CHAMPCAR/CART: Lexington: Newman/Haas Racing race report

Lilly driver Fittipaldi finished second in the CART Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio; Havoline driver Da Matta went off-course while second and finished 13th. Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi matched his best finish of the season of second place today at...

Lilly driver Fittipaldi finished second in the CART Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio; Havoline driver Da Matta went off-course while second and finished 13th.

Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi matched his best finish of the season of second place today at the CART Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio and moved from ninth place in the CART FedEx Championship standings to a two-way tie for sixth place with former teammate Michael Andretti. At what many drivers call the most physically demanding track on the schedule due to the elevation changes and many turns on the 2-2.58 mile course, the field was ready to rise to what would normally be a difficult challenge but was now made even more so due to the extension of the race to 92-laps. To add to the challenge, race temperatures ranged from 118 to 126 degrees on the track and from 89 to 92 degrees ambient (F). After Fittipaldi earned his top qualifying spot of second place this season as well as his best qualifying effort since he qualified second at Nazareth in 2000, he held second place behind polesitter, Patrick Carpentier, from the beginning of the race until his first of three mandatory pit stops every 26 laps. As he entered pit lane, he was credited with leading Lap 26 as he passed the sensor en route to his pit stall at the end of pit lane before Carpentier, whose pit was before the sensor. His stop seemed to start out fine but before the rear tire changers could put new tires on, the airjack stopped functioning and the car dropped.

Despite a quick reaction by the crew to raise the car and complete the stop, Fittipaldi lost one position to his teammate Cristiano da Matta at the conclusion of the extended 14-second stop. Once on track, he held third place behind da Matta by no more than 2.4-seconds, which he closed to 1.3-seconds before the next pit window neared in an effort to increase the chance of passing his teammate with a quicker pit stop. On Lap 47 Mario Dominguez went off course and landed in the tire wall which brought out a caution flag. The field capitalized on the caution period by making stops the next time by the pits. Under racing conditions, Fittipaldi was little more than one second in arrears of da Matta but as the field slowed before getting to pit entrance, the gap may have increased thus negating his pervious hard work. The Lilly crew performed a quick stop but was unable to gain a position and Fittipaldi returned to the track behind race leader Patrick Carpenter and da Matta and held the position until Lap 69 when da Matta slid off course while attempting to drive alongside Carpentier going into a fast corner.

As the field pitted at the beginning of the four-lap caution for da Matta on Lap 70, Fittipaldi was again credited with leading the lap as he passed the scoring sensor first due to his pit location. The crew performed a flawless stop but he was again unable to pass Carpentier and returned to the race in second place. He kept Carpentier in sight but was unable to get close enough to attempt a pass in the final rounds of the 92-lap event and finished 3.213 seconds behind the Canadian. He earned 16 points for the second place finish to bring his total to 74 and put his in a two-way tie for sixth place with third place finisher Michael Andretti, who officially holds the position due to posting a higher finish (won Long Beach) than of Fittipaldi this season. It was Fittipaldi's highest finish in Mid-Ohio as well as his fourth podium appearance of 11 races this season. Carpentier earned his third CART career win and second in Ohio after winning the event in Cleveland three races ago.

Following are Fittipaldi's post race comments:

"I'm happy to finish second and score the points especially after two DNF's (did not finish) but I'm a little disappointed with our first stop," said Fittipaldi. "Before our first pit stop, I was able to close the gap on Patrick so that we would stand a better chance of passing him in the pits but we had a 14-second stop and that didn't do us any good. The top-three came into the pits together and luckily we had managed to pull away from the others because it only cost me one place to Cristiano instead of many. The long stop probably cost us a win because the race was all about track position. If we could have gotten out of the pits in front of him it would have been different because we would have been able to run in clean air. We had a good car but running behind someone is hard because of the turbulence and the extra wear it puts on the tire because you are sliding around all over the place. It was pretty hot out there and it was a long race. It was like the 24 Hours of Mid-Ohio. Overall though it's good to match our best finish of the season and we have eight more chances to win one. I'm looking forward to carrying this momentum to Road America. It is one of my favorite tracks and it would be nice to win another one there."

Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta was in second place in the CART Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio until Lap 69 of 92 when he slid off course while attempting to pressure race leader and eventual winner Patrick Carpentier and ultimately finished 13th. His pre-race lead over second place in the point standings of 38 was reduced to 27 over Patrick Carpentier who became the only driver other than da Matta to earn the maximum of 23 points available per weekend this season - a feat da Matta accomplished in Portland and Toronto. Perhaps the highlight of da Matta's day was setting the fastest race lap although he could take no consolation in that feat as it did not bring him closer to his goal of winning the Championship as no points are awarded. It was the first time since Round 3 in Japan that he had not scored any points during the weekend. At the beginning of the 92-lap race, da Matta held third place and kept the margin between himself and second place Fittipaldi to an average of 1.5-seconds before his first pit stop on Lap 26.

After flawless pit work by the Havoline crew, da Matta was able to move ahead of Fittipaldi, who was hindered by a pit problem, and return to the track in second place. He maintained a margin of around one second behind Carpentier and hoped to be close enough to him before their second stop in order to try to gain a position through quick pit work. Unfortunately the task was made more difficult as a yellow flag came out on Lap 47 and the majority of the field made their second stops on Lap 48 under the slower track conditions. As da Matta's pit was the last one on pit lane and Carpentier's was before the timing sensor, da Matta was credited with leading Lap 48 although Carpentier beat him out of the pits. Once Mario Dominguez's car was placed in a safe location, CART prepared to restart the race on Lap 52 but Carpentier was trying to get a jump on da Matta and the rest of the field so the restart was postponed until Lap 53. Da Matta maintained close pursuit of the Canadian and was able to get close enough to him by Lap 68 that he attempted to put pressure on him and run alongside the driver.

Da Matta closed on him in the "Keyhole" turn but locked up his rear tires and slid into the gravel runoff area, which brought out a yellow. He took advantage of a special CART provision that would allow him to be towed out of the gravel and put back in the race, but he was now in 14th place, one lap down. The team hoped that attrition in the ensuing 22 laps would allow him to move into the top-12, points paying range but he only moved as high as 13th place when third place runner and friend, Tony Kanaan, retired with an undisclosed mechanical failure on Lap 78 of 92. He retained his series points lead, although he saw it reduced for the second-straight week, shrinking from 38 to 27 points heading into round 12 of 19 next weekend at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc.

Following are his post race comments:

"I wasn't trying to pass Patrick, I was just trying to put pressure on him," said a very disappointed da Matta. "He made a small mistake on the previous lap that allowed me to close the gap to him. When I tried to put my nose alongside his car, he braked for the corner and turned in. I think that made me lose my air and I locked up my rear tires and went off course. I made a mistake but I feel like we still have some credit in that department because we haven't made any so far. I was trying to get as close to him as possible in case he made another mistake and I could try to pass him. Our next stop was coming soon so the closer we were to him, the better the chance we would have had to pass him in the pits. It cost us a lot of points so I am really disappointed. We lost an easy chance to score 16 points but it went up in a cloud of dust. I've seen guys lose championships like this and some guys that have won Championships with seasons like this. I'm hoping the be in the latter group."

Manucturing SuccessWith Fittipaldi's second-place finish today, Toyota stretched its lead in the Manufacturer's Championship to 18 points over second-place Honda and 39 points over Ford. "We had a number of drivers and cars that ran really well," said Jim Aust, Toyota vice president of motorsports. "I feel bad for Cristiano, but Mid-Ohio is an extremely difficult place to pass. It's all about track position here and the race very well may have been decided in qualifying on Saturday."

Next Up...The series will head to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., the track where Newman/Haas Racing has won its highest number of events at seven. In fact, Road America was the site of the team's first win when Mario Andretti drove to victory in 1983, the first season for the team. Since then, the team has amassed a total of seven wins at the track - the most recent in 1999 when Fittipaldi scored his first CART victory. In their 19 previous races at the track, the team has started on pole five times with the most recent being in 1999 when Michael Andretti earned the top starting spot. In addition to Fittipaldi's win at this track, he has been a contender in the majority of races he has run at this track and was about to take over the lead of the race in 2001 when he came into contact with Michael Andretti, the eventual winner. His highest starting position to date is fourth place. Da Matta hopes to better his highest start of fifth place set in 2001 in his first season with NHR as well as his highest finish of sixth place the same year.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Tony Kanaan , Mario Dominguez , Mario Andretti , Cristiano da Matta , Patrick Carpen
Teams ART Grand Prix