- Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta had yet to finish a 500-mile race entering the Harrah's 500 at Michigan International Speedway, a venue not on the 2002 schedule but after he encountered never-ending challenges in the pits, da...
- Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta had yet to finish a 500-mile race entering the Harrah's 500 at Michigan International Speedway, a venue not on the 2002 schedule but after he encountered never-ending challenges in the pits, da Matta drove to an impressive fourth place finish as well as set the second fastest race lap behind first time CART winner Patrick Carpentier. After rain washed out Saturday's scheduled qualifying session and prompted CART officials to grid cars based on the morning practice times, da Matta started the event in 13th place despite being one of five drivers the Brazilian thought had a strong chance at earning the pole position. Only seven drivers were able to complete their single-car qualifying runs before the rains came. The CART rule book states that if all competitors are not able to qualify, then the chief steward has the option of gridding cars according to the current championship points standings, or by the most recent official practice session at Michigan International which is what took place.
The event was typical of recent CART competition at Michigan International Speedway, featuring an amazing 60 official lead changes among 11 drivers at the start/finish line and an unofficial 167 intra-lap lead swaps around the race track. The 250-lap race began under caution as the field was not adequately lined up. The green flag flew on lap 2 and da Matta dropped from 13th into 22nd and began working his way back through the field. By lap 17, he was in 16th place which he held until lap 26 before steadily moving into 13th place before the first round of pit stops began on lap 34. By conserving fuel, da Matta was able to move into second place before making his pit stop on lap 42. Once in his pit, a routine stop began but the hydraulic airjack ceased to operate and his car floated back down forcing the crew members to manually lift the car in order to complete the stop. In one of the two longest races CART sanctions, the airjack is invaluable due to the fact there are normally between six and seven pit stops on average and to manually raise the car each time costs valuable time. Da Matta returned to the race in 14th place and began gaining positions. On lap 55, he briefly moved into 9th place after passing eventual first-time race winner Patrick Carpentier before dropping back to 10th. On laps 60 and 61, he traded positions with Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta before moving into seventh place ahead of Jimmy Vasser and Franchitti. As the second round of pit stops began, da Matta continued to conserve fuel and move up to third place before making his own stop on lap 79. The team again raised the car manually but the car dropped and caused a delayed stop dropping da Matta one lap down to the current leader Kenny Brack amd in 18th place. He held 18th place until lap 98 when Gil de Ferran retired from the race due to electrical failure and he moved into 17th. By lap 109, he moved into 13th place by staying on track rather than pitting as Oriol Servia and Jimmy Vasser did during a caution period to remove debris on the track. When the race was restarted on lap 112, da Matta passed Michael Andretti for 12th place. He held 12th place for the following 10 laps until moving into 9th place before his third pit stop on lap 124. The manual jack slipped during the stop and the back of the car dropped to the ground before the tires were completely on and the stop was again slowed. He retune4rd to the race in 17th place, two laps down to the race leader but moved into 16th for the next 18 laps after Jimmy Vasser retired due to mechanical failure. During this stint, Fittipaldi, who was 11 laps down to the leader due to an early race spin in the pits, began working with his teammate in order to help him conserve fuel by having him drive in his draft. On lap 152, a caution flag came out in order to remove debris on the track. Many of the front runners made pit stops but da Matta and team decided to stay on course to make up positions and hope future caution periods worked in their favor. By doing this, he was able to get one of his laps back and was only one lap down to the leaders. By the time he made his fourth pit stop on lap 155 he had moved into 10th place. Again the team had trouble stabilizing the front manual airjack and the car dropped. He returned to the race in 12th place without going two laps down but lost valuable track position. On lap 164, Memo Gidley passed him for position but he regained 12th place after Bruno Junqueira pitted. On lap 176, he again passed Carpentier for 11th place and continued to move up to ninth place by lap 180 after passing Alex Zanardi and Bryan Herta. By lap 168 of 25, he was in seventh place after Servia made a pit stop and Andretti retired with mechanical failure. As the field began making another pit stop, da Matta worked his way up into third place on lap 200 before making his fifth stop on lap 203. He returned to the race in 10th place with the mission of getting in the lead pack and following others in order to take advantage of the air draft in order to conserve fuel. By lap 208, he was in 9th place after Gidley made a pit stop but lost two positions on the following lap when he was passed but Alex Tagliani and Paul Tracy. He ran in 11th place until a caution period came out to remove his teammate Christian Fittipaldi's car after he made contact as a result of mechanical failure. When the pits opened for stops, the top-10 pitted and da Matta gained valuable track position and moved into seventh place but more importantly, on the lead lap. At that point in the race, the team was hoping for another yellow period in order to comfortably have enough fuel to make it to the end of the race without another stop for fuel. The race was restarted on lap 224 of 250 and da Matta held his position. On lap 223, Kenny Brack and teammate Max Papis, who combined to lead 138 laps, came into contact and crashed which brought out the final caution period of the day and moved da Matta into fifth place and able to complete the event without pitting. Da Matta's running order behind the pace car was ninth overall as he was behind four cars that were not on the lead lap. In order to move up in order, he would need to pass the lapped cars before it elevated him. With 10 laps remaining, the race was restarted.
On lap 247 he moved into third place and on into second place although just briefly before being passed again and dropping to fifth place before taking over fourth place on the final lap. Carpentier scored his first CART Champ car victory while Dario Franchitti and Michel Jourdain Jr. finished with the exact lag time for second place, 0.243 seconds behind. The position was awarded to Franchitti. Jourdain Jr. scored his first podium finish of his six-year FedEx Championship Series career. The 60 official lead changes were only two shy of the all-time Champ Car record of 62 lead changes established at Michigan Speedway in 1998. Da Matta's fourth place finish was his best result since finishing second at Long Beach in the second event of 2001.
He collected 12 points for his strong effort and moved up from sixth place in the CART point standings to fifth, a mere 17 points out of first place with 67 to leader Kenny Brack who has 84. Following are da Matta's post race comments:
"I have no idea how we got back on the lead lap," said da Matta. "The guys did a great job with strategy considering how much we had to deal with today. From the first pit stop until the end of the race we had to use the manual Quick Jack instead of the airjack because it broke on the first stop and cost us a lot of time. Ultimately, compared to the others, the Quick Jack wasn't so quick. When they would jack up the front or rear of the car, the other end would drop. Instead of going a lap down on our stops we would go two laps down. Overall I am happy because I finally finished a 500-mile race and it was a tough one. The guys did a great job with the strategy to overcome the problems. I got a bad start. It was the worst start of my life. The car was good though. At the end of the race, (Paul) Tracy and (Alex) Tagliani were protecting their teammates, which is normal. I just didn't have anyone to work with at that point. I was tight on fuel until the last yellow. Because I ran by myself most of the race, I didn't know where everyone else liked to run when we were going for it at the end of the race. I was the only one going low on the track as far as I could tell. I needed to get to the front before I did around the last five laps but on the last restart, I was behind four lapped cars so it took me a while to get up to the leaders. Considering everything that we dealt with today, fourth place is a victory."
- Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi entered the weekend optimistic about his chance of earning back-to-back win in a 500-mile event since his $1 million victory in Fontana, Calif. but unfortunately an early event spin in the pits dropped him to the back of the field. After working his way back up to 18th place, a mechanical failure at the rear of his car led to hard contact with the wall and he ultimately finished in 18th place.
Earlier in the weekend, after running well in practice, Fittipaldi Company were confident about the upcoming qualifying. Unfortunately the team was not able to realize their potential by making a run for the pole position and better Fittipaldi's qualifying spot of third place in both 2000 500-mile events due to the rain. Fittipaldi started the event in ninth place but lost the spot for part of the first green lap after swapping positions with Mauricio Gugelmin. He passed Shinji Nakano for eight place on the third lap as well as Bryan Herta on the fourth lap to take over seventh place. He fluctuated between seventh and ninth place until lap 30 when he briefly dropped to 10th but was back in seventh place by lap 35 before the first round of pit stops began. As he stretched his fuel load while others pitted, he moved up into the lead for lap 40 before coming into the pits for his own stop on lap 41. As he was driving on the beginning of the Pit Road, he spun and stalled. The CART Safety Crew appeared to attempt to start the car but was unable to. The Kmart crew ran the length of pit lane to push the car back to the pit box but the situation was made worse by the fact that a front and rear tire was deflated due to the spin. By the time the car arrived into the pit box and a pit stop was completed, Fittipaldi was 11 laps down to the leader and in 24th place. He held the position through his second pit stop on lap 80 and moved into 23rd on lap 98 when he completed more laps than Gil; de Ferran who had retired with electrical failure. He held 23rd place through his next pit stop on lap 127 and moved into 22nd on lap 130 when Jimmy Vasser retired with mechanical failure. On lap 152 he moved into 21st place after Shinji Nakano became the next victim of mechanical failure. He made his next stop on lap 171 and returned to the race in the same position but moved into 20th place on lap 174 when Tony Kanaan pitted and subsequently retired with mechanical failure. He moved into 19th placed on lap 180 when Alex Zanardi retied with electrical failure and into 18th place on lap 186 when his former teammate Michael Andretti retired with mechanical failure. For the following 19 laps, he led 18th place until lap 215 when he lost control of his race car in turn three, made hard contact with the wall and slide to a stop in turn four. Observers reported seeing fire from the back of the car before he spun. A post race inspection by the team indicated a mechanical failure at the rear of the car. Despite not collecting points toward the CART Championship, Fittipaldi remained ninth in the point standings with 49 points and is still only 35 points back from leader Kenny Brack who has 84 and did not score points either. Following are his post race comments:
"We started the race as a contender but that changed on my first stop," said Fittipaldi. "I made a mistake and lost it in the pits. A front and rear tire blew so it was hard for the guys to get me back to my pit quick and we lost 11 laps. From then on it was an uphill climb but we thought we could hang in there and get some points until we had a mechanical failure at the rear of the car."
- Da Matta Returns to Site of First Champ Car Victory as Well as New Home Event asThe FedEx Championship Series continues with its sixth event in seven weeks, the Target Grand Prix Presented by Energizer, next weekend, July 26-29, at Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero, Ill.
- Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Crew 4th in Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge...A total of five crews will qualify to compete in the annual Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge for a trophy and a $50,000 cash award. Four of the five finalists will be determined by the number of points they collect through the first 19 events of the FedEx Championship Series season. A fifth team (Mauricio Gugelmin's) was determined based on who spent the least amount of time in the pits during the Harrah's 500. Points are awarded according to the same scale used to score FedEx Championship Series drivers
(20-16-14-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1). Through Sunday's event, the crew for Helio Castroneves leads the season-long point standings with 78 points, followed by the crew for Roberto Moreno with 70. The crews for Cristiano da Matta and Gugelmin round out the top four, with 66 and 64 points, respectively.