CHAMPCAR/CART: Mont?rr?y: Newman/Haas Racing race report

Monterrey, Mexico -- March 10, 2002 Havoline Driver Da Matta Scored Back-To-Back Wins In The Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Cart Fedex Season Opener As Well As His Third Consecutive Victory In The Series-Eli Lilly And Company Driver ...

Monterrey, Mexico -- March 10, 2002

Havoline Driver Da Matta Scored Back-To-Back Wins In The Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Cart Fedex Season Opener As Well As His Third Consecutive Victory In The Series-Eli Lilly And Company Driver Fittipaldi Finished Third

- Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta led 52 of 85 laps to win his fifth overall CART FedEx Championship Series event today as well as score back-to-back wins in the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix. It was his third consecutive victory in the series after he drove to victory in the final two races of the 2001 Championship in Australia and Fontana. Calif. after scoring his previous win of the season here in Mexico in the inaugural event. In addition to scoring his seventh podium finish in the series he also brought Newman/Haas Racing their ninth victory in a season-opener in their 20th season - a 45 percent win average. It was the 62nd victory for Newman/Haas Racing, the winningest active competitor in the CART FedEx Championship series as well as the 12th overall for Toyota, five of which were won by da Matta. It was the 108th victory for chassis manufacturer Lola, 58 of which were won by Newman/Haas Racing.

Da Matta set the fastest times in both practice sessions on Friday and Saturday but had to settle for a fifth place start based on a lap time he set in the provisional qualifying on Friday. He had hoped to better the time on Saturday but rain during the duration of final qualifying on Saturday proved the task impossible. On the first of 85 laps, eventual fourth place finisher and local favorite Michel Jourdain passed da Matta but regained his position on lap four. He held fifth place while in a pack of three cars being held up by the slower car of polesitter Adrian Fernandez who was then running slower in second place. Da Matta moved into fourth place on lap 21 when Fernandez made his first of three mandatory pit stops per CART's new rules in an effort to produce full-throttle racing rather than fuel economy-minded races. He held fourth place until his first of the three stops on lap 27. While in the pits, da Matta made a quicker pit stop than teammate Christian Fittipaldi and returned on track in front of him in third place overall but first of those who had stopped. Patrick Carpentier and Paul Tracy were out of pit sequence and made their next stops on laps 31 and 32 respectively which put da Matta in the lead by lap 32. He held the position and built a seven-second lead on second place Fittipaldi before lap 38 when da Matta was attempting to pass backmarker Shinji Nakano and was alongside him when the Japanese driver hit him, causing damage to his front wing. Da Matta reported to the crew that he thought the car was running well despite the damage. A few laps later he set the fastest lap time of the race thus far so evidentially the damage did not slow him down. By lap 50 he had built a 13 second lead on Fittipaldi before he made his second pit stop on lap 51. After a quick pit stop that included changes to deal with da Matta's reported understeer, he returned to the race in second place behind Max Papis, who had yet to made his second stop. After regaining the lead on lap 53 he entered a "full-throttle racing" zone and built a commanding lead of 18 seconds over then second place runner Dario Franchitti before getting caught behind the slower cars of Michael Andretti and Adrian Fernandez around lap 58. After CART brought out the "move over" flag a few times for Andretti and Fernandez to no avail, da Matta was finally able to move past Andretti on lap 66 after he pit but da Matta had lost a hard-earned 12 seconds off of his lead and now Franchitti was 5.5-second behind him. By lap 72, Fernandez made his final pit stop and da Matta was free to regain some of his lead. Second place Franchitti made his final stop on lap 74 and da Matta had managed to build a 40-second lead on the Scotsman before making his final stop on lap 77. After returning to the track, a full course yellow caution flag was brought out to clear an accident that involved Tora Takagi and Tony Kanaan. The field was now bunched up with da Matta followed by the lapped car of 14th place runner Tora Takagi then Franchitti and Fittipaldi. When the race was restarted on lap 83 of 85, da Matta drove away from the field while Takagi initially slowed the advances of Franchitti and Fittipaldi. When the checkered flag came out after 85 laps, da Matta was officially the leader of the CART FedEx Championship with a 21-point total. He then became the first driver since Juan Montoya to win three consecutive CART races.

Following are his post race comments:

"It was a tough race especially with the new regulations," said da Matta. "It was a lot more fun to run wide-open but it was a lot harder too. You had to give 100 percent all the time. It's hard work to keep your concentration 100 percent of the time. Overall though it was 100 percent more fun, 100 percent more difficult and 100 percent more challenging. I can't wait to get to Long Beach! Everywhere that didn't count (in testing), we were the fastest so it is good to be fast here and achieve some results. When I came upon Nakano to lap him, he and Junqueira were fighting for position and Nakano made a big mistake. I was able to get alongside him but he closed the door on me. I don't think he saw me. As the leader coming up on two backmarkers, I figured they saw me. A piece of the front wing was knocked off but the car didn't feel any different. I was so lucky - I think I used a good portion of my luck for the whole season all at once today. Later in the race I got behind Michael and Adrian and they were going really slow. I was losing two seconds a lap of my lead so it was frustrating. I know drivers don't want to get lapped but there is a reasonable amount of time to hold someone up. Overall it was a great weekend for the Havoline team and me. I'm glad I can leave here with my sweet memories again. I think the Mexican fans are great and I want to thank them for treating me so well. I know they were all pulling for a Mexican to win but they still treated me great. I'm already looking forward to coming back next year."

- Eli Lilly and Company driver Christian Fittipaldi drove to a third place finish in the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix after running as high as second place for much of the 85-lap event. On Friday, Fittipaldi ran the fastest lap time in provisional qualifying (1:18.824 / 96.093 mph) but the time was disallowed because he caused a red flag situation in the session so he was relegated to fourth place based on his second fastest lap time. Rain prevented him from a second attempt on Saturday and he had to settle for a fourth place qualifying position. In the 85-lap race he held fourth place until he moved into third on lap 21 after Adrian Fernandez made his first pit stop. Fittipaldi pitted on lap 27 but lost one position to his teammate da Matta due to a failure on the fueling mechanism which caused more fuel to flow into the car than expected thus causing a longer stop. He returned to the track behind da Matta but ahead of previous second place runner Dario Franchitti and in fourth place overall as temporary leader Patrick Carpentier and second place runner Paul Tracy were out of pit sequence. Once both drivers made their stops, Fittipaldi moved into second place behind da Matta. By his second pit stop on lap 50, da Matta had built a 13-second lead on Fittipaldi, who had experienced a second racing stint where his car was not as good as the first. The team decided to bring Fittipaldi in a few laps early as he had come upon traffic and was running slower lap times and losing track position because of this fact. Upon further consideration after the race, the team decided that it would have been better to extend the run a few laps before pitting as Franchitti did and was subsequently able to return to the track ahead of Fittipaldi. By lap 53, he was running in fourth place behind leader da Matta, Paul Tracy, who was out of sequence and Franchitti. Once Tracy pit, he moved into third place on lap 56. He maintained a close rein on Franchitti but da Matta pulled away from the duo in the ensuing laps. While da Matta was being held up by Michael Andretti and Adrian Fernandez, both Franchitti and Fittipaldi closed the gap before the third and final pit stops for both on lap 74. Once back on track, a caution flag came out to clear the debris from the accident between Tora Takagi and Tony Kanaan. Despite numerous request to CART officials, 14th place runner Takagi remained between da Matta and second place Franchitti when the race was restarted with two laps to go. Once the race was restarted, Fittipaldi made a daring pass on Franchitti and was able to overtake him but Franchitti was able to move back ahead of Fittipaldi who ultimately finished in third place as well as earned a third place in the point standings. Following are his post race comments:

"In the beginning of the race I started to think 'Wow - this is going to be good' because the car felt so good but when more rubber was laid down on the track my car wasn't handling as well," said Fittipaldi. "I was almost able to make it a one-two finish for Newman/Haas when I got by Dario. I braked too deep and unfortunately didn't make it but I am happy to finish third in my first race in the Lilly car. Dario was 100 percent of a gentleman and we raced clean. At the end of the race, I am surprised that CART didn't move Tora back. I wanted to put some heat on Dario but it was difficult because we were held up behind Tora. Overall the best thing that has come from the weekend is that the car is good. With Toyota's reliability and the handling of the Lola, I am expecting good things from this season."

- Fittipaldi Is On His Way to Test His Busch CarAfter finishing up post race media duties, Fittipaldi hitched a ride on the airplane of former teammate Michael Andretti which was bound Andretti's home in Pennsylvania. He was then scheduled to board a flight to Bristol, Tenn. to test his mike's hard lemonade BGN car tomorrow.

- Next Up Is The Toyota Grand Prix of Long BeachRound 2 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship Series will take place April 12-14 at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Havoline driver, Cristiano da Matta, who finished the 2001 event, will make a promotional appearance during the annual Pro Celebrity Race media day on April 2.

- Toyota Motorsport DayBoth Fittipaldi and da Matta will attend the annual Toyota Motorsports Day in Torrance, Calif. on March 28. The day begins with an autograph session followed by lunch with executives.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain