Newman/Haas Racing focused on achieving more goals during 2002 CART FedEx season --- looks to be first team/driver to earn back-to-back wins in Australia. LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (October 20, 2002) --- The pressure may have been reduced since...
Newman/Haas Racing focused on achieving more goals during 2002 CART FedEx season --- looks to be first team/driver to earn back-to-back wins in Australia.
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (October 20, 2002) --- The pressure may have been reduced since Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta clinched the fourth CART FedEx Championship for Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) with his seventh victory of the season in Miami two weeks ago but those who compete at this level of the sport thrive on it. The Honda Indy 300 in Surfer's Paradise, Queensland, Australia, on October 25-27 is the first of the three remaining races on the 2003 schedule and the team has adjusted their existing goals as well as added new ones.
The final three races left in the 2002 season come with a maximum of 68 points available as well as three more opportunities to make history. Foremost is the opportunity to solidify Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi's top-five finish in the Championship as well as potentially surpass his best Championship standing of fifth place in 1996 as he is one of 11 drivers with a mathematic shot at second place behind 2002 Champion da Matta. With a total of 114 points, Fittipaldi is 29 behind second place Bruno Junqueira (143), 15 points behind Dario Franchitti for third (129) and one point behind Patrick Carpentier for fourth (115) although many drivers ranked below him are mathematically capable of finishing as high as second.
"Everyone always looks forward to racing in Australia and this year is no different," said Fittipaldi who will make his eighth start at the track. "There are three more races this season and we are really trying to win one or two before the year is up. We have had five podium finishes so far this season including two second place finishes so we've come close but we really want to win. The Lilly car was good in Miami, the strategy worked and the crew made some quick stops and we were able to finish second. We want to carry over the momentum. Our car has been performing well on the street courses and hopefully the Surfer's Paradise course will be no different. Since Shorty clinched the Championship, everyone is now shooting for second place including us. A good finish in Australia will help us get both cars in the top-three of the standings which is our goal."
Newman/Haas Racing has tried to make finishing one-two commonplace this season after da Matta and Fittipaldi accomplished the feat at the Laguna Seca Raceway and the street course in Miami. In addition to attempting to finish one-two in the CART FedEx championship, both the Havoline crew and the Lilly crews have earned two of the five spots in the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge shootout set to take place at The 500 Presented by Toyota in Fontana. In the final qualifying race for the shootout in Miami, the Lilly crew was the fastest spending just 60.865 seconds on Pit Lane during their two stops, while Da Matta's crew's stops totaled just 61.667 seconds. They will take on the crews of Jimmy Vasser, Bruno Junqueira and Alex Tagliani for the winner-take-all-purse of $50,000.
Although Fittipaldi will be returning to Australia for his eighth event at the seaside location, he is only officially credited with six starts in the past seven trips. After starting in ninth place in 1997, his race ended on the beginning of the second lap when Gil de Ferran hit the rear of his car while attempting a pass which triggered an 180-mph accident and subsequent rehabilitation while he missed a total of seven races. In his return to Australia in 1998, he earned his highest start and finish to date at the track - both third place - and thrilled those that aided and supported him following his accident and subsequent surgery. For all of these reasons and more, Australia will always hold a special place in his CART history.
"The race in Australia will always stand out in my mind for a variety of reasons," said Fittipaldi. "It was one of the more difficult times in my CART career because of my accident in 1997 but it is also one of the best races in the series because of the following we have in Australia. I've been able to do a lot of memorable things in Australia while I was there for the races including proposing to (my wife) Andrea. I'm making a quick trip to New Zealand for the America's Cup before coming to Surfers for race this year."
Although he has posted a total of five top-three podium finishes this season, the potential was present for a total of 10 but a variety of reasons reduced his results although clearly the team has the capability of winning in Australia. With the thrill of a second place finish in Miami and the fact that they ran the fastest race lap fresh in the team's mind, Fittipaldi and his Lilly crew are up to the task of finishing on the top rung of the podium. A win in Surfer's Paradise would be Fittipaldi's first on a street course after his 1999 win on the road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis., and his 2000 win in The Marlboro 500 race on the Superspeedway in Fontana.
In addition to achieving their own goals, both Fittipaldi and da Matta will be attempting to help Toyota not only extend its CART Manufacturer's Championship lead of 46 points over Honda (287-241) in the final three races remaining. Ford is 81 points behind and has been eliminated from the championship race. Toyota needs a total of 20 points, or a sixth-place finish or better in each of the season's final three races to clinch the 2002 Manufacturer's Championship.
Now that da Matta has earned his first Championship since the 1998 Indy Lights title, he will get behind the wheel of the Caltex/Havoline Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone in Australia in an attempt to not only match - but beat -- the CART record for most victories in one season at eight. Michael Andretti and Newman/Haas Racing were the first to accomplish this in 1991 and Al Unser Jr. matched the feat in 1994.
"Now that we have the pressure of winning the Championship is off of our backs we can concentrate on winning a few more races rather than having to be conservative in order to make sure we score a few points each race," said da Matta who admitted to feeling "lighter" after clinching the Championship in Miami. "Racing is goal oriented and our new goal is to beat the season win record. Michael (Andretti) and Al (Unser Jr.) won eight races so we are going to try to win at least two more. We won the race in Australia and Fontana last year and should be competitive on those tracks again. Mexico City is a new race but based on our performance on road courses this season, we hope to run well there too. Everyone on the Havoline team has done their job very well this season and it would be great for us to keep achieving results."
If victorious in Surfer's Paradise, da Matta would be the first repeat winner in the previous 11 races at the venue although the field features a total of six drivers who are looking to repeat victories here. He hopes to capitalize on what he considers one of his best performances in CART as well as the success the team has had on road and street courses this season.
"I feel that the race in Australia last year was one of my best performances because it was very competitive between myself, (Roberto) Moreno and Gil (de Ferran)," recalled da Matta. "We drove full throttle from the beginning of the race until the end. I started third and dropped down to fourth behind Tracy on the start but passed Tracy and Moreno and got by Gil on a pit stop so there was a lot of action. It was a race I really enjoyed driving because it was such as fast pace because we were pushing 100 percent lap after lap, the pit stops were all great, the conditions were difficult because it was hot last year and I just really enjoy driving on the track. I was very pleased with the race I drove last year and I'm looking forward to getting back on track. I think we stand a good chance to repeat our win last year."
To help da Matta and Fittipaldi's effort at winning in Australia, is the fact that although no driver has earned more than one victory there, NHR has. Of the 11 previous events, NHR is tied with Ganassi Racing for the most wins in Australia at three although no team has accomplished the feat in consecutive years. Nigel Mansell earned the first victory in Australia for the team in 1993 from pole position. Paul Tracy won the 1995 race while driving for the team and da Matta won in 2001. NHR has earned four of the previous 11 poles at the track but none since Michael Andretti earned the top starting spot in 1995. Andretti brought NHR the pole in the inaugural event in Surfer's Paradise in 1991 and again in 1995 while Mansell won back-to-back poles from 1993-1994.
With seven victories, he is one of just five drivers to win that many in a season, joining Unser, Andretti, Juan Montoya (1999) and Alex Zanardi (1998). With two wins to closeout last season, da Matta has now won nine of the last 18 CART races. Da Matta also is in position to earn the second-highest single-season points total in CART history. With three races remaining, da Matta needs 23 more points to surpass Michael Andretti's 1991 total of 234 to earn the second-highest single season mark ever. The Brazilian can move into third by scoring 14 points to pass Unser's mark of 225 set in 1994. Alex Zanardi holds the all-time record of 285 points scored in 1998.
With a season like the one he has had so far, it's understandable that da Matta is enjoying 2002 and plan to carry this over while in Australia in front of another large crowd. Record sales for the Honda Indy 300 have encouraged race promoters to build two additional grandstands to meet the demand. The expected record four-day crowd in excess of 300,000 will help the series break the two-million mark in attendance for the year with two races left to run. This and other attributes contribute to da Matta's choice of Surfer's Paradise as his favorite venue on the CART schedule so it is no wonder that he moved up the usual arrival date of Tuesday of race week to enjoy the local atmosphere of the successful event.
"It's going to be my fourth time to race in Australia and every year the event just gets better and better and it was already great to begin with," said da Matta. "There were more than 100,000 people there last year on race day alone and ticket sales are way up this year. The Australians really know how to put on a race. We certainly enjoy going there. That's why everyone gets there so early and uses the excuse that we do that to get acclimatized and get used to the time difference but it's because we enjoy going there because they treat us so well. (On his brothers Gustavo and Felipe joining him:) It doesn't happen often that I get to travel with my brothers because they are working hard most of the time back home in Brazil so this year should be very fun because we get to spend 10 days together in a fun place like Australia. We are going to go to the beach, go surfing and biking. We are all taking our road bikes so we can cycle which is one of the sports we enjoy together. It's going to be fun."
Not only are da Matta and Fittipaldi planning on seeing the sites on their trip, their Caltex/Havoline and Lilly-sponsored Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone race cars will be stopping by some hot spots as well along their journey. With the aid of series sponsor Federal Express, series-wide cargo will not only be making a 9,000 mile trip around the globe via two FedEx 747 jumbo jets but will also be making stops in scenic locales such as Honolulu, Hawaii and Nadi Airport in the Fiji Islands, before landing at Brisbane International Airport in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Once in Brisbane, the cargo will be transported by ground for 70 miles to Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast.
The Honda Indy 300 will take place Sunday, Oct. 27 at 12:00 a.m. ET and will be broadcast live on SPEED Channel. Friday's qualifying session will air on Friday at 12:00 am while CART Friday Night will air at 11 p.m. and will be immediately followed by Saturday's final qualifying at 11:30 p.m. (Friday night in the US).