CHAMPCAR/CART: Fittipaldi and Andretti Laguna Seca race report

- Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi looked set to score a podium finish in the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300 due to pit strategy but an extended yellow enabled the front runners to complete the race...

- Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi looked set to score a podium finish in the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300 due to pit strategy but an extended yellow enabled the front runners to complete the race without making a late stop for fuel which would have moved Fittipaldi into the top three with others on the same strategy. With flu-like symptoms since Saturday morning, Fittipaldi dropped from fifth on the provisional grid to an eighth place start on Sunday. On the first of 83 laps, Fittipaldi was hit by ninth place starter Jimmy Vasser in the corkscrew and was moved off of the racing line allowing both Vasser and Oriol Servia to get by. He held 10th place, just ahead of teammate Andretti and began reporting that the car was very hard to drive thus allowing time for the team to decide on any changes. He moved into ninth place when Servia pitted on Lap 27 before he made his first stop on lap 28. After all pit stops were complete, Fittipaldi moved into 11th place behind Andretti who was able to stretch his fuel and complete one more lap as well as gain valuable track position and move ahead of Fittipaldi. On lap 46, Roberto Moreno spun off course after a hot pursuit with Max Papis. Alex Tagliani also spun off course at turn five behind Moreno in a separate incident, which brought out the first and only caution period of the race.

The front runners pit under the caution but both Newman/Haas drivers stayed on course and made up ground, moving Fittipaldi into fifth place behind Andretti. The yellow period was extended to a total of seven laps on the 2.238-mile road course as CART worked many of those laps to get backmarker Alex Barron as well as Tony Kanaan and three other drivers in the proper order for a restart. The engineers calculated that Fittipaldi could pit to top-off his fuel and make it to the end of the race while the frontrunners would have to pit for fuel which would move Fittipaldi up to a top finish. He came in on lap 53 for a quick stop and returned to the race in 15th place before the race was restarted on lap 54. He moved into 14th place when Tony Kanaan pitted on lap 58 and into 12th when Andretti pitted on lap 61. He held 12th place until lap 82 when ninth place runner Paul Tracy spun on the last lap. He moved into 10th place when eighth place runner Servia slowed on course in turn nine of the final lap. The length of the yellow, which was the longest in CART history at Laguna Seca, enabled the frontrunners to stretch their fuel and make it to the end of the race.

Teammates Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran finished one-two for Penske and de Ferran took the lead in the CART FedEx Championship. Following are Fittipaldi's post race comments:

"The car was absolutely a disaster," said Fittipaldi. "It was undriveable. We sort of kidded ourselves about how the car was on Friday and kept insisting to keep it a certain way and it was obviously the wrong choice. I don't know how I made it to the end without spinning it. It is pretty visible how bad our day was since there are two black marks on the car. Vasser hit me at the beginning of the race and I almost went off in the grass and he and Oriol got by me. That was one black mark. Then Tracy hit me and got by for position later. The yellow was too long or we would have finished in the top-three. I felt a lot better this morning but being sick certainly puts you down a little in the middle of the race but this is our job so we keep driving."

- Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline driver Michael Andretti dropped to second place in the CART FedEx point standings six points behind Gil de Ferran, who finished second in the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey as Andretti failed to collect points for his 14th place finish while struggling with the flu since Saturday morning. Andretti held his 11th place starting position until moving into 10th when Oriol Servia made his first pit stop on lap 27 of 83 laps. He moved up to fifth place on the following two laps by stretching his fuel farther than some drivers before he made his first stop on lap 29. He rejoined the race in 10th place ahead of Fittipaldi due to the strategy. He held 10th place until Roberto Moreno and Alex Tagliani spun off course at turn five in separate incidents on lap 46, which brought out the first and only caution period of the race. The front runners pit under the caution but both Newman/Haas drivers stayed on course and made up ground, moving Andretti into fourth place ahead of Fittipaldi. Andretti's engineers were working on the same strategy as Fittipaldi's and did not anticipate the longest yellow in CART history at Laguna Seca. He held fourth place through the race restart and until lap 61 when he made a quick pit stop and rejoined the race in 15th place, seven seconds behind Mark Blundell. By lap 80, he closed the gap to one-half of a second but was unable to pass him before the checkered flag on lap 83. The extended yellow allowed the front runners to stretch their fuel to the end of the race and therefore not pit and move Andretti up in finishing order. He did however gain one position when eighth place runner Servia stopped on course on the final lap a few turns from the start/finish line. After holding the points lead for the past five races, Andretti dropped to second place in the standings to Gil de Ferran who holds a 132-126 lead. Following are Andretti's post race comments:

"I still am not feeling good but you have to put that out of your mind and concentrate on the task at hand and that was finishing strong for the Championship," said Andretti. "We weren't able to do that today. The car was okay but not great today. If the yellow hadn't been that long we would have made up a lot of ground and probably had a fifth place finish but it took them too long to get the field sorted out. The yellow went two laps too long for our strategy to work. I guess we should have stuck with our original plan to do what the masses did in terms of pitting. We need to come back strong next weekend and hope that the other frontrunners run into trouble."

- Next on the Schedule: Round 17 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship takes place next weekend at the Motorola Grand Prix at Gateway International Raceway. Andretti is the defending champion after winning in 1999.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Mark Blundell , Alex Barron