Milwaukee, Wisc. --- June 4, 2001 Kmart Driver Fittipaldi In Incident While Trying To Pass A Lapped Car While Fourth Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Driver Da Matta Victim Of Mistake By A Front Runner On Lap 1 At The Miller Lite 225 At The Milwaukee ...
Milwaukee, Wisc. --- June 4, 2001
Kmart Driver Fittipaldi In Incident While Trying To Pass A Lapped Car While Fourth
Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Driver Da Matta Victim Of Mistake By A Front Runner On Lap 1 At The Miller Lite 225 At The Milwaukee Mile
Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi made his 100th CART start this weekend with the running of the Miller Lite 225 at the Carl Haas-promoted Milwaukee Mile and looked ready to collect Championship points for the third consecutive time this season while in fourth place before contact with a backmarker ended his race. After starting in ninth place, which was set based on point standings after rain canceled the afternoon practice session on Friday and all of Saturday's on-track activities, Fittipaldi was confident in having a well balanced race car and hoped to be a contender for a win in his 100th start as well as bring chassis manufacturer Lola it's 100th win in Champ car racing.
At the start of the race, polesitter Kenny Brack and Helio Castroneves, the second place starter and recent Indianapolis 500 winner drove side-by-side into Turn 1 and banged wheels, sending Castroneves into the wall and subsequently into Fittipaldi's teammate Cristiano da Matta.
Fittipaldi had to take immediate evasive action as he was directly behind the accident. He dropped from ninth place into 12th as Michael Andretti, Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian passed him.
On the restart of the race on Lap 11, second place runner Paul Tracy made contact with the Turn 1 wall and the yellow was again brought out and Fittipaldi moved into 11th place.
When the green flag waved on Lap 20, Fittipaldi was passed by Oriol Servia and Bryan Herta and he dropped into 13th place which he held until Lap 74 when Bryan Herta pit and subsequently retired with mechanical failure.
Fittipaldi held 12th place until he moved back into ninth before his first of two expected pit stops on Lap 91. The fueling hose was inserted a fraction to high in angle and the fuel leaked. Fittipaldi was sent back on track with new tires and approximately only eight additional gallons in his 35-gallon fuel tank in order not to lose track position and hope for an opportunity to pit under a slower caution period. He returned to the race in 17th place behind the front runners as well as some drivers who were out of pit sequence to those on the lead lap. By Lap 107 he was in eighth place.
The team was paid back for the many times that the yellow flag worked against them in previous races when it was brought out on Lap 108 for Alex Zanardi who lost control of his car. Fittipaldi took advantage of this slow period and pitted on lap 112 for fuel and tires when the pits opened for stops. He returned to the race in 11th place and the race was restarted on Lap 114. He moved into ninth place by lap 121 and was told to run as fast as he could now that he had a full fuel load. On lap 132, third place runner Jimmy Vasser crashed after trying to pass the lapped car of Tora Takagi who reportedly pulled down on Vasser. Takagi was subsequently excluded from the reminder of the race due to the incident.
Fittipaldi moved into eighth place after Vasser retired. During the first lap of the caution period to re move Vasser's race car, Fittipaldi and the Kmart crew discussed strategy for the imminent pit stop and decide to gamble and have Fittipaldi stay on his current tires in order to gain positions on the final pit stop. The fact that he had more fuel than most of the other drivers and would therefore take less time to fill his tank was also an advantage. He pitted on Lap 135 and returned to the race in fourth place which he held for the following 69 laps before a points paying finish became unobtainable.
For the majority of his final 15 laps, Fittipaldi was forced to run a slower pace in traffic behind the lapped car of rookie Nicolas Minassian while Minassian's teammate and fifth place runner Bruno Junqueira began closing the gap on Fittipaldi.
Team Manager John Tzouanakis was attempting to have CART officials show Minassian the "move over" flag but the flag was not displayed. On lap 205 Fittipaldi attempted to pass the lapped car of Minassian on the inside of the track entering Turn 3 and the two came into contact and subsequently retired from the race. Fittipaldi dropped from 9th place in the point standings to 11th after failing to score points toward the Championship.
Following are his post race comments:
"I was asking for them to get Nicolas to get out of the way since he was a backmarker but he didn't get the move over flag," said Fittipaldi.
"Ironically or not, his teammate Bruno was catching up to me the entire time. I'm incredibly disappointed and obviously mad. If the end result didn't bother me then I should not be a driver. I'm disappointed for my team and myself overall. With Cristiano being taken out on the first lap again, I was carrying all of the hopes of the entire race team as well as everyone from the work shop on my shoulders."
Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta started the Miller Lite 225 in third place due to point standings after being second fastest in Friday's practice session before rain canceled the afternoon practice session on Friday and all of Saturday's on-track activities.
After the pre-race warm-up on Sunday, he was optimistic of having a good racecar to fight for his third CART victory and seventh for Newman/Haas Racing at the legendary Milwaukee Mile. As had happened in Japan, da Matta was the unfortunate victim of a mistake by a driver ahead of him as second place starter Helio Castroneves came into contact with polesitter and eventual race winner Kenny Brack on Lap 1 of 225.
Castroneves's car slid down the track after making contact with the wall and hit da Matta, knocking off his front and rear wings in the process. The event marked the second race of five in the 2001 season, where he failed to score points toward the Championship. He was able to hold third place in the Championship standings but the leader Kenny Brack gained 21 more points due to his victory in the event.
Following are da Matta's post race comments:
"I think Helio just lost it," said da Matta. "Helio and Kenny were racing like it was the last lap. The first turn for them looked like they thought it was the last turn of the last lap. Unfortunately it was the last lap for me. The disappointment is unbelievable. This is a team sport and you feel bad when you let everyone down even though something is not your fault.
"It should have been a 225 lap race not a sprint, one-lap event, which is how it started. We were able to hold onto third place in the points but we didn't plan to 'hold on' to third. We wanted to keep making some progress.
"Leading the standings early on was good but we knew it would be a long season and the luck would not always go our way. That's why we didn't get comfortable just because we were in the lead. We're ready for the luck to turn around again. It will be good to get back to the street course events. I'm looking forward to Detroit. We have learned a few things since (second place in) Long Beach."
Back on the Road Again - The CART FedEx Championship series returns to road and street course racing in two weeks with the Tenneco Automotive Detroit Grand Prix on June 17.