CHAMPCAR/CART: Homestead Newman-Haas Race Notes

Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi drove to a seventh place finish at the CART FedEx Championship Series season-opener in the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami but was disappointed with his finish. On the first of 150 laps, Fittipaldi ...

Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi drove to a seventh place finish at the CART FedEx Championship Series season-opener in the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami but was disappointed with his finish. On the first of 150 laps, Fittipaldi dropped into 11th place after Jimmy Vasser and eventual winner Max Papis passed him. Attrition helped Fittipaldi in the next few laps, though. He moved into 10th place on lap seven after Helio Castro-Neves was slowing due to electrical failure. On lap 23, he moved into ninth place when reigning CART champion and race leader, Juan Montoya'sToyota engine failed. On lap 37, Fittipaldi moved into eighth place when teammate Michael Andretti retired due to a lack of oil Pressure. Fittipaldi moved into seventh place on lap 49 when Adrian Fernandez pitted and subsequently retired with an oil leak. On lap 50, he moved into sixth place as polesitter Gil de Ferran made his first pit stop. He made his first pit stop on the next lap but had a downshifting problem. Fittipaldi downshifted as usual into neutral but the car remained in second gear. As he realized he was nearing his pit box too fast, he depressed the clutch to again try to downshift. This enabled him to slow down but his tires locked up and he bumped his inside front tire changer Norm Hornitschek, which resulted in a bruised knee. He returned to the race in l6th place. He moved into 13th by lap 57. By lap 63, Paul Tracy, who had been running behind Fittipaldi, was in fourth place and Fittipaldi was in 11th due to the pit problem. By lap 78, he gained two positions after he passed Shinji Nakano and Kenny Brack, who pitted with an engine problem. He held ninth place until lap 99 when leader Gil de Ferran made his second stop. Fittipaldi made his second stop on the next lap and as he was returning to the track the yellow flag came out for a slow car. The majority of the leaders were now able to pit under the slower caution period and have an advantage. By lap 104, Fittipaldi was back in ninth place before the race was restarted but was one lap down due to the fact that the others pitted under caution. He was able to get back on the lead lap a few laps later though because CART allowed the field to pass first place Tony Kanaan and second place Alex Tagliani who were penalized for making a stop when the pits were closed as well as an additional penalty for Kanaan who sped through the pit. This moved Fittipaldi into seventh place behind Gil de Ferran. He was closing on de Ferran until his fellow Brazilian was able to get around traffic and he wasn't. He finished the race in seventh place and earned six points. Following are his comments.

"The car was exactly the same as in the morning warm-up," said Fittipaldi. "I had push going into the comer and oversteer coming out. I wasn't able to put the power down. We changed the car before the race but it was exactly the same."

(On the problem in the pit:) "I downshifted and thought the car was in neutral but when I saw that I was coming in too quick and the car didn't downshift, I pushed in the clutch and tried it again and was able to stop after locking up the wheels. It was stuck in second gear. I'm glad no one was seriously hurt

"It was good to get the season started but we definitely know we are capable of more than seventh place. We were ahead of Tracy before the problem with the stop and he finished third. We know we were capable of a top finish and that helps. I am glad to get points for the Big Kmart/Route 66 team. We will work over the week and a half and be ready to go at Nazareth."

Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline driver Michael Andretti jumped from sixth place into second on the first lap of the race but retired with an oil pressure problem after completing 37 of the 150 laps in the season-opener. For the first time in the four-year history of the Homestead-Miarni Speedway, Andretti failed to finish in the top-two spots. After passing Adrian Fernandez, Gil de Ferran and Kenny Brack, Andretti held second place through lap 18 until he was caught by backmarker traffic, which helped Fernandez pass him for position. He regained second place when current race leader, Juan Montoya, retired with engine failure. He held second place for the next 14 laps until the engine stopped due to a lack of oil pressure. He retired in 22nd position after completing 37 of 150 laps. Following are his post race comments:

"I'm really disappointed," said the 1997 and 1998 winner of the CART season-opener. "I didn't know that we were having a problem but they did in the pits because they were watching the oil pressure go down. We don't know exactly what happened yet. I've done thousands of miles of testing with the new engine without any problems. I know everyone will work on this problem and we will be back strong at Nazareth. It is a long season and we are not going to let this get us down. We are more determined than ever to put the Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline car in Winner's circle as soon as possible."

Tennis Anyone? ... On Wednesday night prior to race weekend, Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi was an honorary presenter at the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) annual awards banquet. Fittipaldi was the presenter for the "Diamond Aces" award given to the player who benefits the sport the most off of the court, He was also the celebrity presenter of the "Player of the Year" Award. Lindsay Davenport, who was the 1999 Wimbledon champion, won both awards.

How About More Tennis? ... WTA superstar Monica Seles. took a break from her busy tournament schedule at the Erickson Open in nearby Key Biscayne to spend some time with Andretti and Fittipaldi at the track. She posed for pictures with both and sat in the No- 6 Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford-Lola.

Road Course Test Up Next ... Andretti will test on the Sebring Intl. Reacway road course this Wednesday while Fittipladi will test on Friday in preparation for the first street course - the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Feels Like Rome ... Round 2 of 20 will take place in two weeks at Nazareth Speedway, home to one of racing's most famous families - the Andretti's.

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Series IndyCar