Chevron driver da Matta won five Of the last eight CART races with his victory in today's G.I. Joe'S Portland GP - second from the pole; Lilly driver Fittipaldi hindered by contact with a charging Tracy. - Chevron driver Cristiano da Matta not...
Chevron driver da Matta won five Of the last eight CART races with his victory in today's G.I. Joe'S Portland GP - second from the pole; Lilly driver Fittipaldi hindered by contact with a charging Tracy.
- Chevron driver Cristiano da Matta not only won his fifth race of the past eight in the CART FedEx Championship, he captured the maximum points available - 23 -- for the weekend. He collected one point for each of the qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday as well as collected the point for leading the most laps - 55 -- en route to victory in the G.I. Joe's 200 to increase his lead in the CART FedEx point standings to 20 over fellow Belo Horizonte, Brazil resident and second place finisher Bruno Junqueira. The start of the race was attempted twice before the yellow flag came out each time as second place starter Kenny Brack failed to stay in line. On the third attempt at starting the race on lap four, Brack jumped on the inside on da Matta and passed him for the lead, which he held until the first round of pit stops on lap 30. By virtue of his pit box being located after the timing sensor, da Matta was credited with leading the lap - a benefit that would prove important at the end of the race. Despite a quick stop, da Matta was unable to pass Brack in the pits and returned to the race in second place which he held until his second of three mandatory stops on lap 60. He passed the timing sensor before Brack and was credited with leading the lap although the Swedish driver returned to the track first. A few seconds after the duo returned to the track, Brack's outside rear tire fell off of his car and da Matta took over the lead. Once the race was resumed after Brack's car was moved to a safe location, da Matta built a 1.6-second lead over second place runner Bruno Junqueira although it was occasionally reduced to .4 of a second before his final pit stop on lap 90. After he returned to the track, he had a lead of two seconds over Junqueira but it was reduced to .4 of a second with one lap to go although the personable Brazilian held off his childhood friend by .625 when they took the checkered flag. Both he and Kenny Brack each led 55 laps but da Matta earned the point according to CART rule 7.1 that states that the highest finisher wins the point in the event of a tie. By scoring his seventh CART Champ car win and 64th for CART's most successful team he brought Toyota's its 15th victory in the series - almost half of which were earned by da Matta. He also earned the 112th victory for chassis manufacturer Lola. By scoring the maximum of 23 points this weekend, he holds a 20 point lead heading into the CART Grand Prix of Chicago at Chicago Motor Speedway - site of his maiden CART victory - where 22 points will be up for grabs. Following are da Matta's post race comments:
"It was one of the most difficult races I have ever driven but it was a lot of fun," said da Matta. "It was a qualifying pace from the first laps to the 110th lap. It very difficult to maintain yourself, your concentration for the entire race. It was probably one of the most fun races I have ever driven. I am very pleased with our performance. Kenny had a very fast car. It would have been difficult to beat him but we put enough pressure on him for the team to make a mistake. It doesn't get any better than winning two weeks in a row. I haven't had a season like this since 1998 (won Indy Lights Championship). It's very rewarding. It makes you feel good about yourself, good about your team and your manufacturers but it's only the sixth round and there are a lot of other good teams trying to beat us. We're going to keep working hard to stay ahead of everyone. (On the aborted starts:) It's difficult to start the race with the first corner like it is here. Kenny had a good start. He was probably thinking he wouldn't have the car to compete with me so he made the move then. As it turned out, he had a fast car and ours wasn't as good as it had been over the weekend but the pressure forced them to make a mistake. The Chevron team had perfect stops and the Toyota ran a flawless race and that is how we won."
- Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi failed to score points in only his second race of the six so far this season after contact resulting from a mid-race attempt to pass by Paul Tracy resulted in Tracy's retirement and Fittipaldi's 10-lap pit stop to repair damage. Although he returned to the track in 16th place, 10 laps behind the leader in an attempt to gain a few points for a 12th place or higher finish, he retired with approximately 7 laps to go as he could not move up from his 13th place position.
At the actual start of the race on lap four, Fittipaldi dropped from his fifth place qualifying position into eighth after he was held up behind slower cars as the field was trying to avoid a collision that ultimately included five cars. He held eighth place until his first stop on lap 30 and returned to the event in 11th behind three drivers who were on a different pit strategy. On lap 33 of 110, ninth place driver Paul Tracy attempted to pass Fittipaldi on the inside of turn five as he was on the apex of the turn. As there was not enough room for two cars, the two collided. Tracy returned slowly to his pit and subsequently retired from the race while Fittipaldi remained in the tire barriers for three laps before he was "bump-started." He returned to his pit where the team replaced his left wishbone suspension and his right track rod before he returned to the race 10 laps down in 16th place. With approx. seven laps to go in the race, he retired in 13th place as there were no more positions to gain and the team did not want to risk further damage. He dropped from third place in the point standings to fifth, 31 points back from leader da Matta who has 74. Following are his post race comments:
"He (Tracy) tried to pass me mid-corner which is almost impossible," said Fittipaldi. "If he tried at the entry of the corner he might have been able to make it and not take us both out. On the first stint the car was much better than it was in the morning warm-up but we lost three places on the accident once the race finally went green. I was held up in traffic from the accident and the cars shot by me. We had to change the left upper wishbone and the right track rod and were 10 laps down to the leader once we got back on track. Our goal was to hang in there and try to salvage a point or two but a few laps from the end we just stopped because there was no way we could get into the top-12 so why risk damaging the equipment? It was a tough race for us because we really wanted to do well here. We have collected points in all but one race before today so it is a disappointment not to get any today."
- Next Up...Round 7 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship, the CART Grand Prix of Chicago, will take place in two weeks at Chicago Motor Speedway, the site of da Matta's first CART win in 2000.