CHAMPCAR/CART: Elkhart Lake: Race report

Cristiano da Matta enters top-10 in career CART Fedex Championship Series wins after widening points lead with Road America victory. ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. (August 18, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...

Cristiano da Matta enters top-10 in career CART Fedex Championship Series wins after widening points lead with Road America victory.

ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. (August 18, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) had seen the rest of the field starting to appear in his rear-view mirrors after letting his CART FedEx Championship Series points lead dwindle to 27 points as the Champ Cars visited the 4.048-mile Road America layout Sunday for the Grand Prix at Road America Featuring the Motorola 220.

But the field would get no closer on a sunny afternoon in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin as da Matta made his move on the 39th of the day's 60 laps and would pace the next 21 circuits to take his sixth victory of the season. Da Matta would break a three-race winless streak with his first Road America win - a finish that would move him into some select company as he joined Tom Sneva, Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Juan Pablo Montoya with 10 career CART victories.

The day started with da Matta doing the chasing as Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) took the lead on the first lap from polesitter Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) heading into the braking zone in Turn Five. Tracy would hold the point through the first set of pit stops but gave up the lead to Junqueira when his Team KOOL Green managers called him in on Lap 24 for his second pit stop.

Junqueira would pace the next 13 laps, leading his first road-course circuits of the 2002 season as he looked to repeat his 2001 Road America win, but fell prey to the same malady that moved Tracy off of the point when he pitted ahead of da Matta on Lap 39. Da Matta would get a break on the next lap when Tracy was the victim of an aggressive move by Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) that sent both of them spinning into the Turn 12 gravel trap.

Da Matta would hold the lead on the restart over Junqueira and Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and would get quick work from his Newman-Haas crew to maintain his position over the last 10 orbits. The win would be the sixth of the season for da Matta, making him the first driver since Montoya in 1999 to win as many as six races in a year.

Tagliani would slide past Junqueira on the final set of pit stops and had to fight off the charging Team Target driver to finish in the runner-up spot. Junqueira closed to within the rear wing of Tagliani in the final trips around the layout and ran the fastest lap of the event on the penultimate lap of the race (1:43.792 / 140.404 mph) before settling for the third spot.

Tagliani would move from 10th to sixth in the point standings with his finish, which matched the career-high that he set at Toronto last season. The finish was his best road-course placing of the 2002 campaign and moved him to within just five points of fourth-placed Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) in the championship chase.

Junqueira would settle for his fourth podium finish of the season, a finish that moved him into a second-place tie with Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) - 42 points behind the front-running da Matta after 12 of the year's 19 races.

Although he finished just off the podium, Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) and his Mo Nunn Racing squad were pleased after the Brazilian worked his way up from last on the grid to claim the fourth spot. The finish was the second top-five in the last three races and boosted him four spots to 13th in the season standings.

Another welcome finish landed in the Team Rahal pits as Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola Bridgestone) earned his first top-five since placing second at Long Beach in Round 2 of the championship. Vasser made big gains after his final stop, climbing from eighth to secure the fifth spot. Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) would snare the sixth spot while Mid-Ohio winner Carpentier would post his best-ever Road America finish by taking seventh.

Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) showed that his extra Wednesday practice time paid off as he earned his career-best finish by carrying his Herdez Competition ride to an eighth-place effort. Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would again score in the points, marking the 12th consecutive weekend of adding to his point total after finishing ninth, while Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top 10.

CHAMP CAR TOP-THREE QUOTES

* CRISTIANO DA MATTA (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I'm very pleased with the way everything went today of course. The strategy played a very important part in what we did today. Some guys tried to make stops on our pace and shorted themselves on fuel, which resulted in earlier pit stops for them. But it worked for us today. The car was consistent and we didn't want to repeat what happened in Mid-Ohio last weekend. I didn't want to make that same mistake again. I got a little bit concerned the last two laps and was driving about 99 percent with these guys [Tagliani and Junqueira] behind me. We wanted to bump start our rhythm again and we were really just looking for a top five. But during the race I felt good and I was keeping up a good pace. It was very rewarding to finish the race and even better to win this one."

· ALEX TAGLIANI (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone): "The Player's Team is working really hard at the moment. They have been working hard at the shop and we have been improving every race. The only mistake we had was putting in a seventh gear that was pulling low revs. But at speed the car was handling good and I might have been able to pass Cristiano if I had a shorter seventh gear. In the end I had to protect my position from Bruno but I'm pleased with a second today."

* BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I can't complain about third place. I was a little unlucky when Cristiano pitted a few laps before me on the second stop. I would have been able to overtake him coming out on cold tires but the yellow came out and I lost position. I thought we could have been two tenths faster. I didn't have much downforce so it was hard to outbrake Alex and make a pass."

NOTEWORTHY:

* Sunday's race covered 242.880 miles, marking the longest race in terms of mileage since 1983, and was the fifth longest in Champ Car history. The 1981 and '82 events at Riverside and the 1982 and '83 races at Cleveland covered more than 310 miles to set the CART standard.

* Michel Jourdain Jr. set a new Team Rahal record by scoring points in his 12th consecutive race. Team namesake Bobby Rahal held the old team mark by tallying points in 11 consecutive races in 1990-91. The CART record is 23 consecutive points-paying finishes, held by Al Unser Sr.

* Patrick Carpentier's seventh-place finish broke a string of four straight races in which the driver that entered the event in second place in the points failed to finish the race.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams HART