Cristiano da Matta Named to AARWBA All-American Team

CRISTIANO da MATTA EARNS AARWBA ALL-AMERICA TEAM HONORS Reigning PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship winner Cristiano da Matta has been elected to the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's (AARWBA) prestigious 1998 ...

CRISTIANO da MATTA EARNS AARWBA ALL-AMERICA TEAM HONORS

Reigning PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship winner Cristiano da Matta has been elected to the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's (AARWBA) prestigious 1998 All-America Auto Racing Team, AARWBA officials announced this week. One of two All-America Team honorees in the hard-to-crack At Large category, da Matta joins such auto racing luminaries as Alex Zanardi, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin on this year's 12-member panel. The group will be honored at the 29th annual All-America Auto Racing Team AARWBA banquet at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel in Long Beach, California on Saturday, January 16.

Da Matta's election to the 1998 All America Auto Racing Team by AARWBA's media membership adds to what has been a great 1998 season for the quick Brazilian. Da Matta, 25, won a series-leading four races to seal the 1998 PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship for Tasman Motorsports Group two races before the end of the 14-event season.

In his two-year Indy Lights career, the young Brazilian started all 27 races and scored seven wins, 13 podium finishes, four pole positions and 1997 Rookie of the Year honors in addition to this year's series title. Arciero-Wells signed da Matta just prior to the Marlboro 500 finale and he will contest his rookie FedEx Championship Series season in 1999 as a teammate to veteran Champ Car winner Scott Pruett.

"Winning this award makes me very happy because the media follow all of the races and they are the ones who closely watch what we do," da Matta said from his stateside home in Miami on Tuesday after completing a day of Champ Car testing in Homestead, Florida with his new team, Arciero-Wells/MCI WorldCom Racing. "It is a very big honor for me to be among those singled out by the press, and all of us in motorsports are grateful for the support we receive from the media."

Da Matta completed his test with Arciero-Wells on Wednesday and was scheduled to fly to Brazil that evening for the holidays. He will return to the U.S. in early January to resume his test schedule as he sets his sight on 1999 FedEx Championship Series Rookie of the Year honors.

"I can't tell you how proud we at the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship are of Cristiano," said Indy Lights President Roger Bailey. "It is our mission in Indy Lights to develop drivers who will someday take their place alongside auto racing's best, and this confirms that our valued friends in the media join us in believing that Cristiano is well on his way. We extend our congratulations to Cristiano, Tasman and the Arciero-Wells group who have certainly found themselves a winning driver."

The complete 1998 All-America Auto Racing Team includes Gordon and Martin (Stock Car), Zanardi and Kenny Brack (Open Wheel), Butch Leitzinger and Paul Gentilozzi (Road Racing), John Force and Gary Scelzi (Drag Racing), Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ron Hornaday Jr. (Short Track) and da Matta and David Besnard (At Large). The top vote-earner of the 12 will be presented with the Jerry Titus Award, auto racing's equivalent of College Football's Heisman Trophy, at the AARWBA banquet.

Election to the annual All-America team is a tough job, but making the cut in the At Large category is even more difficult. While most other categories -- such as Stock Car and Open Wheel -- include drivers from only one or two series, At Large is a virtual catch-all of winners from several support level series. To just make AARWBA's At Large ballot is an achievement in itself, let alone being one of the two selected winners.

Besnard, who ironically tested with Tasman earlier this month as the team reviewed candidates for da Matta's vacated seat, is the 1998 SCCA/USAC Formula 2000 champion. Other At Large nominees included IHRA drag racers Scotty Cannon and Von Smith, Barber Dodge champion Jeff Simmons (brother of Indy Lights veteran Chris Simmons) and GT-3 sports car stand out Mark Simo.

Da Matta is the fourth Indy Lights driver to earn AARWBA's All-America First Team honors. Past winners include Paul Tracy (1990), Bryan Herta (1993) and Greg Moore (1995).

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Butch Leitzinger , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Scott Pruett , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Paul Gentilozzi , Scotty Cannon , David Besnard , Jeff Simmons , Roger Bailey , Von Smith , Greg Moore , Mark Martin , Cristiano da Matta