CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland: Honda preview

Defending Honda Indy 300 champion Cristiano da Matta will be chasing a record fifth consecutive win in the FedEx Championship Series at the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland this weekend. Da Matta comes into the weekend on the heels of his ...

Defending Honda Indy 300 champion Cristiano da Matta will be chasing a record fifth consecutive win in the FedEx Championship Series at the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland this weekend.

Da Matta comes into the weekend on the heels of his fourth-straight win, a 112-lap romp through the streets of Toronto in which he led from start-to-finish.

The victory tied him with former CART champions Al Unser Jr. (1990) and Alex Zanardi (1998) as the only drivers to have won four consecutive Champ Car events.

Da Matta has tasted success in Cleveland previously, having taken a podium finish with a third-place run in 2000, while his Newman/Haas squad won at the venue in 1988 with Mario Andretti and in 1991 with Michael Andretti.

The recent run for da Matta has threatened to make a runaway of the series championship as the former Dayton Indy Lights title winner has opened up a 48-point margin of the rest of the field, but there is no shortage of challengers as six drivers are within a one-race allotment of points of each other fighting for the second spot.

"I'm looking forward to racing in Cleveland. I enjoy the track a lot. It's not a street course, it's not a road course - it's something in between,² said da Matta. ³It's fast and wide and there are many lines so you can pass cars. With all of these things combined, it's a very unique event for us.² ³The start is tough because you can drive 10-wide on the front straight and then only two cars can fit into the first corner so everyone is waiting for the other cars to back off. Everyone expects this though so we have had some trouble free starts. I hope it is the same this year. I'm hoping to qualify up front to avoid any problems."

RAHAL CELEBRATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY The weekend will be a celebration for Team Rahal no matter what happens to either Michel Jourdain Jr or Jimmy Vasser . This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of team owner Bobby Rahal's first-ever CART victory. Rahal won the inaugural Grand Prix of Cleveland in 1982, a victory that was the first of his 24 career wins. Vasser comes into the event with a bit of history on his side as well, standing as one of only four drivers (Mario Andretti, Danny Sullivan and Emerson Fittipaldi) to have won two Cleveland poles. His 1998 pole run gave the Californian a track record of 56.417 seconds.

POLE IS IMPORTANT AT CLEVELAND Qualifying could hold extra significance this weekend, as while the 3.369km temporary road circuit is typically filled with passing opportunities, seven of the 20 events held at Cleveland have been won by the polesitter. The competition level of the track should not be overlooked however, despite the fact that seven pole winners have won the event, no driver has ever led every lap of a Cleveland race. Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) is one of those to take the Roar By The Shore from the pole, doing so in 1993.

DIXON NEEDS MORE LUCK IN CLEVELAND Scott Dixon (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) will be looking for an improvement during his second visit to the lakefront, as he attempts to keep his streak of six-consecutive top-10 finishes alive. Dixon is sixth in the points chase and is just 18 points behind second-placed Junqueira despite the fact that he is yet to lead a lap this season. Last year, Dixon failed to finish in his initial trip to Cleveland and placed 20th. "We've had a lot of consistent finishes this year and that's very encouraging for this team,² said Dixon. ³Team Target has given me good cars so far this year and we haven't finished worse than seventh. I'm confident that a win is not too far away for us. I always look forward to racing in Cleveland. It's a great track to race on. The wide straights and corners allow for a lot of passing. I can't wait to get up there this weekend."

TOWNSEND NEEDS TO STAY OUT OF TROUBLE Townsend Bell was fined $10,000 and placed on indefinite probation Monday for his part in a race incident during Sunday's Molson Indy Toronto. Bell was involved in an incident on Lap 93 of Sunday's event at Toronto's Exhibition Place in which he made contact with the car of Bruno Junqueira, damaging Junqueira's car and leaving him unable to continue. Bell was excluded from the remainder of the event by CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach after making it back to the pits, and received his further sanctions on Monday.

-honda-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Townsend Bell , Mario Andretti , Danny Sullivan , Emerson Fittipaldi , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain