CHAMPCAR/CART: Is da Matta unstoppable in Toronto?

Who can stop Cristiano da Matta? This must be the question on every one's lips, as the CART series gets ready for the eighth round of the championship at the Molson Indy Toronto. Da Matta currently enjoys a 25-point advantage over Bruno Junqueira...

Who can stop Cristiano da Matta? This must be the question on every one's lips, as the CART series gets ready for the eighth round of the championship at the Molson Indy Toronto. Da Matta currently enjoys a 25-point advantage over Bruno Junqueira - the man who has finished second to da Matta in the last two races at Portland and Chicago. For Junqueira, his second win of the season is long overdue, but first he needs to ensure that he is ahead of his countryman, something that has recently proven difficult.

"I´m looking forward to the Molson Indy Toronto," said da Matta. "It helps that our car is working well and the team is confident in the work we have done up until this point. It also helps that the set-up for the car is good and that we have built some momentum. Toronto is probably the most different street course we go to so we have to keep our eyes wide open beginning with the first session and adapt our set-up to that type of track but the team has won many times there so that´s a pretty good indication that they will know what to do when we get there."

Almost certainly the Newman/Haas team will be on top of their game once again as da Matta looks to record his fourth successive victory. However, nothing is ever certain in ChampCar racing and it will not be just be Bruno Junqueira challenging the runaway championship leader.

Michael Andretti has a stunning record around the 1.755-mile street circuit, winning the race no less than seven times in his long career. Last year's victory was almost unbelievable given that he dropped to flat last on the first lap after making an error but still fought back to beat Alex Tagliani and Adrian Fernandez. "Toronto is an absolutely awesome event," Andretti said. "The city and fans are so enthusiastic and they are very knowledgeable about racing so when we come to Toronto the Indy is a real happening and it makes it very exciting for everyone involved. We´re hoping for a good result this weekend in Toronto and if we can count on history, there´s a good chance for a podium finish. It would be really nice to make it an even eight victories in Toronto!"

Team Green driver Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy have had their fair of success in Toronto, but right now not much seems to be going Paul Tracy's way. Last Sunday at Chicago, Tracy got himself tangled up with fellow Canadian Tagliani, thus eliminating himself from race winning contention. Since then Tracy has learned (again) that he did not win May's Indianapolis 500 thanks to some strange decisions by Tony George and some rather convenient rules in the IRL rule book. However, never discount Tracy from an event where hustling a car can bring results.

Dario Franchitti should have won the Grand Prix of Chicago, but was let down by slow pit stops from his crew that lost him over ten seconds to race rivals da Matta and Junqueira. Franchitti has finished third in both of the last two races. If we can get the car working properly early in the weekend, there´s no reason why come race day we shouldn´t be on the podium. I know I can win here and I´d like to do it again this weekend."

"I know that Michael Andretti has dominated our home race in Toronto over the years," admitted Carpentier who lies in seventh place in the championship standings, "but we´ve had a Canadian driver on the podium in each of the last two years, with my teammate Alex last year and Paul Tracy the year before that. I figure I´m due! It would be fantastic if Toronto was the place where I could get my first podium of the season."

Teammate Tagliani seems pretty fired up to do well once again in 2002. "Last year in Toronto was certainly one of the finest moments of my life," the Canadian explained. "Getting my first career podium with the second-place finish was a very emotional time, and it´s something that I´ll never forget because my family, friends and Canadian racing fans were in the stands to witness it. Would I like to have that feeling again this year? Absolutely!"

One time championship leader Michel Jourdain Jr now finds himself back in fourth place in the championship, some 38-points behind leader da Matta. Jourdain has been consistent, finishing every single race of the season in the points, but as his championship standing suggests, Team Rahal need to do more than just score points if they want to remain in the championship hunt. Last Sunday Jourdain finished in tenth place after a poor weekend and knows that he and his team need to raise their game this weekend at Toronto.

Teammate Jimmy Vasser hasn't had much to smile about this season with just three finished coming from seven starts. Vasser's best result was back in Long Beach where he finished second to Andretti. Since then the American has finished in ninth and eighth places. "We were fast at Long Beach and Toronto is a similar track," Vasser said. "Of course, we have to make sure we stay ahead of Michael!"

Kenny Brack's season has been little better than Vasser's but Brack has shown flashes of the pace that propelled him to runner up in the standings last season. Third position at Laguna Seca remains the Swedes best result of the season so far, but a little more luck in Portland could have seen Brack finish second to da Matta. Despite the setbacks, Brack remains upbeat. "We ran near the front at Long Beach, Laguna and Portland," Brack said. "I´ve had good cars week in and week out, we just need to stay focused and keep working at it."

Adrian Fernandez recorded his first career victory at Toronto back in 1996 and has secured two podium positions in the last years. Naturally, the Mexican owner/driver has high hopes this weekend. It's a good track for us and we are definitely looking for revenge for the last three races," Fernandez explained. "It is one of those circuits where I have always done well in the past, and our expectations are high for another strong performance this weekend. We finished third at Toronto last year and that was the first podium for Fernandez Racing. If you ask me what my most memorable accomplishment in racing has been so far, it was that podium. It really meant a lot."

Of the remaining runners, Christian Fittipaldi will be looking for a solid result following two straight non-finishes in the second Newman/Haas entry while Tora Takagi will be looking for another solid result following his fine fourth position last weekend. The same can be said for Shinji Nakano who finished a career fifth best in Chicago.

Tony Kanaan has just 12 points to his credit so far this and has been plagued by setup and reliability problems all season. Another failure to secure a top result this weekend will almost certainly eliminate the popular Brazilian from any hope of championship success.

And so the question still remains, who will be able to stop da Matta making it four wins in a row this Sunday? Well, only time will tell as at least six drivers have a great shot of winning the Molson Indy, but da Matta remains firm favorite!

Earl Alexander

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Tony George , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain