CHAMPCAR/CART: Denver: Newman/Haas race report

Havoline driver da Matta finished third in the Shell Grand Prix of Denver; possible third place finish eluded Lilly driver Fittipaldi who finished fifth, - Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta drove to his eighth podium of the season with a third...

Havoline driver da Matta finished third in the Shell Grand Prix of Denver; possible third place finish eluded Lilly driver Fittipaldi who finished fifth,

- Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta drove to his eighth podium of the season with a third place finish in the Shell Grand Prix of Denver and maintained a comfortable lead over second place although it was reduced by three points from 55 to 52 with five CART FedEx Championship races left in 2002. Fellow Belo Horizonte native Bruno Junqueira led all 100 laps from pole and held off teammate Scott Dixon to score his second victory the season and third of his Champ Car career on a hot, partly sunny day that saw track temperatures lower than previous days but still in the 100 to 113 degree range.

Heading into the race, attrition was thought to be a potential problem with the high altitude as well as the demands of the bumpy circuit. This factor was reduced somewhat when CART elected to shorten the race from 115 to 100 laps in order to accommodate the television window. The lap times for the Champ Cars on the nine-turn, 1.622 temporary street course around the Pepsi Center were slightly longer than anticipated in Friday practice and qualifying, meaning that a 115-lap event would have pushed SPEED Channel's live coverage past the allotted time schedule. In addition to attrition caused by the high altitude and heat, another challenge was the fact that the temporary street course was very slippery and drivers had gone into the runoff areas - or worse, the wall - all weekend.

At the start of the race, da Matta held his seventh place position through the first of three mandatory pits stops at a maximum of 32 lap intervals and returned to the race in seventh place. During the first stint, Junqueira pulled away from second place Fernandez who appeared to slow third place runner and eventual second place finisher Dixon. It was later reported that he was experiencing clutch problems. The next pack of cars was headed up by fourth place runner Shinji Nakano, who also appeared to slightly hold up those in the pack behind him. This also effected da Matta in seventh place as race leader Junqueira was building on his gap and thus becoming un-catchable. He moved to sixth place on Lap 45 when previous sixth place runner Kenny Brack made an earlier stop than the maximum of Lap 64. From laps 45 to 61 he managed to close his gap to fifth place runner Fittipaldi from four seconds to 1.9. He held his position until Lap 62 when second place runner Adrian Fernandez made his second stop and he moved into fifth. He drove as hard as he could to make up track position before his next stop on Lap 64 and came back out behind Fittipaldi. He held his position until Lap 85 when Fernandez made his third and final stop before the maximum of Lap 96 and da Matta moved into fourth place. On lap 88, backmarkers Tora Takagi and Mario Dominguez collided in front of Fittipaldi, who immediately pitted as he came by the pit entry but before the yellow flag was displayed thus slowing the field and da Matta moved into fourth place. On Lap 89, the day's only yellow flag came out to remove the cars and da Matta caught up to the field as quick as possible under the caution in order to enter the pits in close proximity to those he would attempt to pass. Due to the timing of his stop as well as the fact that Fittipaldi had a slower stop, da Matta moved into third place when he returned to the track. As the field was bunched together again, da Matta had a shot at passing race leader Junqueira and second place runner Scott Dixon on the restart on Lap 93 but with each passing lap, the teammates were able to pull away a little more until the checkered flag on Lap 100. Da Matta finished 8.1-seconds in arrears of Junqueira and 7.9 behind second place. He collected 14 points of 23 maximum available for the weekend and only lost three points on his pre-race 55-point advantage over second place (then Dario Franchitti) which closed to 52 over Bruno Junqueira who won 22 of the 23 maximum points over the weekend. Following are his post race comments:

"I pushed as hard as I could with the car that I had under me," said da Matta. "I have to thank the crew for giving me good stops and Toyota for giving me a good engine under these difficult conditions. Everything worked well today and we were able to get some good points toward the Championship. We started the weekend good but somewhere along the way we went the wrong way with the car set-up. We didn't have the car to fight for the win but hopefully in England we can go for the win again. We struggled a bit this weekend but we know we are capable of better. It is still not time to relax. We can afford to have races where we don't win but definitely it is better for us to finish in the top-three each time."

- Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi drove to a fifth place finish in today's Shell Grand Prix of Denver although he was running third before his final stop where he experienced his second flawed stop due to airjack failures in two of the three mandatory stops. After starting in fifth place for the 100-lap event he maintained close pursuit of fourth place runner Shinji Nakano with what the team felt was a faster car although he was unable to pass him and held his position through his first pit stop on Lap 32. He returned to the track in fifth place behind Nakano and kept the margin around one-second in order to pass him if an opportunity arose. He held fifth place until Lap 62 when he moved into fourth when second place runner Adrian Fernandez, who reportedly had a clutch problem, made his second stop earlier than the maximum window. The field took advantage of his stop and attempted to make up ground on race leader Junqueira who had pulled away from Fernandez. He temporarily moved into third place as the front runners made their stops and returned to the race in fourth place despite a faulty airjack that caused the car to fall before the tires were attached. The Lilly crew quickly lifted the car so that the stop could be completed and Fittipaldi fortunately did not lose a position but rather gained one as previous fourth place runner Nakano didn't return on track after transmission failure. He held fourth place behind Fernandez who appeared to be holding up Fittipaldi who was running quick lap times but could not get close enough to make a safe pass. Between Laps 70-79, he closed to gap from 3.9-seconds to .7 but was unable to attempt a safe pass on the slippery surface. During this stint, da Matta, who was running in fifth place, was able to close the gap on Fittipaldi. On lap 85 Fittipaldi moved into third place when Fernandez made his earlier stop. Once Fernandez pitted, Fittipaldi began an attempt to close the 20-second gap that second place runner Scott Dixon had been able to build over Fernandez but he wouldn't have many laps to do this before the field was slowed. While in third place on lap 88, Fittipaldi was behind the lapped cars of Tora Takagi and Mario Dominguez when the duo collided. As he anticipated that a full course caution would come out he darted into the pit entrance as he came to it. The team was planning to keep him on track so the field could bunch up and Fittipaldi could close the gap to Dixon before entering the pits but was ready for him nonetheless. Unfortunately the team encountered another challenge as the stop was again hindered by another airjack failure. Once back on track, Fittipaldi was in fifth place behind his teammate da Matta in third and Adrian Fernandez, both of whom benefited from his slower stop. He held fifth place through the restart on Lap 93 but was unable to pass Fernandez before the 100 laps were completed. He collected 10 points for fifth place and maintained his fifth place standing although he moved to within three points of fourth place Patrick Carpentier who retired from the race in 17th place. It was his sixth top-five finish of the season. Following are his post race comments:

"We would have finished third and gained one position of fourth in the Championship but we had two bad stops," said Fittipaldi. "The airjack shot out of the car and it dropped in the middle of our stops. It's happened before and we still don't know what causes it but it cost us a third place finish. On the second stop, Cristiano was able to get ahead of me because of our problem and Shinji (Nakano) dropped out so we would have been in third if we had a trouble free stop. I have confidence in my guys and I'm pretty sure they can find a solution. Two cars crashed in front of me and I knew the yellow would come out and I was approaching the pit entrance so I came in. I made a mistake by coming into the pits and the team had problems on two of the three stops so it was a tough day for us. Considering all of that, at least we finished fifth."

- Manufacturing SuccessToyota-powered cars swept the top three spots for the second time this season, matching their effort in Toronto when Cristiano da Matta, Kenny Brack and Christian Fittipaldi filled the podium With today's 1-2-3 sweep, Toyota extended its CART Manufacturer's Championship lead to 34-points over Honda, 248-214. Ford is third - 70 points behind with 178.

- Next Up...The series will take a much needed weekend off after four consecutive races before crossing the Atlantic ocean for the Rockingham 500 at Rockingham Motor Speedway on September 14 in Corby, England. In the inaugural event in 2001, the team earned a third place finish after putting on an entertaining race for the European fans.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Christian Fittipaldi , Scott Dixon , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Mario Dominguez , Cristiano da Matta