CHAMPCAR/CART: Monterey: Newman/Haas Racing race report

Chevron driver da Matta won his fourth event in the past seven CART races with his victory in today's Bridgestone GP of Monterey from his first career pole - Lilly driver Fittipaldi made it a one-two for Newman/Haas. - Chevron driver Cristiano...

Chevron driver da Matta won his fourth event in the past seven CART races with his victory in today's Bridgestone GP of Monterey from his first career pole - Lilly driver Fittipaldi made it a one-two for Newman/Haas.

- Chevron driver Cristiano da Matta not only won his first CART Champ car pole for the 87-lap Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey, he also won his first race from the pole position, scored his fourth win in the past seven races and jumped from fifth into the lead of the CART FedEx Championship standings. Not only was it his second win of the season, it was his second in a city named Monterey after having scored a win in the season-opener in Monterrey, Mexico.

On Saturday, he won his first CART Champ car pole position after begin the fastest driver in the four pre-season test sessions as well as three of the four sessions through final qualifying for the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Not only was it his first pole in the series, it was also the first for Newman/Haas Racing since Michael Andretti won the coveted starting spot for the team in Elkhart Lake, Wis., in 1999 -- 56 races ago.

In the race, he held the lead through his first of three pit stops on lap 17. After immediately regaining the position he proceeded to build an 11 second lead on the field before his second stop on lap 42. Quick pit work by the Chevron crew enabled him to hold on to his lead margin as well as build it to 12 seconds before he came upon traffic in the form of lapped cars. During this stint he reported to the crew via radio that the car was not handling as well as it had on the previous stints and to revert back to the previous tire pressures on his next stop. For the next 10 laps around the 2.238-mile scenic road course da Matta saw his lead over Kenny Brack diminish from 12 second to four due to being held up by the backmarkers. Due to this situation the team elected to bring him in earlier for his final pit stop on lap 62 which was ultimately the first of five laps he did not lead. As Brack and third place runner Christian Fittipaldi made their stops a few laps later he regained the lead on lap 67 and proceeded to build a 20 second lead over eventual second place finisher Fittipaldi before the checkered flag flew after 87 laps. In addition to collecting one point for winning the pole, he earned 20 points for the victory and one for leading the most laps. The only point he did not receive was for provisional pole because he was second fastest on Friday. To no one's surprise, da Matta also ran the fastest lap of the race on 71 of 87. Following are da Matta's post race comments:

"It was a perfect day," said an elated da Matta. "Motor racing is a team sport. I don't do anything by myself. I have a great chassis and I have a great engine in Toyota, and we have a great team in Newman/Haas. If you don't have any one of those parts of the equation then you don't get the kind of performance we had today. I was worried about the start but I had good guys around me and I managed to get a good start. At one point we had a good lead on the field but a change we made to the car on the third stint made it not as good and we caught traffic at the same time which made it more difficult to deal with. Because of that, we changed our strategy and decided to pit earlier. After that I was pretty comfortable because the car was back to the performance that we had at the beginning of the race and we were able to build a 20 second lead. It's not only great to win for the team and Chevron which is based near here but we are leaving this race with the points lead and that is the most important thing of all. I think they should add more races in cities named Monterey since that is where we have won our two races so far this season! Portland should be another good race for us. I can't wait!"

- Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi drove to his best finish since winning the 2000 season-finale Marlboro 500 today with his second place result and brought the team its first one-two finish since the 1999 race in Elkhart Lake where he drove to his first CART victory and won and Michael Andretti finished second for the team. After scoring points in four of the five races so far this season, he moved from eighth place in the CART FedEx standings into third place with his strong result.

At the beginning of the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Fittipaldi held his fifth place start until his first pit stop on lap 17 and returned to the race ahead of previous fourth place runner Tony Kanaan but in sixth place behind two cars that pitted early in the race during a caution period for a Lap 1, Turn 2 accident involving six cars. He held sixth place until third place runner Townsend Bell and fifth place runner Jimmy Vasser made their stops out of sequence and he took over fourth place on lap 30. He held the position until his next stop on lap 42 where the Lilly crew performed a quick stop and he barely was able to exit his pit box ahead of Bruno Junqueira in third place. For the following 19 laps he put his talent to good use by reducing his deficit to second place runner Kenny Brack from almost 10 seconds to four before he moved into second place for one lap when the leader Cristiano da Matta made his final stop. He then took over the lead of the race for the ensuing four laps while driving as hard as he could to gain valuable track position before he made his final stop on lap 76. Because he was able to catch up to Brack as well as stay on track four laps later and make use of his lighter car and warm Bridgestone tires, he returned to the track ahead of Brack in second place. His initial lead on third place Brack was six-tenths of a second although he increased it to 1.1-seconds before being held up behind the same group of backmarkers that held up his teammate earlier which caused his gap dropped to four tenths of a second just before the checkered flag flew on lap 87. With his 16 points from the event, he moved from eighth place in the CART FedEx standings into third, eight points back from his teammate and points leader Cristiano da Matta. Following are his post race comments:

"The Lilly crew did an excellent job and that's why they are 'P1' (position one) in the Craftsman Pit Stop Contest," said Fittipaldi. "We had quick stops all three times and gained a position on each of them. But the real reason we were able to finish second was because the team gave me a good car and I managed to run pretty quick laps and make up ground on Kenny before my last stop. That's what got me by Kenny for second place. We are good on these types of tracks so we need to capitalize on the points available when we come to them. I'm am aiming to win $1 million for the Championship, $1 million for another win at the California Speedway and $50,000 for the guys in the pit stop contest. To finish one-two really motivated the team. It would be a dream weekend for me to continue this momentum to (next weekend's race in) Portland which is a very special place for me."

- All Toyota, All the Time
With their dominant performance today, Toyota assumed the Manufacturer's Championship lead with an 88-77 advantage over Honda on the strength of Toyota's top four finishers (da Matta - 1st; Fittipaldi - 2nd; Kenny Brack - 3rd; Bruno Junqueira - 4th). It was the third win of the season - by Toyota and the manufacturer's fifth victory in the last seven FedEx Championship Series races as well as their 4th overall - six of which were scored by da Matta.

- Next Up...Prior to Round 6 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship -- the G.I. Joe's 200 in Portland, Ore., both drivers will enjoy the local scenery for the back-to-back West Coast events. Fittipaldi, his wife and their mothers will spend a few days in San Francisco while da Matta will travel to Vancouver, B.C., Canada tonight for advance promotion on Monday for the upcoming Molson Indy Vancouver scheduled to happen on July 28. Fittipaldi's 2001 season highlight was a third place finish in Portland while racing in limited visibility due to rain after driving off course to avoid a sliding car and dropping back to 19th. Da Matta was also a victim of the wet conditions after he qualified second for the event but dropped back to 16th after going off course and had to fight back to finish 10th.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Christian Fittipaldi , Tony Kanaan , Kenny Brack , Townsend Bell , Cristiano da Matta