way since the time I drove in Indy Lights. You go there and all the fans know a lot about what is going on in the series. They're not there only to watch the cars go around once a year. They know what engine you run, who you are driving for and sometimes who your engineer is. They know how your season is going because they follow us all year. Of course, it is a much bigger pleasure for the driver to go there because the fans are so great. Vancouver is a very nice city and it's my favorite city to go to of all of the races during the season. The West Coast of the US and Canada are just so beautiful. I always look forward to going there because of the people and the atmosphere."

With seven events left in the 2001 CART FedEx series, da Matta is seventh in the championship race with 78 points, or 32 points out of the lead with 22 points maximum available per weekend.

Qualifying for the Molson Indy Vancouver will air 1 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2, while ESPN2's race broadcast begins 6 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-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Christian Fittipaldi , Cristiano da Matta