CHAMPCAR/CART: Montreal: Newman/Haas Racing preview

Da Matta and Fittipaldi look to make the inaugural CART Fedex Series Molson Indy Montreal memorable. MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada (August 20, 2002) --- Traveling north of the border one last time this season for the inaugural Molson Indy ...

Da Matta and Fittipaldi look to make the inaugural CART Fedex Series Molson Indy Montreal memorable.

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada (August 20, 2002) --- Traveling north of the border one last time this season for the inaugural Molson Indy Montreal, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) hopes to produce another win streak after taking the checkered flag first in six of the 12 races in the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx Championship as well as eight of the past 14 dating back to last season.

The picturesque 2.747-mile permanent road course of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve marks the 13th of 19 CART Champ car events for the 2002 season. Another stop on the tour at a road course is an appealing proposition for NHR drivers Cristiano da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi as they have continually excelled on road and street courses this season.

In 2002 alone, NHR has proved to be the most successful team on the CART circuit, especially on road and street courses as they attempt to capture their fourth Champ car championship in 20 seasons. Of their 67 total team victories, 44 NHR victories have come on road/street courses including da Matta's five road/street course victories out of six total wins so far this season.

However, Montreal offers a bit of a new challenge outside of the rigors of normal race weekends, for this marks the first time the CART FedEx series has visited the circuit. Despite the lack of data and experience that accompanies well-traveled tracks on the season schedule, NHR is positive about its chances of coming home victorious from Montreal.

Piloting the No. 6 Havoline Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone to victory lane more than anyone this season, da Matta revealed his thoughts on his maiden voyage to Montreal. He said, "I am actually pretty confident about racing in Montreal. Because the next two races are on new tracks for us since we haven't raced in Montreal or the layout in Denver and usually Newman/Haas, historically speaking, has a very good preparation and a very good method to prepare themselves for going to places they have never been. Every time we go to new tracks, it's a bit of a question mark but I'm very confident we will be fine."

Coming off a win last weekend at Road America, da Matta is the series points leader with a total of 143 championship points -- 42 points more than second place holders Patrick Carpentier and Bruno Junqueira who are tied for the spot. Although the margin will allow da Matta to depart Montreal still in the lead with a maximum of 23 points available this weekend, races in Cleveland, Vancouver and Mid-Ohio brought only four of the maximum of 69 available and reminded all that the Championship is long from being over with seven races left.

"It was good to get a win in Road America after not scoring many points in the three previous races," da Matta said. "The point spread was getting pretty tight and we just need to keep scoring points here and there. There are seven more races and this Championship is far from over. We have been more consistent than the results show."

Chalking up victories in bunches, da Matta hopes to start yet another one of his infamous win-streaks starting with his recent victory at Road America and pull away again from the rest of the competitive CART teams. Since da Matta's last winning streak of four races, which came to an end at Cleveland, he has had his hands full with this season's other championship points challengers.

"I always consider Team Green and Ganassi as our biggest opposition and now of course, the last couple of race Players has been getting faster and faster," da Matta said. "I think the Championship fight is going to be between these four teams (NHR, Green, Ganassi, Players)."

Having no former experience at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is not entirely true for NHR, as their employment of former Formula 1 (F1) driver, Fittipaldi, gives them a bit of an edge this weekend as Montreal has been a stop on the F1 tour for many years. Fittipaldi raced at Montreal a total of three times as an F1 driver and he hasn't forgotten about his trips around the course.

Fittipaldi said, "Montreal (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve) is a track where a lot depends on how well your car is braking and how much power you can put down because there is a long straightaway followed by chicanes. The track surface was really smooth when I drove in the Formula One races there from 1992 to 1994. I think it will be the best permanent road course we will race at all season."

Knowing the track and having run with the leaders at Montreal before, Fittipaldi is eager to return to the course in the No. 11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone. He said, "My last time to race there was my better race at the track. We ran as high as third place but finished sixth. We were disqualified because we were a half-kilo too light. It wasn't a big enough difference to give us any type of advantage but the rule was very specific and we screwed up. I'm looking forward to racing there for the first time in many years."

However, it wasn't the technical aspects of the racing at Montreal that Fittipaldi remembers most. Instead it was the festivities surrounding the race that left a lasting impression of the venue.

"The first thing I remember about racing in Montreal actually happened off-track," Fittipaldi said. "The mechanics always had a boat race on Thursdays of race week in the canal behind the pits. I think the canal was also used for an Olympic rowing race. The team built boats out of leftover car parts and things they found in pit lane. Each team picked one guy and they had to row from one side of the canal to the other. There were red boats made from parts from Ferrari, and so on. A bunch of boats sank because they were all put together half-way."

Montreal marks the last of three stops to Canada for the CART series. Already dropping the checkered flag in Toronto and Vancouver, there is a great anticipation to return to Canada as it is home to a tremendous CART fan base. Adding to the excitement, of course, is the fact that CART has never raced on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

"The good thing about CART racing in this area for the first time is that there is already an existing fan base built in the area," Fittipaldi noted. "I'm always happy to race in Canada and especially in a big city like Montreal. It is a perfect place the CART FedEx Championship."

Offering a different atmosphere at Montreal than the usual F1 operation, CART is banking on drawing fans because of its reputation as an accessible open-wheel series. Understanding this concept well, da Matta noted, "What CART can offer to the fans in Montreal is real close competition. Going to races in person is very interesting especially for me. I remember when I was a race fan when I was young and went to the track to watch Formula One, for example because CART wasn't racing in Brazil yet. I would go to the track and see the cars from the grandstand. You couldn't even see the cars up close. That's one of the cool things about CART, you can get in the paddock and have a look at the cars from really close. Of course the drivers are really busy but, if you're really lucky, you can see the drivers here and there. Those things make you get into the sport a little more."

With an already strong fan base in Canada, a strong points battle brewing and a highly competitive series, da Matta is confident that these aspects of CART will captivate the crowd at Montreal this weekend. He said, "It will be a pretty interesting situation to those who are used to seeing everything from a distance. Another point compared to F1 cars, CART Champ cars are a lot more similar. There are five teams that have a chance to win the race."

Friday's provisional qualifying will air live on SPEED Channel from 2-3:30 p.m., followed CART Friday Night later that evening on SPEED Channel at 10:30 p.m. Saturday's final round of Champ Car qualifying is slated for 1:30-3:00 p.m. live on SPEED Channel. This Sunday's live broadcast of the Molson Indy Montreal will air on the SPEED Channel with a Pre-Race Show from 1:30pm - 2pm and race coverage beginning from 2-4:30 p.m. All times are Eastern.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA, #6 Havoline Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone: "I am actually pretty confident about racing in Montreal. Because the next two races are on new tracks for us since we haven't raced in Montreal or the layout in Denver and usually Newman/Haas has, historically speaking, has a very good preparation and a very good method to prepare themselves for going to places they have never been. Every time we go to new tracks, it's a bit of a question mark but I'm very confident we will be fine. It was good to get a win in Road America after not scoring many points in the three previous races. The point spread was getting pretty tight and we just need to keep scoring points here and there. There are seven more races and this Championship is far from over. We have been more consistent that the results show.

"What CART can offer to the fans in Montreal is real close competition. Going to races in person is very interesting especially for me. I remember when I was a race fan when I was young and went to the track to watch Formula One, for example because CART wasn't racing in Brazil yet. I would go to the track and see the cars from the grandstand. You couldn't even see the cars up close. That's one of the cool things about CART, you can get in the paddock and have a look at the cars from really close. Of course the drivers are really busy but, if you're really lucky, you can see the drivers here and there. Those things make you get into the sport a little more. It will be a pretty interesting situation to those who are used to seeing everything from a distance. Another point compared to F 1 cars, CART Champ cars are a lot more similar. There are five teams that have a chance to win the race. (On main competitors at this point in the season:) "I always consider Team Green and Ganassi as our biggest opposition and now of course, the last couple of race Players has been getting faster and faster. I think the Championship fight is going to be between these four teams (NHR, Green, Ganassi, Players)."

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, #11 Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone: "Montreal (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve) is a track where a lot depends on how well your car is braking and how much power you can put down because there is a long straightaway followed by chicanes. The track surface was really smooth when I drove in the Formula One races there from 1992 to 1994. I think it will be the best permanent road course we will race at all season. The good thing about CART racing in this area for the first time is that there is already an existing fan base built in the area. I'm always happy to race in Canada and especially in a big city like Montreal. It is a perfect place the CART FedEx Championship.

"The first thing I remember about racing in Montreal actually happened off-track. The mechanics always had a boat race on Thursdays of race week in the canal behind the pits. I think the canal was also used for an Olympic rowing race. The team built boats out of leftover car parts and things they found in pit lane. Each team picked one guy and they had to row from one side of the canal to the other. There were red boats made from parts from Ferrari, and so on. A bunch of boats sank because they were all put together half-way. "My last time to race there was my better race at the track. We ran as high as third place but finished sixth. We were disqualified because we were a half-kilo too light. It wasn't a big enough difference to give us any type of advantage but the rule was very specific and we screwed up. I'm looking forward to racing there for the first time in many years."

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Gilles Villeneuve , Cristiano da Matta