CHAMPCAR/CART: Fittipaldi and da Matta Portland race report

Portland, Ore. --- June 24, 2001 KMart Driver Fittipaldi Charged to a Third Place Finish in the Freightliner/G.I. Joe'S Portland GP Presented by Texaco While Texaco/ Havoline/Kmart Driver Da Matta Finished 10th after Starting Second Kmart...

Portland, Ore. --- June 24, 2001

KMart Driver Fittipaldi Charged to a Third Place Finish in the Freightliner/G.I. Joe'S Portland GP Presented by Texaco While Texaco/ Havoline/Kmart Driver Da Matta Finished 10th after Starting Second

Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi charged from his seventh place start to finish third in wet conditions in the Freightliner/G.I. Joe's Portland Grand Prix Presented by Texaco and reminded the fans why he is called the "Rainmeister."

After being second fastest on Friday during practice and running at the front of the time sheets in the morning practice on Saturday, he qualified seventh for the scheduled 98-lap event that ultimately ended up a two-hour timed race due to intermittent light rain that lasted 76 laps and brought out nine caution periods.

Slippery track conditions were evident during the pace laps as reigning CART Champion Gil de Ferran slid off course and sustained damage before returning on track.

On the first lap Fittipaldi passed Bruno Junqueira for sixth place but went off course as did third place starter Helio Castroneves, Kenny Brack and Tora Takagi.

Under caution, Tony Kanaan, Memo Gidley and Alex Zanardi went off course and all retired with damage. Fittipaldi dropped to 19th place but was able to continue on track. By lap 16, he had climbed to 11th place as others ahead of him elected to pit during the ensuing caution periods.

On lap 23, he passed Bruno Junqueira for 10th place and took over 9th after Michel Jourdain spun.  He moved into eighth place on lap 25 after Scott Dixon dropped back on a race restart and into seventh place after passing Mauricio Gugelmin on lap 27.

He held his position for seven laps until the front runners who had not pit under caution periods made their first pit stops and he moved into the lead.

Team strategy called for Fittipaldi to gain as much track position as possible as well as wait as long as possible to pit making the race a one-stop strategy rather than the initially expected two-stop as well as being able to pit under caution due to the high number of off-track excursions the slick track was encouraging.

The longer Fittipaldi was able to stretch his initial fuel load, the higher fuel-to-air mixture ("richer") he would be able to run. Fittipaldi held the lead for seven laps before another caution period came out to remove the car of Shinji Nakano, and he made his pit stop.

Tracy tagged fifth place runner Mauricio Gugelmin.  He held eighth place until lap 50 when he passed Oriol Servia and held seventh place for seven laps before making a daring pass on Dario Franchitti for sixth place. He immediately began putting pressure on Scott Dixon during the following six laps and passed him on lap 63 for fifth place.

At 2:55 PM PT, it was announced that the race would end at the two-hour mark. The team anticipated that there would be approx. 10 laps to go.

For six laps he ran behind Patrick Carpentier, who had been running well the past two events, and finally passed him on lap 69 for fourth place. On the following lap, he passed rookie Max Wilson, who was having his best race in CART Champ cars to date.

He held third place and continued to close the gap on second place Roberto Moreno from four seconds to one on the final lap but was unable to catch him before the checkered flag and finished in third place as well as collected points.

He moved from 11th place in the CART FedEx Championship Series standings to fifth place only 30 points out of first place and was six-hundredths of a second from tying for fastest lap with race winner and friend, Max Papis.

Following are his post race comments:

"I want to apologize to the Kmart team for what happened at the beginning of the race when I went off track by myself," said Fittipaldi. "I had a small "off" by a few centimeters. It hurt us and we fell way back but most of all I am happy for the points after we came back and finished third. What screwed me up was when the track started drying in the end because you would run on a dry part then a wet part for the last six or seven laps.

"It really cost me a lot. If it would have stayed more wet, I could have made more gains. I always look forward to the race here in Portland because we always run well. We had a slow start to the season but there are many races in front of us for the Championship and we are coming back strong. The thing that makes me happiest today is the amount of points we scored.

"The top two had one hell of a race and didn't make any mistakes and that is why they are up there and I am not. Overall, considering everything, finishing third is pretty good. We charged back at the end of the race."

Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta started what would become a two-hour timed event in second place for the Freightliner/G.I. Joe's Portland GP Presented by Texaco.

He held second place through a couple of restarts on a slippery track that saw most of the competitors fishtail as well as go off course temporarily, or for good.

On lap 11, under caution, da Matta and the field were attempting to keep their tires warm for a restart and da Matta made contact with the rear of race leader Max Papis's car and went off course. By the time he was restarted, he dropped to 19th place.

He came into the pits so the crew could check for damage as well as top-off his fuel and was sent back on course. As other competitors pit under following caution periods and some spun off course, he moved up into 12th place.

When the front runners began making pit stops during caution on lap 34, da Matta stayed on track to gain valuable track position and moved into second place. The race was restarted but another caution came out and da Matta took advantage of the slower period and made his second pit stop.

He returned to the race in 11th place but moved into 10th place after Paul Tracy took Mauricio Gugelmin out of the race. He held his position until lap 62 when Gil de Ferran attempted a pass and came into contact with da Matta, thus allowing Kenny Brack to also pass putting him in 12th place.

Da Matta was able to get back by Kenny Brack on the following lap for 11th place and moved back into 10th place on lap 67 after de Ferran went off course. He collected three points toward the Championship and held fourth place with 49 to points leader Helio Castroneves who has 76 second place.

Following are da Matta's post race comments:

"When we were under yellow I was keeping my tires warm and was on top of the situation but Max did something strange and I hit him in the back and went off track," said da Matta. "The track was very slick and that is why you saw so many cars going off because we didn't have any traction.

"It's disappointing that we dropped so far back and didn't get back up there. We still held fourth place in the points but it looked like we were capable of scoring a lot of points this weekend.

"I felt I had a good car in dry conditions and wet conditions. It just didn't work out for us today but we are pretty confident we will be competitive again in Cleveland." <pre> Top-Five Results from the Freightliner/G.I. Joe's Portland GP - Round 7 of 21

FINISH  DRIVER                  TEAM                            STARTED
1.      Max Papis               Miller Lite Ford-Reynard        1
2.      Roberto Moreno          Visteon Ford-Reynard            8
3.      Christian Fittipaldi    Kmart Toyota-Lola               7
4.      Max Wilson              B2B Ford-Lola                   19
5.      Patrick Carpentier      Players/Indeck Ford-Reynard     10
10.     Cristiano da Matta      Texaco/Havoline Toyota-Lola     2

CART FedEx Championship Series Point Standings - After Round 7 of 21 1.  Kenny Brack  Shell Ford-Lola   76 2.  Helio Castroneves  Marlboro Team Penske  69 3.  Michael Andretti   Motorola Honda-Reynard  53 4.  Cristiano da Matta   Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola  49 5.  Christian Fittipaldi  Kmart Toyota-Lola  46

</pre> - Third of Six in Seven Weeksâ^À¦The CART FedEx Championship travels back across the country to Cleveland for the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland.

Da Matta scored his first Champ car podium of third place in the event last season while Fittipaldi has consistently run well at the track.

-NHR

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Memo Gidley , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Max Wilson , Oriol Servia , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams Team Penske