CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta wins at Road America

CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta wins at Road America

Cristiano da Matta won today's 240-mile race at Road America, using good fuel mileage, superior pit strategy and a little luck to win over Alex Tagliani and Bruno Junqueira. A lap 40 crash between Paul Tracy and Kenny Brack brought out the yellow...

Cristiano da Matta won today's 240-mile race at Road America, using good fuel mileage, superior pit strategy and a little luck to win over Alex Tagliani and Bruno Junqueira. A lap 40 crash between Paul Tracy and Kenny Brack brought out the yellow flags just as the leaders were in their pit window. Junqueira had given up the lead to da Matta the lap before and da Matta was able to retain the lead when he made his stop. Tagliani got second away from Junqueira on the final round of stops due to the longer fueling time Junqueira's team needed because of their earlier stops.

Cristiano da Matta.
Photo by Michael Kim.

Tracy made a great start from the outside of the second row and fell into line behind polesitter Junqueira into turn 1. Tracy kept enough momentum to pass Junqueira for the lead on the following straight. At turn seven, Michael Andretti locked up his rear brakes and spun into the gravel trap, bringing out the pace car for two laps for the track crews to put his car back on the track. Michael continued a lap behind the field.

Many teams' alternate pit strategies started early, with Mario Dominguez coming in after only one lap when the caution flew. On lap 5, Christian Fittipaldi made his first stop, followed a lap later by Toranosuke Takagi. On lap seven, both Patrick Carpentier and Michel Jourdain Jr. made their first pit visits and Jimmy Vasser brought the second Team Rahal car in on lap eight.

The first required pit window brought the rest of the cars in on lap 14, and Tracy retained his lead with Junqueira holding second place. Brack moved ahead of both da Matta and Tagliani into third with a short fuel fill, and Scott Dixon came out ahead of Fittipaldi to keep sixth place.

The positions up front remained the same until the second pit window. Tracy pitted out of the lead on lap 25 - three laps early - due to poor fuel mileage. A lap later, Tony Kanaan also made an early stop to refill his thirsty Honda and Adrian Fernandez came in with a sick powerplant and retired from the race. At the same time, Dixon pulled off the track in the turn 5 runoff area with fire coming from the back thanks to his engine's failure.

In the next segment of the race, Oriol Servia had the fastest car on the track, running fast times in sixth position. His race ended shortly afterward though, as he coasted to a stop just before the pit entrance with low fuel pressure.

Alex Tagliani.
Photo by Michael Kim.
As the next fuel window approached, Brack tried to pass Tracy for fifth position under braking for Road America's turn 12 - Canada Corner. Although he got cleanly alongside, Brack lost grip with his rear tires and slid into Tracy, sending them both into the gravel trap and out of the race.

When the race restarted, da Matta led Junqueira and Tagliani with Tony Kanaan having a good run in fourth place. Dario Franchitti was running fifth ahead of Carpentier. Vasser, Fittipaldi, Dominguez and Jourdain were the remaining lead lap cars at this point in the race. Franchitti's car didn't respond when the green waved, and he was passed by both Carpentier and Vasser. He coasted into the same turn 5 runoff area where Dixon had gone earlier, his car smoking from a blown engine.

The leaders had only one more pit stop to make and they got their opportunity when Shinji Nakano overdrove Canada Corner and CART officials waved the twin yellow flags for a third time. On these final stops, Junqueira's slow stop allowed Tagliani to move up to second place. Carpentier was still on a different pit strategy than the other remaining lead lap teams and fell two positions behind Vasser and Fittipaldi (to 7th) by making his stop before the yellow for the recovery of Nakano's car

The final finishing order was: da Matta, Tagliani, Junqueira, Kanaan, Vasser, Fittipaldi, Carpentier, Dominguez and Jourdain, all on the lead lap. Andretti and Nakano were two laps down in tenth and 11th places, and Franchitti salvaged a single championship point despite his blown engine. The win was da Matta's sixth of the season and the 10th of his career. That win total ties him for tenth on the list of career CART winners with Tom Sneva, bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Da Matta extends his points lead again after three tough weeks and now leads Junqueira and Carpentier by 42. Behind those three, there is a tight battle. Franchitti has 85 points, 58 fewer than da Matta, but leads Fittipaldi by 3, Tagliani and Jourdain by 5 and Andretti by eight.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya