MONTERREY, Nueva Leon, Mexico (March 11, 2000) - Cristiano da Matta stepped into the seat vacated by legendary Michael Andretti at Newman/Haas Racing and continued on the road paved by CART's all-time victory leader when he captured Sunday's ...
MONTERREY, Nueva Leon, Mexico (March 11, 2000) - Cristiano da Matta stepped into the seat vacated by legendary Michael Andretti at Newman/Haas Racing and continued on the road paved by CART's all-time victory leader when he captured Sunday's inaugural Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez, season opener of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series, before a festive crowd of 116,000 at Fundidora Park.
Da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola), who moved into the seat after Andretti elected to join newly formed Team Motorola, stepped in and swiftly continued the winning ways of Andretti, who collected 31 of his 40 career wins with Newman/Haas, with a convincing 1.982-second victory over runner-up and reigning FedEx Series champion Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard).
Da Matta, the 1998 Dayton Indy Lights champion whose past two seasons were spent with PPI Motorsports, led a race-high 32 of 78 laps, including the final 18, en route to his second career win. Da Matta, whose first win came at Chicago last season, gave Toyota its first-ever victory on a permanent road course in six seasons of FedEx Championship Series competition. He averaged 81.548 miles per hour in a race run as a two-hour timed event, per CART rules on road or street courses, and concluded two laps shy of its scheduled 80-lap distance on the 2.104-miler permanent road course.
De Ferran's (Marlboro Honda Reynard) podium result was his fifth top-seven finish in his past six CART season openers, topped by a runner-up result at Homestead in 1996. Third-place went to Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, whose podium finish was the 43rd of his career and his second consecutive in a season opener. He also finished third at Homestead last year. Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard), in his debut for Team Motorola, finished fourth. Polesitter Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) finished fifth.
Brack led the first 23 laps before his first pit stop handed the lead to PacWest Racing Group rookie Scott Dixon (Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota). Dixon, the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights champion, led 14 laps before his first pit stop handed the lead back to Brack, who held the point until Lap 43, when da Matta moved in front for the first time.
Da Matta's lead, his first since his victory at Chicago last year, held until Lap 57 when de Ferran assumed the point for a single lap. Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green led Laps 58-60 before da Matta moved in front for the final time on Lap 61.
CRISTIANO da MATTA, Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola: "I had a pretty good day. At the beginning of the race, the pace was a little slow when everyone was concerned with conserving fuel, and it was not a big deal for me. I was able to follow Kenny [Brack] pretty close, but he was pretty strong. His car was running really strong during the second stint. Maybe he was using a little bit more fuel than I was, because he pitted one lap ahead of me, and it cost him a lot. We had a few close calls, but no incidents, otherwise I wouldn't be here. When Gil [de Ferran] got up to second, I was able to get a little bit more control of the race. During the last part of the race, it was pretty easy for me. I thought I had it before the last yellow if no mechanical problems came. Then the yellow came out and I had to reprogram everything. But I got a good jump on the restart and was able to get a good gap on Gil. The biggest thing of all was we worked very, very hard this off-season. The engineers and everybody were very focused on what we were doing, and were very, very methodical. I see now, it paid off. [On winning in Mexico] "It's good to win in Mexico, as it is to win in any other country. But I wasn't expecting to see so much enthusiasm and so many fans that love Champ Car racing. That made me feel so good to win in front of those fans. I saw more enthusiasm here with my race win than even when Andre [Ribeiro] won in Brazil in '96. I'm really happy to win in front of so many enthusiastic fans in Mexico. [On the track] "I enjoyed this course a lot. I thought it was a pretty interesting layout. This course is so smooth, which all the drivers like. The slippery issue is something that is usual on a new road course. I saw the grip improving every time we went out. I'm sure if there are more races here, this track will be much better when we come back to race next year."
PAUL TRACY, KOOL Honda Reynard: "The key is being very smooth, very consistent, and put it in lap after lap. That's our strategy. I passed a couple guys, various guys during the race. Once I got into the back of Kenny Brack, which wasn't really fair to him, but we both kept going. We had pretty good pit stops today. The guys are all coming together, and they showed what they're made of today. I might have been able to get by Gil at the end, but I don't think I had enough to catch Cristiano. [On racing in Mexico] It's great. The fans are really enthusiastic. It was a full house, and I'm really happy we put on a great show for them today. This was the first time in my whole life that I've ever been to Mexico and I had a great time. I'm looking forward to coming back again next year."
* Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix officials announced a four-day attendance of 318,000, including Sunday's crowd of 116,000. Both totals are believed to be among the largest in FedEx Championship Series history. Race officials termed Sunday's crowd the largest in Monterrey history for any sports/entertainment event.
* Cristiano da Matta's victory extended Newman/Haas Racing's record of success in FedEx Championship Series season-opening events. It was the team's eighth season-opening victory in 19 CART seasons. Previous season-opening wins came from Mario Andretti at Long Beach (1984, '85, '87) and Phoenix (1988), Nigel Mansell at Australia (1993) and Michael Andretti at Homestead (1997, '98).
* By virtue of his victory, da Matta takes the championship lead for the first time in his three-year career with 21 points. He earned 20 points for the victory and a bonus point for leading the most laps (32). Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) stands second with 16 points, followed by Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) with 14.
* Gil de Ferran's runner-up result marked his seventh top-six performance in his past nine FedEx Championship Series starts on permanent road courses. The run spans three seasons and dates to a victory at Portland in 1999.
* Paul Tracy logged his 43rd podium result in his 153rd CART career start by finishing third. It was his third podium finish in his past four season-opening starts, including finishes of second at Homestead in 1997 and third there last year. Tracy did not compete in the 1999 season opener per a CART ruling for a driving infraction late in the 1998 season.
* By leading 29 laps, Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) recorded the first laps led of his FedEx Championship Series career on a permanent road course. He also led at least one lap for the third consecutive event, dating to last year at Australia.
* Rookie Scott Dixon (Powerware Panasonic Toyota Reynard) of PacWest Racing led Laps 24-37, marking the most laps led for a PacWest car since Mauricio Gugelmin led 21 at Japan in 1999. Dixon also became the third rookie driver in the past two seasons to lead a lap in the FedEx Championship Series season opener, joining Brack and Alex Tagliani, both of whom led at Homestead last year.
* Da Matta's victory was the 41st for a graduate of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship, dating to a victory by Paul Tracy at Long Beach in 1993. Seventeen of them have come over the past three seasons, including a record nine last year. Six Indy Lights champions are currently active in the FedEx Championship Series, including Tracy in 1990, Bryan Herta of Zakspeed/Forsythe Racing in 1993; Tony Kanaan of MoNunn Racing in 1997; da Matta in 1998; Oriol Servia of Sigma Autosport in 1999 and Dixon last year.
* Two-time FedEx Championship Series champion Alex Zanardi (1997, '98) finished 24th in his return to the series following a two-year absence. Zanardi (Pioneer Honda Reynard) has joined Mo Nunn Racing this season and made his first start Sunday since the 1998 season finale at California Speedway, where he finished third.
The 2001 FedEx Championship Series continues with Round 2, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 6-8.from the streets of Long Beach, Calif.