CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Event preview

da Matta looking to tie record for consecutive CART victories in 28th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. DETROIT (April 10, 2002) - Newman/Haas Racing driver Cristiano da Matta ( ...

da Matta looking to tie record for consecutive CART victories in 28th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

DETROIT (April 10, 2002) - Newman/Haas Racing driver Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) looks to join two-time series champions Alex Zanardi (the 1997 and '98 CART FedEx Championship Series champion) and Al Unser Jr. (the 1990 and '94 champ) as the only drivers in history to win four consecutive CART FedEx Championship Series when the series returns to action for the 28th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (FOX, 3:30 p.m. ET) - Round 2 of the 20-race 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series.

Da Matta comes into the weekend as the points leader by virtue of the fact that he led the most laps and was the winner of the season-opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix of March 10. He holds a five-point advantage over second place, Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) coming into Long Beach.

In addition to his Monterrey victory, da Matta won the final two events of the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series-the Honda Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise, Australia; and The 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif.-bringing his win streak to three.

Unser's four-straight wins came at Toronto, Michigan International Speedway, Denver, and Vancouver in 1990; while Zanardi's streak came at Detroit, Portland, Cleveland, and Toronto in 1998. Ironically, both drivers also had victories in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach during the year of their respective streak-although neither driver's Long Beach win was part of their record streaks.

A victory for da Matta on Sunday would also bode well for his hopes of winning the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series title, as both drivers who previously won four-in-a-row went on to also win the series championship. Additionally, the driver who won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in seven of the 18 races have gone on to win the championship, including four of the past six.

In three career Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach starts, da Matta's best performance came one year ago when he finished second to Helio Castroneves after starting fourth. However, while da Matta has earned his place in the spotlight through his performance of late, he will have competition for the spotlight this weekend, especially from the former Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winners in the field.

CART's all-time winningest driver Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) took the first of his 41 career Champ Car wins on the streets of Long Beach in 1986. He hasn't been back to victory circle in Long Beach since that maiden win, but he has qualified inside the top 12 in all but two appearances at "the Beach," including three pole positions (1991, '92 and '95) and he has finished in the top ten in nine of 17 career starts.

Team KOOL Green's Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) is the lone multiple-time Long Beach race winner on the entry list. Like Andretti, Tracy also took his first career Champ Car win on the streets of Long Beach in 1993 and the Canadian scored a second Long Beach victory in 2000.

Team Rahal pilot Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is the third-and final-driver in Sunday's field to have previously won in Long Beach. Vasser's win came in the 1996 rendition, and helped catapult him to the '96 CART FedEx Championship Series title.

While nobody in this weekend's field can be discounted, Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi driver Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) also figure among the favorites for Sunday's race. Franchitti has twice finished second in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (in 1998 and '99) and has scored six of his seven career Champ Car wins on temporary circuits.

Brack, meanwhile, will be looking to get his season off to a proper start this weekend in Long Beach after retiring from the season-opener in Monterrey on the opening lap due to an accident with Vasser and rookie Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone). Brack's chances this weekend are bolstered by the fact that he qualified on the outside pole position in Long Beach last year and the fact that Target Chip Ganassi Racing won four consecutive Toyota Grands Prix of Long Beach from 1996 through '99.

All of the cars in Sunday's field ride on Bridgestone Potenza racing tires, and Bridgestone is the Official Tire of CART.

Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets the CART FedEx Championship Series. Former series champions Michael Andretti and Jimmy Vasser are among the stars who will battle for the 2002 FedEx Championship Series title on ovals, temporary street circuits and permanent road courses. CART Champ Cars are thoroughbred racing machines that travel at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, showcasing the technical expertise of manufacturers such as American Honda, Ford Motor Company, Toyota, Lola Cars, Reynard Motorsport and Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC. The 20-race 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series will be broadcast by new television partners, CBS, FOX and SPEED Channel. CART also owns and operates its top development series, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. Learn more about CART's open-wheel racing series at www.CART.com.

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Kenny Brack , Townsend Bell , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing