Newman/Haas Racing hopes "Home Event" - The Cart Grand Prix Of Chicago -- will see them continue their winning ways. LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (June 26, 2002) --- The 2002 CART FedEx Championship is comprised of 20 races on four different types of...
Newman/Haas Racing hopes "Home Event" - The Cart Grand Prix Of Chicago -- will see them continue their winning ways.
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (June 26, 2002) --- The 2002 CART FedEx Championship is comprised of 20 races on four different types of tracks held in seven countries on four different continents but there is no place like home for Newman/Haas Racing (NHR). Based just north of the Windy City in Lincolnshire, Ill., the team hopes to utilize a home-track advantage at the CART Grand Prix of Chicago and continue to build upon its three wins in six races so far this season as well as their lead in the championship standings.
Coming off back to back wins and pole positions in Monterey, Calif. and Portland, Ore. as well as increasing his lead in the championship after winning half of the first six races this season has been Cristiano da Matta, driver of the No. 6 Havoline Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone. Da Matta has managed to acquire 74 championship points so far this season, which puts him 20 points ahead of fellow Belo Horizonte, Brazil native, Bruno Junqueira, who is currently in second place.
This strong positioning for the top spot in points has come as no surprise as da Matta has actually won five races and two pole positions in the past eight CART Champ car events, dating back to his win in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia in October, 2001. At the season-opener in Monterrey, Mexico, da Matta won his third consecutive event in the CART FedEx Series (Australia and Fontana in 2001 and Mexico in 2002) and became the first driver to accomplish the feat since Juan Montoya (1999).
Having won in Chicago with PPI Motorsports back in 2000, da Matta is well aware of what it takes to pilot a Champ car to winners circle at the 1.029 oval of the Chicago Motor Speedway (CMS). In fact, it will be his fourth Champ car race at CMS and second with NHR. Da Matta won his first CART Champ car victory at Chicago in 2000 after beating his NHR predecessor, Michael Andretti, by 1.6 seconds to take the win from his fifth place start. He qualified 9th in 1999 and finished 14th and qualified 20th in 2001 and finished 19th.
"Chicago Motor Speedway has been a track where I have had a couple of ups and downs," da Matta recalled. "My first year there in 1999 with PPI, we had a good car but didn't have a good race. We had a good car all weekend long but we made a couple of errors with the car in the race and didn't do as good. Then in 2000 we came back and I won my first race in CART as well as the first win for the team so I have very sweet memories from the place. For that reason, I will always have good memories from Chicago."
After claiming the pole position and top spot on the podium the past two races, there's no questioning da Matta's ability and chances to walk away with yet another first place trophy. He said, "We have a 20 point lead heading into Chicago with 22 points maximum available but we need to keep scoring points and increase our lead. I'll try to make 2002 as good as 2000 in Chicago was."
However, the team has not been as dominant on short oval tracks like CMS as they have on the other three types of tracks the series races on. "We did a lot of testing in May to improve the situation and I think we have made big gains," da Matta said. "Between Christian (Fittipaldi) and myself, we ran over 1000 miles in May and we saw improvements in (the race in) Milwaukee. I was running sixth when I had fuel pump problems and Christian finished fourth which is a good finish for championship points. The Chicago race will be tough but we think we will run much better than we did last year here. Our goal was to collect as many points as possible on the road courses, which seems to be our strong point, and we were able to do that except for the one point we left on the table on Friday in Laguna Seca."
Completing the best showing on an oval this season for NHR has been da Matta's teammate, Christian Fittipaldi, who managed to capture a fourth place finish after starting 15th in Milwaukee. Behind the wheel of the green, yellow and white No. 11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone, Fittipaldi has three top-four finishes in the six races so far this season and is fifth in the championship standings with a total of 43 points.
Fittipaldi said, "We have scored points in four out of six races so far this season but didn't get any points at the last race in Portland and we really thought we could have made up some ground there because we usually run well. It's no secret that short ovals have not been our strongest tracks to race on but we think we should run okay in Chicago because we have made improvements to our set-up in testing in May."
Like his teammate, Fittipaldi has primarily obtained success this season through NHR's dominating road course set-up, but the combination of May testing and data gathered from oval races this season are what Fittipaldi believes can put NHR in a position to be competitive at Chicago's one-mile oval and every venue. "After that (May testing), we ran better in Milwaukee and I was able to finish fourth there which gave us a good amount of Championship points. So far this season, we are much more consistent overall, which has put us in a stronger position in the Championship."
Despite Fittipaldi's eight-season tenure in the CART FedEx series, and Chicago Motor Speedway's fourth time as a stop on the schedule, Sunday's CART Grand Prix of Chicago will mark only the second time he has participated in the race. He missed the inaugural event in 1999 as well as the race in 2000, and started a disappointing 24th in 2001 and finished 25th as the team struggled with their short oval setup.
Fittipaldi would like nothing more than to rectify his disappointing Chicago debut last year in front of an NHR hometown crowd and build upon his solid start to the fight for the 2002 Championship. "The race last year was one of the most difficult in the history of the team," Fittipaldi said. "Everyone from the shop that doesn't usually travel with the team came to the race and we were all disappointed not to have run better."
For the season, Fittipaldi is well on his way at making a championship run for NHR and believes he can do so with a few minor adjustments along the way. Fittipaldi speculated, "We still need to improve our short oval set-up and need to keep working on our road and street course performance and collect points every race in order to stay in the hunt."
The CART Grand Prix of Chicago will be a two-day event rather than the three-day norm. SPEED Channel will kickoff coverage of the event with their CART Friday Night show at 10:30 p.m. ET on Friday, June 28 while their coverage of Saturday's qualifying session is set to air live at 2:30 PM ET on Saturday, June 29. CBS Sports will air their third event of the season beginning at 3:30 p.m., ET on Sunday, June 30.
Newman/Haas Racing, owned by actor/race car driver Paul Newman and racing entrepreneur Carl A. Haas, is in the midst of its 20th season in 2002 and is the most successful active competitor with 64 race wins and 65 pole positions in the CART FedEx Championship series. For more information, log on to www.newman-haas.com, www.texaco.com/racing or www.cart.com. The 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series 20-race schedule will be broadcast by new television partners, CBS, Fox and Fox Networks Group, including Speed Channel.