CHAMPCAR/CART: Toyota on the move at Toronto

Cristiano da Matta, driver of the Pioneer Electronics Toyota, is on a roll heading into Toronto with four top-five finishes in the last six races. Da Matta is coming off his first podium finish with a third at Cleveland after he had qualified ...

Cristiano da Matta, driver of the Pioneer Electronics Toyota, is on a roll heading into Toronto with four top-five finishes in the last six races. Da Matta is coming off his first podium finish with a third at Cleveland after he had qualified fifth, despite being hit twice in Cleveland's chaotic first turn that dropped him all the way to 17th.

In the last six races, da Matta has a third, two fourths and a fifth. In the other two events, he was hit by another driver trying to avoid a first-lap spin at Nazareth and suffered engine problems at Detroit. In addition, the 1998 Indy Lights champion also has qualified in the top 10 at each of the last three road course events including a career-best fifth in the most recent round at Cleveland.

Not only has Cristiano da Matta been one of the hottest drivers in the CART paddock, but he's also becoming among the most popular. A sign of his popularity was on exhibit as he stepped up to the podium after his third place finish at Cleveland. A number of exuberant Cleveland fans in the grandstand began yelling out the lines from da Matta's Toyota commercial. In chorus the fans chanted out to their hero, "you may not be tall enough for basketball, or big enough for football, but you kick ---." Da Matta gave his fans an even bigger thrill by joining in on the last line.

With Cristiano da Matta's third-place finish at Cleveland, all four Toyota drivers that have competed in every race this season have now earned a podium finish. Juan Montoya won at Milwaukee; Jimmy Vasser was second at Rio and third at Long Beach; Oriol Servia was third at Detroit' and da Matta fourth at Cleveland. Only rookie Norberto Fontana, who missed a number of races early after suffering a concussion has yet to be on the victory podium. Fontana did earn his first points of the season at Cleveland with an 11th. The Argentine has been impressive at times, at times running in the top 10 at each of the three street courses.

In the two previous temporary street courses run this season, Toyota has a pair of third-place finishes (Jimmy Vasser at Long Beach and Oriol Servia at Detroit). The manufacturer has enjoyed more success in qualifying. Vasser and Juan Montoya qualified second and third at Long Beach, while Montoya was on the pole and Cristiano da Matta started sixth in Detroit. Montoya led 59 of 60 laps at Detroit before retiring due to a CV joint failure.

Toyota arrives in Toronto looking to put its U.S.-designed and built RV8E Champ Car engine into the Winner's Circle for the second time this season. Before its victory at Milwaukee, only one other U.S.-designed and built engine had ever won in Champ Car competition. In nine races year, the engine has already earned Toyota in excess of 50 percent more points than the manufacturer scored in any previous single season.

With five podium finishes and having a car finish fifth or better in every race this season, Toyota has closed to within six points of Honda for second-place in the Manufacturer's Championship.

Cristiano da Matta, #97 Pioneer Electronics/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard: "We struggled early in the season with our oval set-up, but we've got a very good road racing car. The key is to consistently run up front and then good things will happen. Lately, we've been able to do that. I was happy that we had a third-place finish in Cleveland because that was my best finish ever in a Champ Car, but I was disappointed, too, because I knew in my heart that we could have done much better than that. As with all street races, qualifying up front will be very important at Toronto. We've qualified ninth or better in the last three races, we'll need to do that again in Toronto."

Jim Aust, Toyota vice president for motorsports: "We've run very well on the two street courses to date, so we should be in good shape at Toronto. Our key now is that we're not looking only at Jimmy and Juan to get the job done, but at Cristiano and Oriol, as well. In the last four races, we've had three different drivers as our top qualifier and three drivers as our top finisher. This past week at Cleveland, we had three drivers finish in the top 10, despite having three cars involved in the first-lap accident that lost at least six positions - or in Oriol's case, he was knocked completely out of the race. In past years, if our top guy was knocked out of a race on Lap One, we knew we didn't have much of a chance for a good finish. That's not the case anymore."

<pre> TORONTO MOLSON INDY FAST FACTS

Date: July 16, 2000 Broadcast: ESPN, 3 p.m. ET, 12 noon PT Race Length: 95 Laps 163.495 mile Track Length: 1.721-mile temporary circuit 1999 Winner: Dario Franchitti Toyota's Best Finish: 7th - Scott Pruett, 1999 Toyota's Best Qualifying: 11th - Scott Pruett, 1999 Track Speed Records: Qualifying: 1997, D.Franchitti (106.694 mph) Race: 1998, Mark Blundell, (92.779 mph)

Manufacturer Points: Ford - 158; Honda - 138; Toyota - 132; Mercedes - 42

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Dario Franchitti , Oriol Servia , Scott Pruett , Mark Blundell , Norberto Fontana , Cristiano da Matta