CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta, Fittipaldi Gold Coast race report

Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia - October 28, 2001 Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Driver Da Matta Charged To His Third Overall Victory And First On A Street Course In The Cart Fedex Series Honda Indy 300 In Australia; Fittipaldi Finished ...

Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia - October 28, 2001

Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Driver Da Matta Charged To His Third Overall Victory And First On A Street Course In The Cart Fedex Series Honda Indy 300 In Australia; Fittipaldi Finished Eighth

Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta won his third overall CART event and second of the season in the 65-lap Honda Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia. It was his first on a street course after a win at the road course in Mexico in the 2001 season-opener and his first victory on the oval in Chicago in 2000. The win marked the 60th for Newman/Haas Racing in it's 315th race and the 10th for Toyota since by joining the series. The win also marks the 106th for Lola, of which Newman/Haas Racing scored 56.

Da Matta came to Australia in search of vindication after running in podium contention here in 2000 while in third place until a caution period came out and the pits were closed as he was scheduled to make his stop and ultimately ended up fourth. In qualifying on Saturday, da Matta had a shot at his first career Champ car pole but a miscommunication with CART lessened his chances and he settled for a still-strong third place start. On the first of 65 laps, fourth place starter Paul Tracy passed da Matta going into turn one before a caution period came out to remove the crashed car of rookie Casey Mears. The race was restarted on lap three and da Matta, who was undaunted by Paul Tracy's reputation as an aggressive driver, ran wheel-to-wheel with him and successfully made a pass in turn three. He held third place until he made his first pit stop on lap 23. After a brief caution period to restart Dario Franchitti who had spun, da Matta regained third place at the conclusion of the routine pit stops. On lap 45, he moved from third into second place when second place runner Gil de Ferran made his second stop. Da Matta moved into second place briefly until he passed Roberto Moreno to take over the lead of the race on lap 46 for two laps before both drivers made their second and final pit stops on lap 48. Quick pit action allowed him to return to the race ahead of Moreno in fourth place behind three cars that had yet to stop. On lap 52 he resumed the lead after all final stops were completed and built a lead over second place runner Michael Andretti that grew to a comfortable eight seconds before the checkered flag after 65 laps. He scored 20 of the maximum 22 points with his victory and moved from sixth place to fifth in the Championship with one race to go. Although slim, da Matta still holds a mathematical possibility of finishing third as he is 21 points back from current third place driver Helio Castroneves and fourth place Michael Andretti who have 141 each with 22 possible points available at the season finale where Newman/Haas Racing is the defending winner. Marlboro Team Penske driver Gil de Ferran clinched the championship with his fourth place finish. Following are da Matta's post race comments:

"Again I have to buy Tony (Kanaan) another bike," said da Matta. "Before the season started, we thought we would both be strong this season and win some races so we made a bet that who ever won had to buy the other a bicycle. I bought him one after Mexico and now I am going to have to give him a second one but it would be my pleasure to give him 20 bikes. (Said jokingly about the record weekend total of 286,610 in attendance:) I think my performance is related to the number of people at the races. There were a lot of people in Mexico as well as here today. I think I'm the kind of guy that likes to show off. It's awesome to win in front of a bunch of people. You can feel the excitement. I'm still looking for my big win of the season in the United States though. I'll go back to Fontana for my last chance to do it this season. The team really needed the win and we hope to carry the momentum to the end of the year. I was following Gil and running my target mileage but I could use a little extra fuel if I wanted but I didn't think it was the way to go. He went a lap longer on his fuel but he was probably getting the same lap times. I was able to pass Roberto two laps before I pitted. Winning a race anywhere is a great feeling but winning here is almost like winning at home. I have been here for 10 days since last Friday and I have made many friends. It's special to win here."

Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi ran the third fastest time in the first qualifying session but dropped to a disappointing 15th place starting position by the end of the "fast group" qualifying session after the track improved as usual due to more rubber being laid down resulting in fastest lap times. In the 65-lap Honda Indy 300, Fittipaldi held 15th place until he moved into 14th on lap 11 when 11th place runner Oriol Servia stopped on course due to a mechanical failure. He held the position until the first round of regular pit stops began and he pitted on lap 23. He returned to the track in 14th place but moved into 10th by lap 26 after Dario Franchitti spun, Patrick Carpentier was penalized for entering the "closed" pit on his previous stop, and da Matta was in front of Jimmy Vasser and Scott Dixon who pitted a few laps later than him but were not able to capitalize on the feat due to track position. He held 10th place until lap 40 when seventh place runner Helio Castroneves locked up his brakes while in pursuit of eventual second place finisher Michael Andretti, moving Fittipaldi to 9th place. On lap 46 of 65, Fittipaldi gained two positions when Kenny Brack and Max Papis pitted one lap before his final stop of the race. Fittipaldi's crew performed a flawless pit stop and he returned to the race in 12th place behind a few drivers out of sequence. Michel Jourdain, Jimmy Vasser and Scott Dixon were able to stretch their fuel longer and pitted later than Fittipaldi and returned to the track ahead of him due to track position. On lap 49 he moved into 11th place after Alex Barron pit and on into 10th on lap 55 after polesitter and previous third place runner Roberto Moreno pitted and subsequently retired with mechanical failure. He held 10th place until lap 64 of 65 when Scott Dixon slowed on course due to a gearbox failure and he moved into 9th. Also on the final lap, Paul Tracy dropped from fourth place to 14th by the time he moved from turn eight to the Start/Finish line due to a mechanical failure resulting in a fire. Fittipaldi collected five points for his eighth place finish but remained in 14th place in the standings with a mathematical shot at a top-10 finish with strong results in the season-finale Marlboro 500, where he returns as the defending champion. Following are his post race comments:

"The car was hard for me to drive the entire race so I am pretty happy to have finished in eighth place," said Fittipaldi. "We had a good car on Friday and Saturday but it wasn't as good this morning. We made some changes before the race and they obviously weren't the exact ones we should have made. We know we will be competitive in Fontana so all of our energy is now focused on defending our win there."

- Another Year of Record AttendanceThursday's attendance for the Honda Indy 300 was 48,014 while 53,551 turned out to participate in Friday's activities. Saturday saw 74,858 participate in the festivities and by the start of the race on Sunday the grand total for the four day event was 286,610. <pre> Top-Five Results from the Honda Indy 300 - After 19 of 20 events DRIVER TEAM STARTED 1. Cristiano da Matta Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola 3 2. Michael Andretti Motorola Honda-Reynard 6 3. Alex Tagliani Players Ford-Reynard 7 4. Gil de Ferran Marlboro Honda-Reynard 2 5. Kenny Brack Shell Ford-Lola 13 8. Christian Fittipaldi Kmart Toyota-Lola 15

CART FedEx Championship Series Point Standings - After 19 of 20 events 1. Gil de Ferran Marlboro Team Penske Honda-Reynard 191 2. Kenny Brack Shell Ford-Lola 163 3. Helio Castroneves Marlboro Team Penske Honda-Reynard 141 4. Michael Andretti Motorola Honda-Reynard 141 5. Cristiano da Matta Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola 120 14. Christian Fittipaldi Kmart Toyota-Lola 70

- NHR Returns Not Only as the Defending Winner but Also the Most Recent CART Winner - The team will travel back to the United States on Monday to begin the laborious task of preparing for the 500-mile, season-finale Marlboro 500 that is scheduled to take place on November 4 in Fontana, Calif. Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi is the defending winner.

-NHR-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Casey Mears , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Kenny Brack , Alex Barron , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams Team Penske