CHAMPCAR/CART: Andretti second at Chicago

- Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline driver Michael Andretti turned around a previously disappointing weekend with a strong second place finish in the 225-lap Target Grand Prix of Chicago, the home race for the Lincolnshire, Ill. based team. Andretti...

- Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline driver Michael Andretti turned around a previously disappointing weekend with a strong second place finish in the 225-lap Target Grand Prix of Chicago, the home race for the Lincolnshire, Ill. based team. Andretti and the team struggled to find a good race set-up on Friday and Saturday and Andretti qualified in 15th place.

On Sunday morning, the team continued to work on the race set-up of the car. At the start of the 225-lap event, Andretti jumped ahead of Oriol Servia, Roberto Moreno and Max Papis, who retired on the pace lap with mechanical failure. He held 12th place until lap 22 when he made his first pit stop during a yellow period to remove debris on course. Because he was running in 12th place in a race that was going to be hard to make passes on other cars due to a different rear wing configuration, the team elected for a strategy that was opposite of the leaders prior to the race.

Andretti was the first car to pit and was followed by others running behind him. He returned to the race in 17th place and began hoping that the rest of the field would need to pit under green racing conditions. He moved into 16th place on lap 34 when Helio Castroneves retired with mechanical failure. He jumped into fourth place by lap 38 when the front runners pitted during the caution to remove Castroneves's car. He held fourth place behind race leader Kenny Brack, Jimmy Vasser and Michel Jourdain, who elected not to make their first stop during the caution.

Another caution came out from laps 75 to 81 when teammates Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti collided. During this caution period, the majority of the field, including Andretti, made a pit stop on lap 79. He returned to the track and into second place on lap 80 behind Juan Montoya, who had been running behind him for dozens of laps. He held second place to Montoya by an average of five-tenths of one second for the following 65 laps until he passed him on the outside of Turn 1 and moved into the lead for the first time of the race on lap145. He held the lead until Montoya passed him on the bottom of Turn 3 on lap 162. Third place runner Cristiano da Matta made his final pit stop on lap 162 and returned to the race in sixth place.

Andretti made his third and final stop on lap 166 and dropped from second place to sixth due to a slight delay. The right front tire changer, Tim Cofeen, lost the lug nut that fits into his airgun and the stop was one-to-two seconds longer than expected. He returned to the race in sixth place and moved up to fifth when Montoya pitted and previous fifth place runner Patrick Carpentier crashed on lap 171. He moved into fourth place on lap 175 when Adrian Fernandez made his final stop. And into third place behind race leader Cristiano da Matta and Montoya on lap 175. He took second place on lap 178 when Montoya slowed on course and subsequently retired with mechanical failure during the caution for Carpentier's crash.

On the restart on lap 182, Andretti lost traction due to difficulty getting his tires up to racing temperature and had to regain control of the car after trying to pass the lapped car of Michel Jourdain. During this, the gap between Andretti and da Matta stretched to four seconds. In the ensuing laps, Andretti cut his gap to 1.69-seconds by the time the checkered flag flew on lap 225 with Andretti trailing da Matta, who drove to his first CART victory. The finish was Andretti's fifth podium of the season and he collected 16 points toward the championship and built his lead to 22 points over second place Roberto Moreno's 98. Andretti's friend, actor and racecar driver Tim Allen was on site to witness the strong run. Following are his post race comments:

"We did everything we wanted to do today. We wanted to come in and finish in the top five and I would have to say we definitely accomplished that goal and then some. The future was pretty bleak this morning because the car was not good. (Engineer) Peter Gibbons made some changes and the car was much better. We had been struggling in every session all weekend but by the fifth lap I knew the car was good. You couldn't pass with these wings so our strategy was to be ready to do what ever the leaders didn't do. We pitted under the yellow when they didn't and it put us out of sequence but the yellows went our way and helped put us in second place. We got there because of track position but we got there with a car that could win and that was the important thing. We were staying with Juan until he had his problem. We had a problem on the last pit stop on the right front and Timmy (Cofeen) did a superb job of saving the stop. He had a problem with the lug nut. I have to say that if it were anyone else, they wouldn't have done as good of a job recovering and it would have put us in five, six or seven positions back. He did a superb job and saved a podium finish for us. It was definitely a team effort. The whole Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline team was excellent today. On the last restart, I was a fraction of an inch from losing it. I tried to get by (the lapped car of) Jourdain and got sideways. That gap (behind da Matta) stayed with us until the end when I began reeling him in. I knew we wouldn't get him in traffic though because of the wing. I knew that once I came upon another car I would lose the air and have to stay there. I decided to just bring it home and get the points. I don't know where Cristiano came from. They initially told me that he had to come in with Fernandez and Brack. Then they told me he could make it to the end. It's too darn competitive. There are fifteen guys that can win. I cannot predict who can win any given race. We've got to stay focused and can't get too caught up in leading the Championship. We've got to keep our minds on our jobs and we will be okay. Everybody on the team is able to contribute and that's the difference. As we go on, we are getting more and more focused. It always comes down to the people. Obviously you have to have the equipment but it comes down to the people gelling and working together."

- Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi did not compete in the race due to suffering a mild concussion after a single-car accident during the first practice session on Friday at the exit of turn two on the one-mile oval. According to Dr. Chris Pinderski of the CART Medical staff, Fittipaldi was briefly unconscious at the scene, but was later awake and alert at the CART Medical Facility. Pinderski also said that Fittipaldi reported slight pain in his right knee. According to Dr. Steve Olvey, CART Director of Medical Affairs, Fittipaldi suffered a Grade 1 concussion following the incident. He was transported via ambulance to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood for a precautionary CAT Scan. Dr. Kimberly A. Davis, M.D., attending physician at Loyola University Medical Center reported that the CAT Scan was negative for damage and that Fittipaldi had no broken bones and released him from the hospital. Per CART rules, Fittipaldi was not allowed to participate for the remainder of the weekend since he was rendered unconscious. He flew to his home base of Key Biscayne, Fla. on Saturday afternoon. His involvement in the scheduled test at Road America on August 1-3 is pending.

- Next on the Schedule…The CART FedEx Championship enjoys the first weekend off since the middle of June. The Miller Lite 200, round 13 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship series, takes place in two weeks at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Oriol Servia , Kenny Brack , Peter Gibbons , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain