KMART DRIVER FITTIPALDI FINISHED FOURTH WHILE TEXACO/HAVOLINE/ KMART DRIVER DA MATTA DROPPED FROM THE LEAD IN POINTS TO THREE-WAY TIE FOR THIRD AFTER BEING HIT IN A LAP 1 ACCIDENT IN THE FIRESTONE FIREHAWK 500 IN JAPAN - TEAM COMPETED IN ITS 300TH...
KMART DRIVER FITTIPALDI FINISHED FOURTH WHILE TEXACO/HAVOLINE/ KMART DRIVER DA MATTA DROPPED FROM THE LEAD IN POINTS TO THREE-WAY TIE FOR THIRD AFTER BEING HIT IN A LAP 1 ACCIDENT IN THE FIRESTONE FIREHAWK 500 IN JAPAN - TEAM COMPETED IN ITS 300TH RACE
- Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi drove from his 14th place starting position into his second consecutive points paying finish of fourth place in the 201-lap Firestone Firehawk 500 at Twin Ring Motegi in Motegi, Japan. He started in 14th place and was able to pass his teammate Cristiano da Matta and another car coming out of the first turn but rookie and fifth place starter Bruno Junquiera lost control of his car exiting Turn 2 and the field had to begin split-second, evasive action. Fittipaldi braked hard in order to decide whether to drive high or low on the track to avoid the spinning car. While on the brakes, Fittipaldi was passed by Paul Tracy and another car and was able to avoid contact unlike his teammate da Matta who retired from the race.
The race was restarted on Lap 8 and he held 14th place until Lap 33 when ninth place runner Michael Andretti pitted and subsequently retired from the race, moving Fittipaldi into 13th. He held his position until lap 46 when top-10 runner Michel Jourdain made his first pit stop. By lap 54, as the field made their first stops, Fittipaldi moved into the lead for a portion of the racetrack before he pitted much later due to good fuel mileage. He rejoined the field in 12th place ahead of Patrick Carpentier who had previously been ahead of him. On lap 56, Fittipaldi moved into 11th place as Scott Dixon made his scheduled stop out-of-sequence. On lap 77 he moved into 10th place after Paul Tracy pitted and retired from the race with mechanical failure. On lap 92, he moved into ninth place when Jourdain started off the next sequence of pit stops. By his second stop on lap 104, Fittipaldi had moved up the running order and into the lead for a portion of the track before committing to the entrance of the pits. The team made a tire pressure adjustment and sent Fittipaldi back on course. He returned to the track in the same position he was in before the field began pitting but was one lap down to the new leader Tony Kanaan due to track position.
After Dixon pitted, Fittipaldi moved into ninth place on lap 108. He held his position until lap 125 when he moved into eighth place after Dario Franchitti became the third and final member of Team Green to retire with a mechanical failure. While others began their third stops, Fittipaldi again moved into second place before he stopped on lap 154. He returned to the race in eighth place but moved into seventh when Dixon made his out-of-sequence stop. On lap 180 of 201, fifth place runner Alex Zanardi made a stop for a splash of fuel and Fittipaldi moved into sixth and on into fifth place when previous fifth place runner Shinji Nakano also had to stop. On lap 187 or 201, second place runner Tony Kanaan had to stop but was able to return to the track ahead of Fittipaldi due to the amount of seconds he was behind the leaders on track. On lap 191, CART reported that third place runner Gil de Ferran's car was on fire and subsequently black flagged him although he stayed on course a few more laps. Fittipaldi moved into fourth place after passing de Ferran. Three laps after the report on de Ferran's car, rookie Nicolas Minnassian crashed in Turn 4 and brought out a caution period.
CART's Safety crew performed a speedy clean up from the accident in order to prevent the race from ending under caution and the race was restarted with one lap to go. Race leader Kenny Brack was able to hold off Helio Castroneves for his first CART win as well as take the lead from da Matta in the CART point standings. Fittipaldi moved from 12th place in the point standings to ninth with his fourth place finish. Following are Fittipaldi's post race comments:
"Considering everything, this (fourth place) is like a victory today," said Fittipaldi, who scored points in three of his past five CART events. "The car was good on every stint except the second one. My tires went away quickly after the first stop but they were good again on the next stint and I could pull away from Vasser on full tanks. We worked really hard on fuel mileage and it helped us move up. I had a very good start and passed a couple of cars. I passed my teammate (da Matta) and another car but then had to get on the brakes hard when I saw Bruno spinning across the track. Then Tracy and another car passed me when I was on the brakes. They kept wide open. I wanted to slow way down and be able to decide which way I wanted to go based on where Bruno was. The rest of the race was fine and the balance of my car was good. Maybe we weren't as strong as some of the others but we know we will get there. This race was very important to Toyota and we were all working hard to bring home a win for them. I was glad to be able to give them their highest finish but neither Newman/Haas or Toyota are satisfied with this finish and together we will continue to work hard to bring them more wins. We had a slow start to the season but we are beginning to pick up momentum after a fifth place finish in Nazareth and fourth here. We have one more oval race until we go to the street race in Detroit and we plan to work hard to improve before Milwaukee."
Â* Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta started the Firestone Firehawk 500 in 12th place and was optimistic that he would have a good car during the race as he has had the previous three races in 2001. Unfortunately his race ended before it really began as he was hit from behind by another car at the exit of Turn 2 on the first lap as the field tried to avoid the spinning car of rookie Bruno Junquiera. Japan marks the first race of 2001 that da Matta has failed to score points toward the championship. He dropped from the lead in the Championship to a three-way tie for third place while second place finisher Helio Castroneves moved into the lead, nine points ahead of da Matta on the strength of his second place finish. Following are his comments:
"Somebody hit me from behind," said da Matta. "I think it was Max (Papis). I slowed down to avoid the accident and someone hit me and that's it. I wanted to run a good race for myself and my team as well as Toyota but we didn't even complete one lap. I'm incredibly disappointed. Newman/Haas has given me really good cars in the race and I didn't even get to see how good the car was. There are ups and downs in this sport and we are looking forward to another up in Milwaukee. We were a little behind in terms of qualifying well so we are going to work on that for Milwaukee and hopefully bring Carl and good finish at his track."
- On to the Milwaukee -The CART FedEx Championship series will take Memorial Day weekend off and reconvene at the Milwaukee Mile for the Miller Lite 225 on June 3, which is promoted by team owner Carl Haas.