CHAMPCAR/CART: Lexington: Newman/Haas Racing preview

Newman/Haas Racing heads to the CART Grand Prix Of Mid-Ohio in search Of their first win at the track since 1991 - and first after a two-race drought. LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (August 7, 2002) --- Returning to Buckeye State for the second of two ...

Newman/Haas Racing heads to the CART Grand Prix Of Mid-Ohio in search Of their first win at the track since 1991 - and first after a two-race drought.

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (August 7, 2002) --- Returning to Buckeye State for the second of two Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx races held there, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) rolls into Lexington, Ohio, site of the 11th of 19 races this season, the CART Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

A track that has already produced three wins (1990-91, 1984), six poles (1990-1993, 1986, 1984), and nine podium finishes for NHR, the team hopes they can add to their Mid-Ohio success and continue their road course dominance that has developed during the 2002 season with drivers Cristiano da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi.

This season alone, NHR has proved to be the most successful team on the CART circuit, especially on road and street courses as they attempt to capture their fourth Champ car championship in 20 seasons. Although leading the past two CART FedEx races in Cleveland and Vancouver, the team failed to win either event due to mechanical problems but is ready to return to Winner's Circle this weekend. Of their 66 total victories, 43 of them have come on road/street courses including da Matta's four road/street course victories out of five total wins so far this season.

In fact, da Matta tied the record for most consecutive victories in the CART FedEx series at four, has captured five poles, and has lead a series-high total of 468 laps so far this year. This puts da Matta and his No. 6 Havoline Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone high atop the championship point standings with a total of 122 points -- 38 ahead of second place Dario Franchitti.

Da Matta has unquestionably been the driver to beat this season, but has fallen upon some rough times as of late due to mechanical problems, which have kept him from finishing two consecutive races for the first time this season. With a much needed break after the last race in Vancouver, da Matta is well rested and anxious to regain his early season momentum as he returns to the road course at Mid-Ohio.

"It's important to carry over momentum from our five wins through the Mid-Ohio race," da Matta said. "To win the championship, momentum is always important. You have to score big points every race, not only one race or the other. You have to just be there every time. So not only winning races, but being there in the top five is the most important and what we're focusing on. After dropping out of the past two races while in the lead and not scoring any points, our focus is to get some solid points from a top-five finish. Of course we always try to go for the race win, but it's not always possible."

Making his fourth Champ car start at Mid-Ohio, da Matta has something to prove on the 2.258-mile permanent road course as his best finish there is ninth in 1999 after starting in 14th place.

He said, "I think I will have a chance to make this a lot better. We've had so much speed and so much success at these types of tracks this year. So I believe that the car will be running good. We had a good test at Mid-Ohio too so everything indicates that we are going to have a good race. You know, when the race weekend comes it's always different, but you know I expect to have a good weekend and be on the top five every session, and I think it should be good."

Last season at Mid-Ohio da Matta finished 10th after starting in 11th, and in 2000 started in seventh position but ended up 17th after contact with Tony Kanaan.

With his strong showing so far this season on road and street courses, da Matta is still the favorite heading into Mid-Ohio. Confident he can continue his success on what is considered one of the toughest tracks on the CART FedEx circuit, da Matta prefers such a challenge to occur on this type of track.

"I think Mid Ohio is the perfect example of why I like road courses better," da Matta said. "It's just more challenging for the drivers. It's more difficult to produce the lap times. Everything is more difficultit's more complicated. I think you have seen in the past, more drivers that weren't so good win races on the ovals and maybe super speedways, but if the driver wins a race in Elkhart Lake or Mid Ohio you can know for sure he's good."

Earning a spot on the Mid-Ohio podium after making his highest finish at the track of third in 2000, Fittipaldi hopes he can utilize his six years of racing experience here, combined with his powerful NHR road/street courses to capture Mid-Ohio's top spot as well as his third win in the series. He believes he has to combination to do it.

"I'm looking forward to racing at Mid-Ohio because our car has been good on road courses," said the 31-year-old Brazilian. "For a few years it was one of the toughest tracks for our team but we have been able to get a good set-up for the Lola that allows us to put the power down and maximize the horsepower from the Toyota engine. In order to be competitive you have to understand all of the things that allow the Toyota engine, Lola chassis and Bridgestone tires to work together. Then you have to put together a trouble free race that includes everything from the having flawless pit stops, no mistakes by the driver and getting everything to the finish line in one piece."

Making his seventh start at Mid-Ohio in the No. 11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone, Fittipaldi currently stands in 9th place in the championship standings with 58 points although he has run in the top three all but three times in 10 races so far this season. He has earned four top-four finishes in 10 races so far but DNF's (did not finish) in five of the 10 events hindered his chances.

"Earlier in the season we had second place (in the standings) in sight as well as the potential to close the gap to Shorty (da Matta) but had some DNF's (did not finish) that put us behind but we know the potential is there if we can have a flawless race," said Fittipaldi. "There are nine more races and nine more chances to put the Lilly car in Winner's Circle this season. There is still a long way to go in the Championship."

Last year at Mid-Ohio, Fittipaldi finished eighth, but was unable to compete in 1999 after he suffered a subdural hematoma from a testing accident caused by a gearbox failure. He finished 13th in 1998 after the team struggled and he suffered transmission failure in 1997 after he started eighth. In 1996, Fittipaldi finished seventh after earning his best start of fifth place here, and in 1995 with Walker Racing, he suffered engine failure and retired in 25th place.

Another competition is brewing off the track and in the pits between both NHR drivers and their crews. Competing in the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge (CPCC), Fittipaldi and his crewmates are currently in second place in the CPCC standings, while da Matta and his crew are in third. At the CPCC shootout at end of the year, five teams will compete in the winner-take-all shootout when Craftsman will award a custom Waterford Crystal trophy and $50,000 in cash to the victors. Da Matta and his crew members have earned the "wild card entry" for the shootout, by making the quickest stops in Chicago.

This Sunday's live broadcast of the CART FedEx Championship Series CART Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio will air live Sunday on CBS Sports at 12:30 p.m. ET. Friday provisional qualifying will air live on SPEED Channel at 2:00 p.m. ET, followed CART Friday Night later that evening on SPEED Channel at 10:30 p.m. ET. Saturday's final round of Champ Car qualifying is slated for 1:30 p.m. ET live on SPEED Channel.

-NHR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Christian Fittipaldi , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Cristiano da Matta
Teams ART Grand Prix