CHAMPCAR/CART: Monterey: Race report

Cristiano da Matta takes CART points lead and sparks Newman-Haas sweep of Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey featuring the Shell 300. MONTEREY, Calif. (June 9, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...

Cristiano da Matta takes CART points lead and sparks Newman-Haas sweep of Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey featuring the Shell 300.

MONTEREY, Calif. (June 9, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) had one of the best days of his blooming CART FedEx Championship Series career Sunday afternoon as he led a personal single-race best 82 of the 87 laps to dominate the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Da Matta earned his second win of the season and sixth of his career by making the most of his pole position earned on Saturday, leading the first 61 laps before giving up the lead briefly during the last round of fuel stops. The diminutive Brazilian would reassume the point after his teammate Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) made his final stop and pace the final 21 circuits to take the win.

The dominating performance would result in da Matta's eclipsing Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to take the series points lead, da Matta's total of 51 points giving him a lead of five markers over Jourdain after five races. The 82 laps led by da Matta also surpassed his personal best for laps led in a single race, bettering his previous standard of 73 set at Toronto in 2000.

Fittipaldi would come home in second place, finishing 19.087 seconds in arrears of da Matta, giving Newman-Haas Racing its first 1-2 sweep since Fittipaldi and Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) turned the trick at Road America in 1999. It was the seventh time that Newman-Haas has swept the top-two spots in a CART event, including the 1992 race at Laguna Seca when the father-son duo of Mario and Michael Andretti completed the feat when Michael bested his father.

Fittipaldi vaulted into the third spot in the points with his podium finish, his first since he won the 2000 season finale at Fontana. He led his first laps of the year as he paced the field through Laps 63-66 and would cement his second-place run by coming out of his final stop just ahead of Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone). Brack would make a run at Fittipaldi and close within a quarter-second at one point, but the Brazilian was able to hold off the Ganassi driver to the finish line.

Brack would create a podium sweep for Toyota by coming home in third place, the first of the 2002 season for any manufacturer and first for anyone since Ford took the top three spots at The American Memorial. He was the only other driver to lead a lap on the day and climbed back into the series championship hunt with his finish - moving into a three-way tie for sixth with Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone and Max Papis (#22 ROCKWELL FIRST POINT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) with 32 points.

Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) picked up the fourth spot, giving Newman-Haas and Target Chip Ganassi Racing the top four positions on the day, marking the first time that two teams have swept the top four spots since the 1999 event in Mid-Ohio when Juan Montoya led a Target/Team KOOL Green sweep.

The new CART fuel strategy rules allowed da Matta to run at will on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Monterey, building a lead of 10 seconds after less than 20 laps. Brack ran second for the majority of the day and closed to within six seconds just after the race's halfway point as da Matta began to encounter lapped traffic, but after the gap would widen to its eventual 19.087 seconds after the final pit stop cycle was completed with 20 laps to go.

The always-eventful first turn complex at Laguna Seca claimed a pair of cars on Sunday as Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) and Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) were eliminated in a six-car melee. Neither driver was injured although the early exit for Franchitti dropped him from second to fifth in the points. The retirement of Fernandez means that Jourdain is the only driver to have finished each race this CART season.

Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) finished fifth on the day after turning in one of the most eventful races of anyone in the field. Carpentier chased down Scott Dixon (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) and passed him for fifth after the first round of pit stops, then repeated the feat with Dixon's teammate Junqueira and held the race's fastest lap at one point while eyeing a podium finish. He survived a long trip through the sand trap on Lap 59 to keep running but fell back to sixth before re-passing Dixon and taking fifth.

Quotes from the top three finishers in Sunday's race follow below:

Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "It was a perfect day for me and the whole team. I was worried about the start but I managed to get a good one. My car was good and I was able to run away in the first stint. I got caught up in traffic the following stint and as a result, we changed our pit stop strategy, but still ran into traffic. After getting through it I was very comfortable because Christian [Fittipaldi] and Kenny [Brack] got caught up and I was able to relax." (On the Bridgestone Potenza tires) "The tires were a lot better than I thought they could be. The compound Bridgestone brought here was great and I wasn't concerned with our tire wear at all."

Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "My pit stops were very quick today. My crew is doing a very good job and as a result we are leading the [Craftsman] pit crew challenge right now that pays $50,000 at the end of the season. I would love to share that with the team along with the money for winning the championship, but the battle in the championship is very tough. Everyone thought our pit stops were the key today. They were key I'll admit, but another thing that was key is when we were able to extend the gap we had while running in clear air. "

Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "It was a good day and the car ran well all weekend long. We got caught some traffic in the middle of the race so we decided to pit early, but we came right back out into traffic. We'll take third place behind Newman/Haas Racing because that's all we had for them today." (On da Matta pulling away) "We made some changes during the second stop that didn't work for us. If you look at Newman/Haas Racing, then you have seen the success they've had here in the past with testing. So it's no surprise that their cars are as good as they are. But we intend to close the gap and make life dreadful for them."

NOTEWORTHY:

* Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) posted his best finish of his Champ Car career by taking the seventh spot, scoring his first championship points and taking the lead in the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year standings.

* Michel Jourdain finished ninth and will roll into Portland in the second spot in the standings, five points behind da Matta. Jourdain's finish makes him the only driver in the series to have finished in the top 10 in every race this year.

--CART--

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Kenny Brack , Townsend Bell , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing