CICERO, Ill. (July 30, 2000) - Cristiano da Matta of PPI Motorsports capped a recent surge to prominence in the FedEx Championship Series when he drove to his first career victory Sunday in the Target Grand Prix Presented by Energizer at...
CICERO, Ill. (July 30, 2000) - Cristiano da Matta of PPI Motorsports capped a recent surge to prominence in the FedEx Championship Series when he drove to his first career victory Sunday in the Target Grand Prix Presented by Energizer at Chicago Motor Speedway.
Da Matta's victory, the first in PPI's six-year history, was the second for a Toyota-powered driver in the engine manufacturer's five-year tenure in the championship, joining Juan Montoya's win at Milwaukee earlier this season. Da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) became the season's ninth different winner in 12 events, one off the FedEx Championship Series record of 10 established in 20 events last year.
Da Matta, who had finished fourth or better in three of the previous four events, also became the season's fourth first-time winner. He averaged 114.432 miles per hour while finishing 1.690 seconds ahead of Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola), who recorded his second consecutive runner-up performance and his fifth podium result of the season.
The effort allowed Andretti to extend his championship lead to 22 points (120-98) over Roberto Moreno of Patrick Racing, over whom he held a 14-point advantage (104-90) entering the event.
Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) finished sixth Sunday. Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske rounded out the podium with a third-place result and also holds down third in the championship with 89 points.
Da Matta's victory enabled him to take over fourth in the championship with 82 points. He led the final 51 of 225 laps - the first oval laps led of his FedEx Championship Series career - taking over the advantage when rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal made his final pit stop under caution while holding the lead on Lap 174.
Da Matta stretched the advantage to two seconds quickly on the restart, and extended it to as much as six seconds during his run to the checkered flag. He was the last of four leaders in the event, which began with polesitter Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) leading 102 of the first 144 laps en route to a race-high 111 laps led, the fourth time in his past five oval starts that Montoya has led at least 100 laps.
Once again, though, Montoya was victimized by misfortune, retiring due to a mechanical failure after completing 177 laps. He finished 12th.
Brack led Laps 38 through 79, and did an impressive job of clawing back from a lengthy stay in the pits on Lap 79, which took him out of the lead and dropped him to 16th-place. He ultimately finished a strong fourth, his fifth top-five result in his past nine starts.
Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing finished fifth for his fourth consecutive top-seven finish. He is sixth in the championship with 79 points, one behind fifth-place Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, who has 80. Tracy went scoreless Sunday, finishing 19th.
CRISTIANO da MATTA, Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard: "It wasn't an easy race for me. The last restart was the part where I was most relaxed in the car. I was able to get a big lead and I just concentrated on trying to control it. The run before my first pit stop, the car was really loose; I wasn't really expecting that. After I pitted, I had a very clear track ahead of me and I was able to go at almost qualifying pace, while those guys [the other contenders] were in traffic. That was the key to the race for me. It's been almost two years since my last win and it's good to refresh in your mind what it is to win a race. I was never really worried about getting my first win. I knew we were always running in the top five and my experience is that if you can run consistently in the top five, one day the door will open. Everything fell my way today."
MICHAEL ANDRETTI, Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola: "We did everything we wanted to do. We wanted to collect points and we did. It looked very, very bleak at the start of the weekend. I've got to say I wasn't really happy with the car, but this morning, [engineer] Peter Gibbons made a couple of changes and it was much better. We were just trying to hang in there with the leaders. Basically we were ready to do everything [pit stops, et cetera] the opposite of the way the leaders did it, because we started so far back. The yellows [flags] just fell perfect for us. It wasn't just that we ran with the leaders, we ran with the leaders in a car that was capable of winning the race, and I'm very happy with that. We've got to stay focused [on the championship race]. We can't be caught up in it. We just need to keep our minds on our jobs. If we all do our jobs, we will be OK in the end."
GIL de FERRAN, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "It was a great day. The weekend started a bit slowly, but last night, we sat down for a couple of hours and had a long, deep think about what we wanted to do, and this morning, the car was very, very good. We just held our own, and the day turned out to be very, very good. My finger was all right; the only thing I had to be careful of was not to bang it on anything in the cockpit."
Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) became the fourth first-time winner of the FedEx Championship Series season, joining Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) at Homestead; Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) at Detroit and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) at Cleveland.
Da Matta's victory was the first in the history of PPI Motorsports, now owned by Cal Wells III after being formed in 1995 in partnership with Frank Arciero. The team had made 166 starts in FedEx Championship Series competition through Sunday's event.
Da Matta's victory was his first since winning an Indy Lights event at Vancouver in 1998 en route to the Dayton Indy Lights championship.
Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) recorded his fifth podium finish of the season, including victories at Japan and Toronto; and the 89th of his career. His other podium efforts were runner-up performances at Milwaukee and Michigan.
Andretti led 17 laps, extending his all-time CART career laps-led total to 6,235. He stands well ahead of second-place Rick Mears, who led 3,286 laps during his CART career.
Gil de Ferran's (Marlboro Honda Reynard) third-place result was his third podium finish of the season, including victories at Nazareth and Portland, and his ninth points-paying result in 12 starts this season.
Da Matta's victory allowed Toyota to overtake Honda for second place in the CART Manufacturer's Championship with 187 points, five ahead of third-place Honda (182). Ford, on the strength of Andretti's runner-up performance, continues to lead with 211 points. Ford swept four of the first six places Sunday as Andretti finished second, Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal finished fourth, Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing finished fifth and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing finished sixth.
Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) led a race-high 111 laps, the fourth time in his past five oval starts that he has led more than 100 laps. He led 172 at Japan, 110 at Nazareth and 179 en route to victory at Milwaukee. For the season, Montoya has led a series-high 691 laps, more than triple the total of second-place Helio Castroneves (194), and seventh on CART's single-season laps led list. Michael Andretti stands sixth on that list with 699 laps led in 1986. Sunday marked the fourth time this season that Montoya has swept the two FedEx Championship Series points for winning the pole and leading the most laps, the others coming at Japan, Nazareth and Milwaukee, respectively.
Memo Gidley (DIRECTV Toyota Reynard) finished 10th in his second start with Della Penna Motorsports as a substitute for rookie Norberto Fontana. It was his second consecutive scoring performance, following 10th at Michigan, and third in five starts this season, including an eighth-place result for the injured Patrick Carpentier at Rio de Janeiro.
Cristiano da Matta's victory was the 35th FedEx Championship Series win for a graduate of the Dayton Indy Lights series since 1993, when Paul Tracy recorded the first Champ Car victory for a Lights graduate at Long Beach. Da Matta became the eighth different Lights graduate to win a Champ Car event and the fourth this season, joining Tracy at Long Beach, Fernandez at Rio de Janeiro and Castroneves at Detroit.
Following a weekend off, the FedEx Championship Series continues with Round 13, the Miller Lite 225 on Sunday, Aug. 13 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.