MONTEREY, Calif. (February 9, 2002) - On a sun-drenched day at the picturesque Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca road circuit, Newman/Haas Racing pilot Cristiano da Matta ( ...
MONTEREY, Calif. (February 9, 2002) - On a sun-drenched day at the picturesque Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca road circuit, Newman/Haas Racing pilot Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola) picked right up where he left off at the conclusion of the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series season, turning the quickest lap of the opening day of on-track testing at the seventh-annual CART Sneak Preview.
Da Matta, the winner of each of the final two events in the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series - the Honda Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise, Australia; and The 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway - turned in a best lap of 69.500 seconds (115.925 mph) to lead a field of 24 cars to turn laps in testing on the Monterey Peninsula. Although his quickest lap of the day came in the afternoon session, the Brazilian also turned in the fastest lap of the morning session.
Second quick on the day was Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard), who logged a best lap of 69.545 seconds (115.850 mph) late in the afternoon session. While da Matta was the winner in each of the final two 2001 events, Tagliani also closed the '01 campaign in style by finishing third in each of the final two events.
In fact, it was a solid first day all the way around for Team Player's, as Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard) turned in the third-best time of the day with a best lap of 69.687 seconds (115.614 mph). Carpentier enters the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series coming off the best season of his Champ Car career in 2001, a season in which he scored his first career victory in a thriller at Michigan International Speedway.
In the fourth spot today was Bruno Junqueira in the #4 Target Toyota/Lola, who logged a lot of seat time throughout the day (including 50 laps on track in the afternoon session) and had his best lap of 69.739 seconds (115.528 mph) on his final tour of the 2.238-mile circuit. Like Carpentier, Junqueira also scored his first career win in 2001, and he enters his second year of Champ Car competition looking for even bigger things.
Rounding out the top five today was the 2001 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Scott Dixon in the #7 PWR Racing Toyota/Lola. Dixon - also a rookie race winner in '01 and the youngest race winner in the history of major open wheel racing - turned a best lap of 69.786 seconds (115.450 mph), and is considered by many as one of the top contenders for the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series title.
The top ten drivers in today's testing sessions turned laps within one second of one another, and there were no major incidents.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was open free-of-charge to race fans today, with paddock access available to members of the CART Winners Circle Fan Club. The WCFC signed-up an impressive single-day total of 1,075 members today, eclipsing the three-day tally of 1,055 members at Homestead-Miami Speedway at the last Spring Training in February, 2000. The WCFC had a total of roughly 3,500 members in 2001.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: "It was one of those days when you don't have to work on the car a whole lot. It was a pretty big present to me from the team. Right off the truck, the car was good. But we're in the very early stages so we're changing a lot of things. It's good to be going fast so naturally and I'm happy, of course, but it's not the time to be excited yet. Still, it does make you feel good about what you are doing and about what the team is doing."
ALEX TAGLIANI: "We changed the suspension after the morning session so we missed the first part of the afternoon session. From that point on, we kept changing things and we kept improving. At the end, we put on a new set of tires, the car was good and we had a strong lap. You definitely want to be fast at the end of the day. But teams are using these two days as test days and they are trying out a lot of different things. We're all doing it now, because on a race weekend you don't want to be testing, you want to be getting ready to go fast."
PATRICK CARPENTIER: "I had a pretty good day. Toward the end, we had what turned out to be an electrical problem but we got it fixed and went back out and had a quick lap. It's always important to be up front. If you're at the back it would be disappointing. Sure, it's not at all like a race weekend. But racing is about time and it's good to be near the top."