CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland: Newman/Haas Racing race report

Havoline driver da Matta retired from the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland with mechanical failure while leading; Lilly driver Fittipaldi stopped on course while third. - Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta not only failed to win a CART...

Havoline driver da Matta retired from the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland with mechanical failure while leading; Lilly driver Fittipaldi stopped on course while third.

- Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta not only failed to win a CART record fifth consecutive victory today but he also failed to score points toward the 2002 CART FedEx Championship - his real goal - for only the second time this season when he retired due to mechanical failure after completing 21 of 115 laps in the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland. Despite not finishing with a top-12, points paying position today, he was able to increase his lead over second place in the CART FedEx Series point standings from 48 to 50 points after setting the fastest lap time in Friday and Saturday's qualifying sessions. Fortunately for da Matta, five of the pre-race top-six in the standings failed to finish the race and went home without points. However, positions two through 11 in the standings closed the gap and are now within 20 points of each other.

The race began with the usual Turn 1 drama after the first start was waved off due to second place starter - and eventual winner - Patrick Carpentier not staying within close enough distance to da Matta. The race began on the following lap but seventh place starter Jimmy Vasser was hit from behind in a first turn incident that also involved Tora Takagi, Mario Dominguez and Townsend Bell. The subsequent yellow flag was the only one of the day and the race was restarted on Lap 6. On the race resumed, da Matta proceeded to slowly build his gap on second place Dario Franchitti who passed Carpentier on the start. He was able to gain one-tenth of a second per lap on average and had built his lead to 2.3-seconds by lap 19. On lap 20 his car slowed on course and he simultaneously relayed to the Havoline crew that he was losing power.

The crew called for him to return to the pits so they could change some electronic components. He entered the pits, the team changed some components and sent him back on track although it became immediately obvious that the problem could not be solved so he returned to the pits and retired from the race on lap 21 of 115 in 16th place. Although his race winning streak came to an end, da Matta thankfully retained his pre-race lead margin of 50 over second place which is the largest lead any CART driver has held after nine races under the current scoring system, which went into effect in 1983. With the addition of the 19 laps he led today, da Matta also continues to lead the series in laps led with 432 laps - almost twice the number of second-place Paul Tracy (222).

Following are his post race comments:

"The car starting losing power so I came in and the team changed some electronics and I went back out but heard the same noise so we had to come back in and retire," said da Matta. "It's a shame any time you have to stop racing for any reason. Of course I wish I could have finished the race but our car has been strong everywhere so we will come back at the next race and try to continue running strong. We won't know what the problem was until TRD (Toyota Race Development) looks at it in California but we believe it was a mechanical problem. We thought it was something electrical but we changed some electronics and it didn't help. It's a huge shame. I haven't made any mistakes, the Havoline team hasn't made any mistakes, the Toyota engine has been very reliable. What happened today was just one of those things that happens in racing. It's amazing how reliable the Toyota engine is. Luckily we had built a small lead so that if we ran into a problem like we did today, it wouldn't hurt us as much. It would have been much nicer to build on our points today though. The balance of the car was good and we were just running our own pace and concentrating on building a lead on second place. I'm not disappointed about not setting a new CART record with five straight wins. The streak doesn't mean anything to me - the Championship is my goal. I'm disappointed that we didn't score any points today and get closer to our goal."

- Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi was only 19 laps away from possibly jumping from fifth to second place in the CART FedEx Series standings with a third place finish today but his car stopped on course on lap 96 of 115 in the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland and he finished 12th. Initial research pointed to the possibility of a fuel miscalculation although the matter is still under investigation by the team.

Fittipaldi earned his fifth top-five qualifying position of the season as well as matched his best effort of 2002 of fourth place for the temporary road course event on the runways of the Burke Lakefront Airport. He held his position through the first aborted start and once the race got underway, Fittipaldi was passed going into turn one by Tony Kanaan on the outside and fifth place starter Michael Andretti on the inside going into turn one. As both drivers appeared to be squeezing Fittipaldi, he had to back off of the throttle in order to get through one of the craziest starts of the season with his car intact. He held sixth place until lap 9 when Paul Tracy ran side-by-side with him going into a corner but almost squeezed him onto the grass on the next apex for the following corner before he pulled ahead. Fittipaldi held seventh place until lap 20 when teammate Cristiano da Matta encountered mechanical failure and he moved into sixth. On lap 26, Paul Tracy made his first stop and Fittipaldi drove as hard as he could to close the gap while using the advantage of warm tires and a light load of fuel to set a quick lap time before he made his first stop on the following lap. He returned to the track after a quick stop by the Lilly crew and once the first round of pit stops were completed, Fittipaldi had moved into fifth place on lap 31. He held the position until he moved into fourth place on lap 49 when race leader Dario Franchitti pitted.

On Fittipaldi's second of four mandatory pit stops on lap 52, he pitted one lap before fifth place runner Paul Tracy made his stop and Tracy was able to duplicate Fittipaldi's earlier feat of gaining track position in order to pick up one position after his next pit stop the following lap. Once the second round of stops were completed he was running in fifth place behind Tracy but moved into fourth on lap 69 when Franchitti retired with mechanical failure. He held the position for four laps before he made his third stop on lap 73 which was the same lap as Tracy but was not able to gain a position in the pits and returned to the race in fourth place after the field made their stops. While attempting to run as close to Tracy as possible in order for his pit crew to have a better chance to pick up the position in a quicker pit stop, Fittipaldi kept the pressure on. Tracy made his fourth and final stop on lap 93 and Fittipaldi took over third place while running as fast as he could in an attempt to make up track position in order to pick up the position after his final pit stop. On lap 96 the team called Fittipaldi into the pits on his next time by but he was only able to get to turn seven before his car slowed to a stop on course. Prior to his car stopping, he held a 47-second lead on Tracy after the latter's stop and a routing stop would have put him ahead of the Canadian once he made his final stop. As Fittipaldi was in the middle of the track, both he and his racecar had to stay on the course until the conclusion of the race. Race winner Patrick Carpentier gave Fittipaldi a ride back to the pits on the side of his car after performing victory donuts, a show not seen in CART since Alex Zanardi thrilled fans with his trademark celebration. Once the team took receipt of the race car they began to analyze what could have made it stop on course and the preliminary investigation led them to believe the car might have run out of fuel - either as a result of a fuel miscalculation or a mechanical problem. Fittipaldi ultimately earned one point for a 12th place finish although he dropped from a fifth place rank to seventh. A third place finish would have moved Fittipaldi to second in the point standings based on the running order when he stopped on course.

Following are post race comments:

"We gave away a third place finish today which really hurts because it would have put us second in the Championship," said Fittipaldi. "The disappointment from this one will take a while to get over."

"We're not 100 percent sure but by all appearances we ran the car out of fuel," said Craig Hampson, race engineer for the No. 11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone. "All of our calculations said we had enough fuel."

- LOCAL BOYS: All Bridgestone Potenza racing tires used by Champ Car teams competing in the CART FedEx Championship Series are produced at the Bridgestone/Firestone Technical Center in Akron, Ohio- a facility that employs nearly 1,000 people in information services, research, product development, polymers and race tire development/manufacturing. Bridgestone is entertaining over 700 guests consisting of dealers, customers and employees at this weekend's race. Cristiano da Matta was the guest of honor at a dinner on Friday night.

- Manufacturing Success Despite not finishing in their usual spot of 1-2, Toyota maintained the lead in the Manufacturer's Championship: Toyota 166, Honda 134, Ford 114.

- Next Up...The series will take a much-needed weekend off after three consecutive events and reconvene July 26-28 for Round 10 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship, the Molson Indy Vancouver. Newman/Haas Racing has won three events at the track (Michael Andretti 1991, 1992, 1996) and three pole positions (Michael Andretti 1990, 1991, 1992). Da Matta's highest finish in Vancouver was a fifth place in his first Champ car event there in 1999. He led the race last season but had to make a stop for fuel under caution when the pits were still closed on risk stopping on course. The subsequent penalty dropped him in the running order but he subsequently was taken out of the race by a backmarker and retired in 20th position. Fittipaldi's highest finish of third place came in his first season with NHR in 1996.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Townsend Bell , Mario Dominguez , Cristiano da Matta