CHAMPCAR/CART: Denver: Newman/Haas preview

Newman/Haas Racing heads to the mile high city for the first time since 1991 - hoping to score their second pole and first win in the city DENVER, Colo. (August 28, 2002) --- Heading west for the 14th of 19 Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART)...

Newman/Haas Racing heads to the mile high city for the first time since 1991 - hoping to score their second pole and first win in the city

DENVER, Colo. (August 28, 2002) --- Heading west for the 14th of 19 Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx events, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) hopes to leave the inaugural Shell Grand Prix of Denver with a "rocky mountain high." The Shell Grand Prix of Denver will mark a return of the Champ cars to the city since 1991 - an event where then Newman/Haas Racing driver Michael Andretti won the pole position and finished third.

A total of 1.622 miles of temporary street course, positioned on the streets of downtown Denver, composes the second of two inaugural races this season, with the first being last weekend's affair at Montreal. With only six races left in the 2002 Championship hunt both Cristiano da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi hope to better the team's previous best result in Denver of third place as well as their Montreal performance of second and seventh respectively. The course layout is on NHR's side as da Matta and Fittipaldi have proven themselves as formidable competition on road and street courses this season.

In 2002 alone, NHR has proved to be the most successful team on the CART circuit, especially on road and street courses as they attempt to capture their fourth Champ car championship in their 20th season. Of their 67 total team victories, 44 of those have come on road/street courses including da Matta's five road/street course victories out of six total wins so far this season. Da Matta currently leads the series in points (161), wins (6), top-three podium finishes (7), laps led (526), pole positions (6), front-row starting spots (8) and road-course points (137). With a maximum of 136 possible points remaining, he can clinch the 2002 title by scoring 82 more points (a third-place in each race) this season, regardless of his competition's finishes.

Stretching his points lead to 55 after acquiring his sixth pole position and second place finish in a maiden voyage in Montreal last weekend, da Matta is set to continue his success on road and street courses as well as new tracks this season. Piloting the No. 6 Havoline Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone to victory lane more than anyone this season, da Matta revealed his thoughts on his first trip to Denver. He said, "With two new races in a row at this stage in the Championship, it's important to unload the cars and be competitive right away. The Havoline team showed in Montreal that they had prepared well because we were competitive right away. Historically speaking, the team has a very good method to prepare themselves for going to places they have never been. Every time we go to new tracks, it's a bit of a question mark but I'm very confident we will be fine."

"Historically speaking," as da Matta put it, NHR has experienced some success at the mile-high location of Denver when the series competed here in 1990 and 1991. At the 1991 event on a different temporary street course, Michael Andretti landed a pole position, led six laps, and finished in third place in 1991 despite losing a lap after a collision with Bobby Rahal that left him with a flat tire. It was the best start and finish for NHR in the two races previously held in the city.

Confident that his team has done their homework for this year's Denver event, much like they did the week prior at Montreal, da Matta commented on NHR's preparation for this rookie venue. "We had one of our engineers in Denver before in a rental car but as most of the track is in a parking lot we didn't get much of an idea about the track," da Matta said. "Of course the work we will do on Thursday will be very important. Also all of the information we have from the organizer of the event - the radius of each turn, the length of each straight - will be very important because we have a simulation program that this will be used for. Usually we use the simulation program before we go to each venue and usually it's pretty accurate and helps us sort out gearing and other basic things."

However, there is one thing NHR computer's can't simulate, and that's altitude. Known for its mile high location, Denver may hamper peak performance for man and machine. Da Matta said, "It's going to be different. It's going to be a new experience for me as well as for most of the teams. I know Toyota has tested at the higher altitude so they know how to prepare the engines for the race. The car, at a higher altitude, will produce less downforce so we are going to have less grip. It's going to be more difficult to get the cooling for the engine, the brakes and everything. For the driver, physically, I cannot imagine how it will be because I have never been at such an altitude in my whole life. I've been to Mexico City but only visiting - I've never worked out at that high of an altitude. It's going to be a bit of a question mark but I'm very well prepared physically for all of the tracks we go to so hopefully I'm not going to have a problem."

A strong physical condition for a demanding CART FedEx season has benefited da Matta well as he has been able to maintain a comfortable championship points lead for much of the season. Da Matta officially eliminated three drivers from championship contention at Montreal - Mario Dominguez, Oriol Servia and Townsend Bell - and hopes to eliminate more this weekend.

With the season winding down quickly, da Matta is cautious of his advantage in the points race. "Before we were just taking the Championship one race at a time but now we are starting to think more about being conservative and making sure we collect some points everywhere we go," da Matta said. "At the beginning of the season, you could be more aggressive to gain some points but now we are switching to a little bit more of a conservative approach so we can make sure we collect a good amount of points. We still have to push hard in qualifying and in the race because the CART FedEx championship is so competitive that no lead can be big enough."

One of da Matta's fiercest competitors for the points battle and on track resides in the neighboring pit stall. Behind the wheel of the No. 11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone in his seventh season with NHR, Fittipaldi is currently in fifth place in the point standings with a total of 88.

Finishing in seventh last weekend at Montreal, Fittipaldi registered his seventh top-seven finish of the season. His efforts have not only kept himself near the top fourth of the points race, but also gave NHR the only pair of teammates in the top five.

Like his teammate, Fittipaldi, a well-versed triathlete, is also in peak physical condition, which he feels will play into his favor, but may not give him a clear advantage amongst CART competitors, heading into Denver. "When I went to the IronMan Training Camp in Boulder, Colorado, a few years back (June 1999), I cycled, ran and swam at the higher altitude," Fittipaldi noted. "Yeah, you notice the difference a little bit but I don't think anyone will have a problem. These days, you have to be in good shape to race these cars at this level."

Fittipaldi also noted that it wasn't just his body that would be affected by higher altitudes, but that his Champ car may also feel the effects of the thinner air and the layout of the course. He said, "I think the speeds will be slower than most of our street races due to nature of track and the tight turns but it will definitely be difficult on the equipment. The brakes could be a problem due to brake wear and the temperature. The altitude will make things a little more demanding as well. It will be a test of man and machine."

Knowing that his NHR crew has the talent and ability to be successful on new tracks, Fittipaldi is hoping to duplicate the team's one-two finish from Laguna Seca, Calif., earlier this season although he would prefer to reverse the finishing order and earn the top rung of the podium. "It's a new event so its not like we have old data to refer to but it's the same for everyone," Fittipaldi said. "We have run well on this type of track so I'm pretty confident. I'm looking forward to the event and I think we will run well."

NHR engine manufacturer, Toyota is also hoping to run well at Denver, as the manufacturer's championship begins to heat up as the season begins to enter its final stages. Three Toyota-powered drivers now rank in the top five in CART points with just six races remaining. Toyota pilots Cristiano da Matta, Bruno Junqueira and Christian Fittipaldi rank first, third and fifth, respectively. Toyota continues to lead the CART Manufacturer's Championship with a 24-point advantage over Honda, 226-202. Ford is third - 52 points behind with 174.

Yet another new market for the CART FedEx series, Denver will be a hotbed of excitement as the Champ car circuit makes its return after so many years away. Utilizing the same promoter as the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Shell Grand Prix of Denver is predicted to be both an entertainment and financial success as the three-day event is expected to generate an estimated direct annual economic impact of over $30 million and an indirect impact of $150 million in Denver and the Rocky Mountain Region for the first year of the event. As a comparison, the 28th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach generates an economic impact of approximately $39 million annually on the cities of Long Beach and Los Angeles, Calif., and its attendees occupy about 5,000 local hotel rooms. In addition to on-track entertainment, off-track activities will include the Pioneer Rock-N-Roar Concert Series, which is scheduled to take place Saturday, August 31st at 5:00 p.m. with rock band TRAIN and is free to all Saturday Shell Grand Prix of Denver ticketholders.

"The race will be a big event," da Matta said. "Racing in CART is always exciting, close and competitive but apart from that if the Denver race is similar to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, it will be a big, big street party. While you are working you see everybody having beers, looking at the girls and it's pretty interesting for everyone. I think the Montreal race was not only great for the fans, it was great for the drivers because we could see that they were enjoying the event. I know the race promoters can create the same type of event in Denver."

Friday's provisional qualifying will air live on SPEED Channel from 4-5:30 p.m., followed CART Friday Night later that evening on SPEED Channel at 10:30 p.m. Saturday's final round of Champ Car qualifying is slated for 3:30-5:00 p.m. live on SPEED Channel. This Sunday's live broadcast of the Shell Grand Prix of Denver will air on the SPEED Channel at 3:00 p.m. with the 30-minute pre-race show beginning at 2:30 p.m. All times are Eastern.

What They're Saying About

CRISTIANO DA MATTA, #6 Havoline Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone:

What knowledge does NHR have about this new track?:

"We had one of our engineers in Denver before in a rental car but as most of the track is in a parking lot we didn't get much of an idea about the track. Of course the work we will do on Thursday will be very important. Also all of the information we have from the organizer of the event - the radius of each turn, the length of each straight - will be very important because we have a simulation program. Usually we use the simulation program before we go to each venue and usually it's pretty accurate and helps us sort out gearing and other basic things.

With the same promoter as the Toyota GP of Long Beach, what type of event will this be?:

"The race will be a big event. Racing in CART is always exciting, close and competitive but apart from that if the Denver race is similar to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, it will be a big, big street party. While you are working you see everybody having beers, looking at the girls and it's pretty interesting for everyone. I think the Montreal race was not only great for the fans, it was great for the drivers because we could see that they were enjoying the event. I know the race promoters can create the same type of event in Denver.

On racing at a higher altitude:

"It's going to be different. It's going to be a new experience for me as well as for most of the teams. I know Toyota has tested at the higher altitude so they know how to prepare the engines for the race. The car, at a higher altitude, will produce less downforce so we are going to have less grip. It's going to be more difficult to get the cooling for the engine, the brakes and everything. For the driver, physically, I cannot imagine how it will be because I have never been at such an altitude in my whole life. I've been to Mexico City but only visiting - I've never worked out at that high of an altitude. It's going to be a bit of a question mark but I'm very well prepared physically for all of the tracks we go to so hopefully I'm not going to have a problem.

"With two new races in a row at this stage in the Championship, it's important to unload the cars and be competitive right away. The Havoline team showed in Montreal that they had prepared well because we were competitive right away. Historically speaking, the team has a very good method to prepare themselves for going to places they have never been. Every time we go to new tracks, it's a bit of a question mark but I'm very confident we will be fine. Before we were just taking the Championship one race at a time but now we are starting to think more about being conservative and making sure we collect some points everywhere we go. At the beginning of the season, you could be more aggressive to gain some points but now we are switching to a little bit more of a conservative approach so we can make sure we collect a good amount of points. We still have to push hard in qualifying and in the race because the CART FedEx Championship is so competitive that no lead can be big enough."

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, #11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone:

"I think the speeds will be slower than most of our street races due to nature of track and the tight turns but it will definitely be difficult on the equipment. The brakes could be a problem due to brake wear and the temperature. It will be a test of man and machine.

On the demands of racing at a higher altitude:

"When I went to the IronMan Training Camp in Boulder, Colorado, a few years back (June 1999), I cycled, ran and swam at the higher altitude. Yeah, you notice the difference a little bit but I don't think anyone will have a problem. These days, you have to be in good shape to race these cars at this level. Having said that, the altitude will be a little more demanding on man and machine.

"Apart from that it will be a huge event like the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It's a new event so it's not like we have old data to refer to but it's the same for everyone. We have run well on this type of track so I'm pretty confident. I'm looking forward to the event and I think we will run well."

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Oriol Servia , Townsend Bell , Cristiano da Matta