By David Reininger - Motorsport.com Chicago, IL (July 30, 2000) - Cristiano da Matta won his first champ car race today at the Target Grand Prix of Chicago presented by Energizer. He led the final 51 laps of his 39th CART event. Da Matta ...
By David Reininger - Motorsport.com
Chicago, IL (July 30, 2000) - Cristiano da Matta won his first champ car race today at the Target Grand Prix of Chicago presented by Energizer. He led the final 51 laps of his 39th CART event. Da Matta becomes the ninth different winner in the 2000 season, one shy of the record of ten. He is also the fourth first time winner this year. Da Matta last won in 1998 at Vancover in his final Indy Lights season. Leading his first laps in a CART FedEx series race, he crossed the finish line 1.690 seconds ahead of Michael Andretti and Gil de Ferran.
"The last restart was the part of the race I was probably the most relaxed," said da Matta. "Michael was not able to catch us. Gugelmin let me around and I got a good lead. This is really good for the team, we were not worried about when our frist win would come. We just knew it would."
The first race segment saw Montoya jump out to an eight car length lead before encountering the tail end of the field on lap 16. Just before the leaders engaged heavy lapped traffic the first yellow of the day appeared for a fire in Mark Blundell's Motorola car.
Blundell's car was retired. Several of the cars running at the rear of the field made pit stops, as did Michael Andretti who was running 12th after making an incredible start from his 16th starting position.
On the restart, Memo Gidley tangled with Gualter Salles in turn one. Salles made hard contact with the turn one wall, while Gidley was towed back to the pits. Neither driver was injured. Gidley continued, while Salles' day was finished.
Green flag racing didn't last long as Helio Castroneves' Marlboro Team Penske lost power causing the Brazilian driver to slip seven places on the first green flag lap. Two laps later, Castroneves' car erupted in flame bringing out the yellow once again.
Kenny Brack assumed the lead, followed by Jimmy Vasser, Michel Jourdain Jr. and Michael Andretti, all of who decided to stay on the track while Montoya, Kanaan and others made their first pit stop.
With the lapped car of Memo Gidley separating Brack and Vasser at the front, Brack was able to extend his lead when green flag racing resumed.
Brack, Vasser, Jourdain Jr and Andretti pulled away at the front while Montoya, in fifth, spent several laps trying to pass the lapped car of Tarso Marques. Montoya made an outside move in turns three on lap 63, then set his sights on Andretti. On lap 75, Paul Tracy put his nose under Team Kool Green teammate Dario Franchitti sending both cars into the turn two wall. Tracy continued while Franchitti's car was put on the hook for the return trip to the paddock. The ensuing caution period allowed Brack to pit from the lead. The field pitted behind him but Brack stalled his car and he returned to the field on the tail end of the lead lap.
Juan Montoya led after the second round of pit stops followed by Andretti, Kanaan and Roberto Moreno.
On lap 102, the engine of Luiz Garcia Jr. expired, bunching the field for a lap 116 restart with Montoya at the front followed by Andretti, Kanaan, Moreno and da Matta. Brack used the caution period to pit on lap 104, putting him out of pit sequence with the leaders. He returned to the race in 15th position, last car on the lead lap.
Da Matta jumped Roberto Moreno for fourth place on the restart. Six laps later, Andretti drew up on Montoya's flank, pressuring the Columbian driver, hoping he'd make a rare mistake.
Twenty two laps later, Andretti got what he was waiting for when Montoya wiggled coming off turn four, allowing Andretti to make the pass for the lead. The pair diced through lapped traffic with Andretti breaking away briefly before Montoya pressed his front wing back under Andretti's rear.
On lap 162, Montoya resumed the lead when he dove low under Andretti in turn three, boxing him in behind a slower car.
Andretti made his final pit stop two laps later, leaving Montoya with the lead in lapped traffic.
Montoya made his final pit stop on lap 170, rejoining the race in fourth place.
One lap later, Patrick Carpentier hit the turn four wall causing extensive damage to his Player Ford-powered Reynard. Brack assumed the lead before making his final pit stop under the yellow. Brack rejoined the race in fifth place.
Once CART officials resorted the field, da Matta led, followed by Montoya and Andretti. Before the green could be shown, Montoya stopped on the backstretch, his day finished.
With less than 50 laps to go, the field of 11 cars lined up with da Matta at the point, followed by the lapped car of Jourdain Jr. Michael Andretti, the lapped car of Vasser and then de Ferran in third. Brack was in fourth directly behind de Ferran.
Da Matta took full advantage of Jourdain's lapped car, pulling away to a four-second lead over Andretti. "I just had trouble getting the power down coming off the corners all day," commented Michael.
Max Papis' day ended on the pace lap when his Team Rahal Miller Lite car caught fire as the field approached the green flag. Papis reported to the pits where he his crew extinguished the fire. The car was retired and taken to the transporter.