CHAMPCAR/CART: Miami: Cristiano claims 'da title'

Defending Honda Indy 300 Winner clinches title in Miami. The reigning Honda Indy 300 champion Cristiano da Matta clinched his first FedEx Championship Series crown when he won the Grand Prix Americas in Miami today. The driver of the Havoline...

Defending Honda Indy 300 Winner clinches title in Miami.

The reigning Honda Indy 300 champion Cristiano da Matta clinched his first FedEx Championship Series crown when he won the Grand Prix Americas in Miami today.

The driver of the Havoline Toyota/Lola captured his seventh race of the season and led the most laps while his closest rival in the standings, Bruno Junqueira, wound up fifth.

The 10-point difference between first and fifth and the bonus point for most laps led give da Matta a 69-point lead and the 2002 Vanderbilt Cup. With a maximum of 68 points available in the three remaining races on the schedule, da Matta cannot be overtaken in the standings.

The pint-sized Brazilian has one more goal to achieve to make his season complete ­ to become the first repeat winner of the Honda Indy 300 on the Gold Coast. This race is the next in the championship schedule and will be held in Surfers Paradise from October 24-27.

Da Matta crossed the finish line 0.734 of a second ahead of Newman/Haas Racing teammate Christian Fittipaldi. Jimmy Vasser, the winner of the 1996 Surfers Paradise race, wound up third in his Ford-Cosworth/Lola and Alex Tagliani was fourth in his Ford-Cosworth/Reynard more than 12 seconds ahead of Junqueira.

The win gave Carl Haas and Paul Newman their fourth CART title as team owners and Toyota its first Champ Car championship.

³Starting sixth I was not expecting to win the race, but other guys made mistakes and we didn't and it seems like it's been like that many times this year,² said da Matta, who also earned the Vanderbilt Cup and $US1 million that accompanies it.

³It feels great to win the championship - almost impossible to explain-- but winning the race today even makes it better.²

Starting sixth, da Matta quietly moved up in the standings and took over the lead when pole sitter Tony Kanaan. was given a penalty for blocking.

Kanaan took the lead at the start of the race with Scott Dixon in hot pursuit.

Dixon pressured Kanaan and tried to make a pass on Lap 20. The resulting contact put him out of the race while Kanaan managed to maintain the lead. However, Kanaan was then penalised for causing the accident and dropped to 13th place.

³I got inside him and for some reason, he (Kanaan) decided to turn right and squeeze me into the fence," said Dixon.

"We had the car to win so this is pretty disappointing.²

In the meantime, Paul Tracy was a man on the move. After starting 16th in the KOOL Honda/Lola, Tracy moved up to fourth by Lap 23.

Tracy made his first stop on Lap 4 when the yellow came out for contact between Mario Dominguez and Patrick Carpentier. That put him out of sequence with the leaders and the Canadian driver assumed the lead when da Matta, Dario Franchitti and Christian Fittipaldi all made their first stops on Lap 42.

Junqueira, who made his first stop on Lap 20, took over the lead when Tracy had to pit on Lap 46. Junqueira stayed in front until pitting for a second time on Lap 62 and that put da Matta back into the lead.

Da Matta, Franchitti and Fittipaldi held the top three spots until pitting for the final time on Lap 84. Tracy now led, but returned to the pits in four laps.

Da Matta regained the lead, but the caution came out on Lap 91 for Franchitti, who went into the Turn 3 tire barrier in his KOOL Honda/Lola. That closed the ranks, and the yellow came out shortly after the Lap 94 restart with tangle involving Tracy, Vasser, Junqueira and Michel Jourdain Jr. The incident eliminated Tracy while Vasser passed Tagliani for third.

The green flag came out on Lap 101 and with Fittipaldi between him and the others, da Matta was able to sail home safely for the race win and the title.

Rounding out the top 10 were Jourdain, Adrian Fernandez, Michael Andretti, Kanaan and Franchitti.

-hi-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Mario Dominguez , Paul Newman , Carl Haas , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain