CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana: Newman/Haas qualifying report

da Matta to start 3rd in The 500; Fittipaldi to start 13th. CRISTIANO DA MATTA, ...

da Matta to start 3rd in The 500; Fittipaldi to start 13th.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA, #1 Chevron Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone:   "A third place start is not bad for a 500-mile race.  If you can't get the pole, it doesn't matter where you start.  It would have been nice for the Chevron car to be on pole though because the team hasn't won one on an oval since Christian did it in 1999.  For the race, we should be strong.  I think the race will be pretty similar to last year except it won't be a fuel economy race.  I think the biggest difference will be the mandatory fuel windows of 33 laps.  We want to be in the front pack but not leading until the end.  It was difficult to try to get a read on the time sheets and know how everyone was stacking up because of the draft.  There was nothing left in our car as far as downforce.  It feels good and I was able to go flat (on the pedal) all the way around pretty easily with no downforce.  We got everything out of the car that was there."

* NOTES: Has had nine front row starts this season.  He has won NINE of past 19 CART events dating back to his first three-peat (Australia and Fontana in '01 and Mexico in '02) where he became the first driver to accomplish the feat since Juan Montoya ('99).  Led 30 laps in Long Beach and built a strong lead before a pit accident derailed his bid for a CART record-tying fourth consecutive win.  Wins in Laguna Seca, Portland, Chicago and Toronto enabled him to tie two others (Unser, Jr., and Zanardi) with a CART record fourth consecutive win although he failed to score a fifth consecutive win in Cleveland after he lead the first 19 laps from pole but retired with mechanical failure.  Led 36 laps in Vancouver before a drive shaft failure ended his race.  Was in second in Mid-Ohio when he slid off-course and ultimately finished 13th.  He won in Elkhart Lake and his Miami win was his ninth in 18 events. Led all racing laps in Australia but finished 8th in a race dictated by rain. Led 53 laps en route to his first Superspeedway victory when he won The Marlboro 500 in '01.  Will be his fourth race here.  Highest start to date was second in '01.  Retired in the '00 event after a piece from P. Tracy's racecar hit his front suspension and caused him to crash.  Engine failure led to a 23rd place finish in '99.  He clinched the '02 CART Championship in Round 16 of 19 in Miami after winning the event and building an insurmountable lead of 69 points over second place with 68 points maximum left in '02.  Is hoping to beat the record for most wins in a season at eight set by Michael Andretti (and Newman/Haas) in 1991 and Al Unser Jr. in '94.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, #11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone:  "The car was beautiful - it was almost perfect.  I went as fast as the car could go and thought I was going to qualify in the top-six.  The car is good in race trim as well so I am comfortable in the car and confident about our chances.  I drafted a little on Friday morning and ran in traffic but this morning I tried to do the opposite.  Whenever I came upon other cars I backed off so I wouldn't get a draft because I wanted to qualify early and the order is inverted from practice times.  The track temperature can get higher and the wind can pick up so it's not necessarily an advantage to make your qualifying run late.  It's a long race and where you qualify isn't important but I wanted to qualify higher as a tribute to the hard work the team has put into getting ready for this race.  The most important thing is to be there at the end and the guys who can do that will finish pretty good."

* NOTES: Will be his sixth event here.  Won the 2000 race after leading 35 laps, finished 3rd in 1999, 7th in 1998 and 9th in 1997.  Last season he started 5th, led four laps and finished 13th.  In five previous starts, he scored two podium finishes (1st in 2000, 3rd in 1999) and finished in the top-9 four of five times (13th - 2001, 7th - 1998, 9th - 1997).  In the 1999 event, he set the fastest race lap and in 2001 set the 2nd fastest race lap.  Christian Fittipaldi led 5 laps in 1997; 6 in 1998; 37 in 1999; 35 in 2000 en route to victory after also setting the fastest race lap and led 4 in 2001.  He is currently in 5th place in the point standings and could finish as high as second place based on the maximum of 45 points available in the two remaining events.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW: The morning practice session will take place from 8:30-9:30 AM PT which will be followed by qualifying from 11:30-1:30 PM PT.  SPEED Channel will televise qualifying live.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Christian Fittipaldi