CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach Newman/Haas race recap

Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Driver da Matta Narrowly Missed Scoring A Third Straight Victory For Newman/Haas In Only His Second Race With The Team While Kmart Driver Fittipaldi Succumbed To An Electrical Problem In The Toyota Grand Prix Of Long ...

Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Driver da Matta Narrowly Missed Scoring A Third Straight Victory For Newman/Haas In Only His Second Race With The Team While Kmart Driver Fittipaldi Succumbed To An Electrical Problem In The Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach

Long Beach, Calif. --- April 8, 2001 Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta drove to a second place finish in only his second CART FedEx Championship event with Newman/Haas Racing and almost scored the third win in a row for the team in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Da Matta and company worked hard to find a good race setup after struggling in practice on Friday. After a late night of work, the commitment paid off when da Matta qualified fourth fastest on Saturday. In the 82-lap race around the 1.96-mile tight street course da Matta jumped in front of friend and fellow countryman Tony Kanaan to take third place. He settled into a fast pace and held third behind polesitter Helio Castroneves and Kenny Brack until he began to attempt a pass on Brack on lap 16 although he was unable to. He then headed to the pits to made his first pit stop on lap 30 under caution. Castroneves's Penske team had the first pit box while Newman/Haas Racing's pit was located at pit out.

The Texaco/Havoline/Kmart crew performed a quick stop that enabled da Matta to return to the race ahead previous second place runner Kenny Brack. He held second place by an average of five-tenths of a second behind Castroneves and was never as much as a full second behind him until he made his second pit stop on lap 55 during the caution period for Max Papis and Patrick Carpentier, who made contact. He had just begun to pull out of his pit box as race leader Castroneves, who was already up to 50 mph and approaching da Matta's pit, narrowly pulled ahead. After an extended caution period to remove rookie Scott Dixon from the tire barriers and then for the contact between Roberto Moreno and Mauricio Gugelmin, the race was restarted on lap 63 of 82. On lap 65, da Matta looked ready to take advantage of a slight bobble by Castroneves but the race leader quickly protected his position and closed the opening, an action that brought out the warning flag for blocking by CART. Da Matta ran between three and six-tenths of a second behind Castroneves while hoping to capitalize on any mistake by the Penske driver. That opportunity never came and da Matta took the checkered flag .534-seconds and added to his lead in the Championship standings as well as proved that he was a legitimate contender for the Championship. It was his first appearance in the Long Beach Winner's Circle after his 1998 victory in the Indy Lights event. Following are his post race comments:

"It was a great finish for Texaco/Havoline and Toyota in a race they sponsor," said da Matta. "The weekend got better and better since Friday but I didn't have anything left for Helio today. He drove well and he deserved the win. I don't think he blocked me -- any driver would have done the same. There was only a 10 percent chance of making a successful pass because the track is so tight and I didn't want to risk it. We were all just saving fuel until the second stop. On the last restart, I got a good jump on Gil and didn't have to worry about him and could just concentrate on Helio but I still couldn't pass him. I didn't get frustrated because if you let the emotion take over you can let something stupid happen. Newman/Haas Racing has a good set-up for superspeedways so I think we can continue the level of competition in Texas. The first oval race with this team will be pretty interesting. They have a long history of success on ovals so I think we will be in good shape."

Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi suffered his second disappointing finish of the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series season but the result was out of his control as the team discovered a problem with the installation of an electrical component that caused problems for Fittipaldi since the beginning of the race. After starting in 10th place, Fittipaldi passed former teammate Michael Andretti on the second lap before he pitted and subsequently retired with mechanical failure. On the third lap of the scheduled 82, CART reported to the team that Fittipaldi's car was running "rough." Fittipaldi held ninth place until lap 14 when the car momentarily lost power and Fittipaldi lost two positions to eventual fourth place finisher Paul Tracy and Max Papis. The team instructed him to recycle the ECU (Engine Control Unit) by turning the car off and on. He held 11th place for six laps before rookie Nicholas Minassian was able to pass him when the car lost speed again. He dropped from 12th place to 16th by lap 22 and was then instructed to pit on lap 28 to change the steering wheel in hopes it would solve the electrical problem. He had to pit again on lap 32 when the team decided to change the ECU in attempt to remedy the problem. Due to no in-season testing, the team was even more pressured to find a solution to the problem. He reentered the race in 24th place but had to return to the pits for exceeding the 50-mph pit speed two stops before. On lap 38, he was called back to the pits to change the ECU again and he returned to the race in 23rd place. By lap 45, he was the fastest driver on the track but was four laps down. The problem became worse so the team decided to retire from the race in 24th place after completing 47 laps. Following are Fittipaldi's post race comments:

"CART reported that my car was running rough at the beginning of the race but I didn't know that at the time," said Fittipaldi. "I started feeling a problem around the first yellow. The speed limiter was coming on and off and I was losing power. I would get up to sixth gear and then I would start losing positions. It is very unfortunate because we had a good car since this morning and were hoping for a top-five finish and get our season officially started. Now we are going to the third race without any points so we just need to do our homework properly and get ready for Texas. We have a big break until then so there is no reason we should not be able to be ready. We have a good set-up for Superspeedways since before Fontana and I think we continued to improve the setup in the off-season so I am optimistic about that race."

"Upon inspection, we found the problem was an installation one," said Brain Lisles, General Manager of Newman/Haas Racing. "A Newman/Haas piece was incorrectly installed in the race shop and thus ended his day. We are very unhappy about it especially since he had a good car that was capable of a top five finish. He was quickest in the morning warm-up after we had all worked very hard to give him a good racecar. Unfortunately he was not able to finish the race."

Name that Band: Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta has formed a band with fellow CART drivers Kenny Brack and Patrick Carpentier. CART plans to run a promotion to name the band. The trio was able to practice for the first time on Wednesday of race week at the recording studios of Pioneer near LA. They are expecting to play for the first time in public at the Cleveland event in June. Da Matta is already in a band in his US base of Miami.

Texaco Brings Good Luck: You can never have enough good luck. The last time da Matta drove a Texaco-sponsored car, he scored four wins and four poles en route to the 1993 Brazilian Formula Ford Championship.

HANS on Road/Street Courses: Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta continued Newman/Haas Racing's lead in the development of the Head and Neck Support (HANS) after wearing it throughout the weekend. The event marked the third on a road/street course where the HANS had been utilized. Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi, was the first driver to wear the device during a road course event when he utilized it on the street course in Detroit 2000. Fittipaldi led the development of the HANS for use in open-wheel racecars since the winter of 1999 and was the first driver to use it voluntarily during a CART race weekend when he wore it in practice on Friday for the Detroit street race. It was not comfortable enough at that point on road courses but Fittipaldi continued to wear it in testing on ovals during the street/road course part of the season until the next oval event at the Michigan Speedway in July. Da Matta wore the HANS when he drove to victory in Mexico and again this weekend although it was less comfortable on the tight street course than it was on the smooth, wide course in Mexico. <pre> Top-Five Results from the Toyota GP of Long Beach - Round 2 of 21 DRIVER TEAM STARTED 1. Helio Castroneves Marlboro Team Penske 1 2. Cristiano da Matta Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola 4 3. Gil de Ferran Marlboro Honda-Reynard 5 4. Paul Tracy Kool Honda-Reynard 12 5. Jimmy Vasser Patrick Racing 8

24. Christian Fittipaldi Kmart Toyota-Lola 10

CART FedEx Championship Series Point Standings - After Round 2 of 21 1. Cristiano da Matta Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola 37 2. Gil de Ferran Marlboro Honda-Reynard 30 3. Helio Castroneves Marlboro Team Penske 27 4. Paul Tracy Kool Honda-Reynard 26 5. Jimmy Vasser Patrick Racing 18

n/a Christian Fittipaldi Kmart Toyota-Lola </pre>

On to the Ovals: While the first two events in the CART FedEx Championship Series were held on road/street courses, the next four events will be held on oval tracks in the US and Japan. Round 3 of 21 will take place at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas on April 29.

-NHR-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Team Penske