Lilly Driver Fittipaldi finished fourth in The Miller Lite 250 at The Milwaukee Mile while a fuel pick-up problem limited da Matta to an 11th place Finish, - Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi drove from his 15th place start to a fourth place ...
Lilly Driver Fittipaldi finished fourth in The Miller Lite 250 at The Milwaukee Mile while a fuel pick-up problem limited da Matta to an 11th place Finish,
- Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi drove from his 15th place start to a fourth place finish in the 250-lap Miller Lite 250 and moved from 10th to eighth place in the CART FedEx Series point standings. Despite narrowly missing a top-three podium finish, it was a victory of sorts for Newman/Haas Racing, who has dominated on road and street courses this season but was less competitive on the short oval in Japan. Pre-race ceremonies included the usual parade lap in a convertible automobile but Fittipaldi added a little local flavor by donning a "cheesehead" in honor of the local fans as well as his team members, many of whom are from Wisconsin.
At the start of the 250-mile race, Fittipaldi passed Jimmy Vasser for 14th place and held the position until lap 29 when Alex Tagliani pitted and later retired with electrical failure. He moved from 13th place into 12th after third place runner Shinji Nakano encountered mechanical trouble. After a few laps of close pursuit and aborted attempts, Fittipaldi passed Bruno Junqueira on lap 57 and moved into 11th place for a few laps before his first of three mandatory pit stops on lap 65 during a caution period to clear debris from an accident involving Mario Dominguez. The crew performed a quick stop and "short filled" the car for the amount of time needed to change the four tires and was able to gain two positions ahead of Dario Franchitti and Kenny Brack and returned to the race in ninth place. On the restart a few laps later, Fittipaldi dropped to 10th place after Dario Franchitti passed him. He held 10th place until third place runner Tony Kanaan slowed and subsequently retired with mechanical failure, moving Fittipaldi to ninth place on lap 93. A few laps later he moved to eighth place after previous second place runner Patrick Carpentier came in the pits for the first of multiple stops before he ultimately retired with mechanical failure. On lap 109, fourth place runner Tora Takagi lost control of his race car and Fittipaldi moved into seventh. As others began making their second stops when the pits opened during the caution period for Takagi, he moved into the lead from laps 114 to 116 before making his own stop on lap 117 during a caution due to Michael Andretti's spin. He returned to the race in eighth place but moved into seventh on lap 157 when teammate Cristiano da Matta made an unscheduled stop due to a fuel pressure problem. On lap 180, he gained two positions when temporary frontrunners Brack and Junqueira made their mandatory stops between the second pit window. He made his third and final stop on lap 184 during the caution period to check for debris left by Scott Dixon, who went off line and scraped the wall in his debut for Chip Ganassi's team. Fittipaldi returned to his position of fifth place behind Franchitti but moved to fourth after CART penalized Franchitti for not obeying the "blend-line" rule. Once the race was restarted, he held fourth place through another caution period and subsequent restart to clear debris from Franchitti's accident as well as the checkered flag. It was his third points-paying finish in the four races so far this season as well as his second highest finish (third in Mexico). After scoring 12 points today, he moved up to eighth place in the Championship with a total of 27 points, only 15 behind leader first time Championship leader Michel Jourdain who has 42. One week after a potentially protested second place finish in the Indy 500, Paul Tracy drove to victory in the Miller Lite 250 ahead of polesitter Adrian Fernandez, who finished second and Max Papis, third. Following are his post race comments:
"It was a good day for the Lilly car," said Fittipaldi. "As racing drivers we expect more than fourth place but with the amount of progress we have made with our short oval car since Japan, this is like a win for us. We had an issue with the rear of the car but the entire team has worked really hard to get us back to being competitive. This finish is good for everyone on the team. I'm really looking forward to the next two races in Laguna Seca and Portland because we have been strong on road courses. The point championship is tight and it's making things exciting."
- Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta settled for a disappointing 11th place finish in the Miller Lite 250 after running as high as sixth place ahead of eventual third place finisher Max Papis before fuel pressure problems appeared. After only scoring two points toward the Championship standings, da Matta dropped from third to fifth in the standings although he stands only 15 points behind first-time leader Michel Jourdain, who now has 42. Despite being disappointed at losing a chance at what could have been a third place finish, da Matta was pleased with the progress the team had made to their short oval set-up.
At the start of the 250-lap race, da Matta was passed by Tony Kanaan but regained seventh place before the second lap after he passed Bruno Junqueira. On lap three, da Matta dropped back to eighth place after Michael Andretti continued his charge to the front from his 13th place start. He held eighth place until lap 43 when Dario Franchitti's pass dropped him to ninth place, which he held until his first of three mandatory stops. He returned to the race ahead of Franchitti due to a quicker stop but was passed on lap 71 by the Scotsman. He held his position until third place runner Kanaan retired due to an oil leak, which moved him into eighth place and on into seventh on lap 95 when second place runner Patrick Carpentier pitted and subsequently retired with electrical failure. Previous fifth place runner Tora Takagi had put his Toyota-powered machine in fifth place before he made contact with the wall, which enabled da Matta to move into sixth place. Once the pits were opened during Takagi's yellow, the team decided to make a stop although it was not within the "window" of the mandatory stop timeline since it would most likely shorten their next stop. He returned to the race in seventh place but came back in the pits a few laps later as the yellow was immediately brought back out because Andretti spun on cold tires on the restart. At the conclusion of his third stop on lap 114 (which included a change of tires as mandated by new CART rules), da Matta returned to the race and worked his way back into sixth place by the time the race was restarted. He held sixth place until lap 157 when he reported to the Havoline crew that something was wrong with his racecar. After pitting to have the car checked, da Matta returned to the track in 12th place, two laps down to the leader. The team deducted that da Matta was experiencing a fuel pressure problem as had occurred previously in the weekend as well as previous races this season. Initially, he was able to regain his pace but was no longer a contender for the victory as he was two laps down. As the race continued however, the problem grew worse. The best case scenario was to keep the fuel tank as full of methanol as possible in order to assist in the transfer of fuel to the engine. In order to do this, da Matta was forced to pit often which ultimately led to him finishing six laps down to the winner Paul Tracy. In total, da Matta made 10 stops before the checkered flag flew and he finished in 11th place due to gaining one position when Franchitti crashed on lap 188 of 250. Following are da Matta's post race comments:
"We have struggled with a fuel pick-up problem since Long Beach," said a disappointed da Matta. "Both cars also experienced it earlier this weekend and it happened again to me in the race, which is a shame because a podium finish would have been possible with the way the race played out. A top-five finish would have been a huge improvement for the Havoline team since we struggled on the short oval in Japan. After the problem surfaced, we were able to get back on the pace after a full fill of methanol but the problem got worse as the race went on and the tank became less full and it caused us to lose power. That's why we had to make so many pit stops. The points would have put us much closer to the front of the standings but we are heading to a couple of tracks (Laguna Seca and Portland) where we are strong so we can hopefully make up some ground there. We were the fastest in every session (of CART's Sneak Preview) at Laguna Seca in February but we need to solve this fuel pick-up problem before the first session next Friday morning."
Next Up...Prior to Round 5 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship -- the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca on June 9, da Matta will make a Havoline appearance at the San Ramona offices of ChevronTexaco on Wednesday, June 5. The team anticipates being competitive in Laguna Seca after da Matta ran the fastest lap times in each of the four sessions at CART's annual Sneak Preview, which was held at the track in February. The team is hoping to pull off the Monterey/Monterrey double by adding a victory in California to their season-opening win in Mexico.