Cristiano da Matta sweeps Portland weekend, takes commanding lead in CART Fedex Championship Series point standings with G.I. Joe'S 200 win. PORTLAND, Ore. (June 16, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...
Cristiano da Matta sweeps Portland weekend, takes commanding lead in CART Fedex Championship Series point standings with G.I. Joe'S 200 win.
PORTLAND, Ore. (June 16, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) has dominated CART FedEx Championship Series competition on road courses all season long and this weekend at Portland International Raceway was no exception as the series points leader was the first driver to capture all 23 points available on a weekend under CART's new road-course qualifying rules rolling to the win in Sunday's G.I. Joe's 200.
Da Matta led the Friday and Saturday qualifying sessions to earn the pole for Sunday's event, and then benefited from a bit of good fortune to overcome early leader Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) for the lead after 60 of the 110 laps around the 1.969-mile layout. Brack had led all but one of the green-flag laps of the race up to that point but fell out after losing a left-rear wheel directly after his second pit stop, giving the point back to da Matta, who has needed little in the way of assistance on the road courses this season.
The problem for Brack did not ensure the year's third victory for da Matta, however, as Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) chased da Matta fiercely throughout the last 20 laps of the day, never falling more than a second off the pace as the two cars battled around the 12-turn course. Junqueira climbed to the back of da Matta's Newman/Haas machine in the last laps as the two cars turned their fastest laps of the event in the last minutes of the race, but could never make the pass as da Matta claimed his seventh victory of his Champ Car career in a race that would allow him to widen his series championship lead to 20 points over Junqueira and Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Da Matta and Brack split leadership of the event's 110 laps, each leading 55 circuits, giving da Matta the point for most laps led by virtue of his higher finishing position. (CART rule 7.1)
Junqueira would settle for second place, his best road-course finish of the season and best since taking his maiden CART victory last season in 2001 at Road America. Junqueira would use the finish to climb to second in the series championship, his highest placing in the championship at any time since he joined CART last season.
Da Matta got a free pass for the first three laps of the event as the start was waved off three consecutive times by starter Jim Swintal as he determined that the field was not holding its mandatory side-by-side form to the start/finish line. Once the race went green, Brack took the lead on the first turn and would hold the advantage until the first round of pit stops. Brack reassumed the point after his first fuel stop and held it until he pitted again on Lap 59, but fell out soon after rejoining the fray as the wheel nut came off of his left rear wheel, ending his race.
Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) moved into the third spot with Brack's retirement and would fight off rookie Townsend Bell's (#20 Visteon Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) charge to snare his third podium of the season. Franchitti has finished on podium in three of the four events where he has been running at the end of the race, moving him up a notch to fourth in the season standings.
Bell and Franchitti waged a battle for third that rivaled the war for the lead in its intensity, with Bell looking for his first-ever CART podium at a track that he had dominated in his days in the Indy Lights Series. Franchitti felt the pressure and twice went through the first-turn chicane in the waning laps, but the veteran was wise enough to back off the throttle after skipping the second turn, keeping CART stewards from penalizing him for gaining an advantage for his transgressions. Bell would be less than a second behind at the end of the day, earning his best Champ Car finish and allowing him to continue his streak of improving his finishing position in each of the first six races of the season. The finish also allowed Bell to take a commanding lead in the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year standings, giving him a 13-point edge over Mario Dominguez.
Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) would earn his second consecutive fifth-place finish at Portland, matching his effort from last season's G.I. Joe's 200 as well as his finish from last weekend at Laguna Seca, giving the Canadian driver his first back-to-back top-five placings since Chicago and Mid-Ohio last year.
Jourdain would post another strong finish in the Team Rahal machine, claiming the sixth spot and taking his sixth top-10 finish in as many races in the 2002 season. The effort allowed him to keep pace with Junqueira in the season standings as he moved into a tie for second in the CART championship chase and kept his status as the only driver to have finished every race this season. He also finished on the lead lap again, allowing the Mexican driver to keep his lead in the Laps Led category as the seventh-year pilot has finished all but three laps contested this season.
CHAMP CAR TOP-THREE QUOTES
Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "It was a very tough race from beginning to end. Kenny [Brack] put a lot of pressure on me at the start of the race. He probably thought that if he couldn't get around me at the start, he wouldn't be able to get around me at all. Later on after Kenny had the problem, Bruno started closing in on me and I didn't have time to breathe out there. My team did an outstanding job. It was one of the toughest races I've ever driven in." (On Brack falling out after losing the left rear) "I think the Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew thought they had to push because my team was getting me out of the pit on his tail after every stop."
Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "It was a shame with what happened to Kenny. It would have been a great way to finish with Kenny and myself up there. My car was really good. I was able to close the gap on Kenny and Cristiano. I thought I was a little faster than Cristiano and would have made a move if I had the opportunity. I tried to make Cristiano make a mistake but he is a good driver and we both have the same Toyota engine. Plus it's too early in the championship to be making a move like that."
Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): "One of the biggest and most important things at Portland is the start of the race. It was one of the first really good starts we've had here, going from seventh to fourth. We lost a place to Bruno on the first stop, but after a few problems with the brakes we ran just fine. We've got to get things sorted out before Chicago and definitely before the next road course if we are going to compete with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Cristiano."
* Toyota engines powered the cars that led every lap of Sunday's event, between the machines of Cristiano da Matta and Kenny Brack. This marks the second consecutive race in which Toyota-powered machines have led every lap of the race, coming off of da Matta's win last week at Laguna Seca.
* Michel Jourdain Jr. finished inside the top 10 for the sixth straight race, becoming the first driver since Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) to start the season with six consecutive top-10s (1999).
* Cristiano da Matta and Kenny Brack tied for the most laps led with 55. Da Matta was awarded the point for leading the most laps by virtue of his higher finishing position. This is the first time that two drivers have led the same amount of laps in a race since Alex Zanardi and Bryan Herta each led 41 laps at Laguna Seca in 1996. Zanardi took the point for finishing first after his memorable last-lap pass on the inside of the Corkscrew turn gave him the race win.