CHAMPCAR/CART: da Matta, Fittipaldi Chicago race notes

- Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta returned to the site of his first CART Champ Car victory, Chicago Motor Speedway determined to score back-to-back victories on the short oval track he enjoys the most. Unfortunately, the team ...

- Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta returned to the site of his first CART Champ Car victory, Chicago Motor Speedway determined to score back-to-back victories on the short oval track he enjoys the most. Unfortunately, the team struggled to find a set-up that would provide grip and da Matta qualified 20th for the 225-lap event that is held approx. 45 minutes from the Lincolnshire-based team's headquarters. For the first 72 laps, da Matta held his position. As the field began making their first pit stops, da Matta moved up into 17th place before making his first stop on lap 76 for fuel, tires and a front wing change in an attempt to improve the handling of his race car. He lost two positions and returned to the race in 22nd place behind Oriol Servia and Paul Tracy and dropped one lap down to the leaders due to his track position when he entered the pits. He held 22nd place through his next pit stop on lap 117 and returned to the race in the same position after taking on fuel, tires and a front wing change. He moved into 20th by lap 153 after passing Oriol Servia and moving ahead of Bryan Herta who pit. Papis passed him on lap 160 and he dropped to 21st. When Michael Andretti pitted and subsequently retired, da Matta moved into 20th. He held his position until lap 191 when he made his third pit stop and returned to the race in 21st place after a routing stop. He moved into 20th place on lap 200 when Mauricio Gugelmin spun on course but continued after being restarted and then into 19th after Roberto Moreno pitted with an apparent fire inside his cockpit on lap 207. He held his position until the checkered flag after 225 laps. After not collecting any points toward the Championship, da Matta dropped from sixth place in the CART point standings to seventh, 37 points out of first place with 67 to leader and race winner Kenny Brack who has 104. Following are da Matta's post race comments:

"We just basically ran around all day hoping the race would come to us a little and we could score a few points," said a disappointed da Matta. "I'm realistic and never thought we had a car that could win but we hoped to leave here with a few points. The car was the same the whole race even after we made changes during the pit stops. If anything, the car got worse. It just wasn't a good weekend for us. I came here thinking we had a shot because Newman/Haas has so much data on ovals. It will be good to get back to the road courses when we go to Mid-Ohio because we have been strong on those types of tracks. Being the Champion of this series means you have to be good on all types of tracks and right now our weakness is short ovals."

- Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi participated in his first event at Chicago Motor Speedway but the weekend was difficult due to the lack of grip the team was experiencing. Further complicating the situation, Fittipaldi's qualifying attempt took place after a brief yellow period on Saturday for the jet dryers to blow the track dry after light rain. In the process, a film was laid on the track and Fittipaldi had even less grip and had to settle for a 24th place starting spot. On the first lap, Fittipaldi passed Michel Jourdain but was then passed by Max Papis on the following lap. He held 24th place until he reported to the team that his car had a vibration on lap 31 and was told to pit immediately. The team changed tires and added fuel and Fittipaldi returned to the race in 25th place. Tire specialist Kenny Szymanski found that one of the tires had rotated on the wheel approximately 90 degrees. He held 25th place until lap 70 when Michel Jourdain pitted and he moved into 24th He moved into 23rd on lap 76 after Max Papis pitted. After being passed on lap 100 by Michel Jourdain, he reported to the team that he thought he had a problem with the gearbox or a possible engine related component. He pitted on the following lap and the team retired the car in 25th place. He dropped from 10th place in the Championship standings to 11th with 49 points and is 55 points back from leader and race winner Kenny Brack who has 104. Following are his post race comments:

"The weekend didn't go very well for us and the race was no exception," said Fittipaldi. "I had to make an unscheduled pit stop because I had a vibration. The team found that the tire rotated on the wheel 90 degrees.

Later in the race, I thought the gearbox or engine was going because every time I lifted off of the throttle a huge noise came from the rear of the car. The guys looked at the car and the gearbox was okay so we'll keep looking to see what the problem was and try to learn something from it. Overall it wasn't a very good weekend for the home team. Everyone is looking forward to getting to Mid-Ohio because we think we will be strong there."

- Up to the Challenge of Mid-Ohio? The FedEx Championship Series will take a much-deserved week off after running six races in the past seven weeks. The Championship will reconvene on the physically demanding Mid-Ohio road course in Lexington, Ohio. Fittipaldi finished third last season at the track.

-NHR

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Mauricio Gugelmin , Oriol Servia , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain