Havoline driver da Matta finished second in Molson Indy Montreal and stretched his lead over second place from 44 points to 55; Lilly driver Fittipaldi finished seventh despite late race gearbox problems. - Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta ...
Havoline driver da Matta finished second in Molson Indy Montreal and stretched his lead over second place from 44 points to 55; Lilly driver Fittipaldi finished seventh despite late race gearbox problems.
- Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta looked likely to win his seventh CART FedEx race of the season after earning his sixth pole position of 2002 for the inaugural Molson Indy Montreal but a "safe" pit strategy resulted in a second place finish and allowed him to extend his points lead with six races remaining. While driving the pace laps, da Matta admitted to getting "chills" when he heard the enthusiastic race day crowd of 64,000 cheer for the field. For the three day total, approximately 172,000 enjoyed the sunny, 80-degree conditions. This number when combined with the attendance at 2002 Canadian events in Toronto and Vancouver equals over 501,000.
At the beginning of the 80-lap race on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, named after the father of CART Champion Jacques Villeneuve, da Matta held off a challenge from second place starter Dario Franchitti on both the start and the ensuing restart on Lap 4 after a full course caution to remove the car of Kenny Brack, who was hit by home town favorite Alex Tagliani, who was hit by fellow Canadian Paul Tracy. After the restart, da Matta began to pull away from the Scotsman and built a 2.4-second lead before the second full course caution of the day came out on Lap 11 to remove Mario Dominguez's car, which had stopped on the grass. The Havoline crew decided to have da Matta make the first of three mandatory pit stops (each 21 laps) and brought him in. The majority of the time, this action would produce a "follow the leader" reaction but second (Franchitti) through ninth (Takagi) place stayed on course. After a quick stop by the Havoline crew, da Matta returned to the race in 12th place and held the position until the front runners began making their first stops. By Lap 23 he regained the lead and held it until Lap 33 when he made his second stop and returned to the track in third place behind Franchitti and Junqueira due to being short filled with fuel. On Lap 42 the front runners came in for their second stops and da Matta regained the lead which he held until Lap 51 when he made his third stop. He returned to the race in third place but moved into second on the following lap when eventual third place finisher Tony Kanaan, who was on the same pit strategy, made his stop. He held second until Franchitti made his third and final stop on Lap 63 when he took over the lead, which he held by an 18.346-second lead until immediately before his fourth and final stop on Lap 68 where he took on approx. 18 gallons of fuel. Just the "act" of pitting was calculated at a 16-second action not including the time it would take to actually perform the stop. Because he was a few seconds shy of the lead, he returned to the track a few seconds behind Franchitti. Due to his heavier fuel load and cold tires, Franchitti was able to build his lead to 6.1-seconds by lap 70 and on Lap 71 a full course caution came out to clear the debris left when Adrian Fernandez made contact with the wall while exiting Turn 7. Due to the yellow period the field was bunched together thus giving da Matta a chance to pass Franchitti for the win although he had to first deal with the 10th place car of Shinji Nakano who was located between da Matta and Franchitti on the track. The race was restarted on Lap 75 for a five-lap shootout. Arrangements were made under caution that Nakano would yield to da Matta and therefore not interfere with the closing stages of the race although da Matta ran behind him for over a lap, enabling the gap to grow between da Matta and Franchitti. When the white flag was shown signaling one lap to go, da Matta trailed the Scotsman by three seconds but he was unable to get close enough to pass and took the checkered flag 2.588-seconds in arrears. He collected 16 points for the second place finish and one point for each of the qualifying sessions. Race winner Franchitti earned 20 for the win and one for leading 43 laps to da Matta's 35. On the strength of his win, Franchitti jumped in second place ahead of Junqueira and Patrick Carpentier who came into the race tied for second both neither finished the event. Following are da Matta's post race comments:
"At the end of the day, a second place finish looks pretty good for the points," said da Matta. "We earned 18 points of 23 maximum for the weekend so it was pretty successful. To win is better but sometimes second place is more important than winning. We are in a position at this point in the season that (winning the) Championship is weighing on our decisions. The team made an engine change before the race and the car ran beautifully so the change might have made a big impact on our scoring another 16 points for finishing second today. We ran a similar strategy that we ran in fuel strategy races last season. Unfortunately it didn't work and we finished second instead of winning. Most other times, at any other point in the race that strategy would have won us the race. We didn't have the position we wanted when the yellow flag came out. I'm not sure if it was the best strategy, but it was the one that had the biggest percentage of working. It's not very frustrating because of the way everything came out in the points. I can't complain about anything. Dario ran a good race. I had fun today and the second place is good for the Championship."
- Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi drove from an 11th place start into a seventh place finish in the Molson Indy Montreal despite a slow pit stop and gearbox trouble in the late stages of the race and was able to maintain his fifth place ranking in the point standings. It was his fourth time to compete on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and first in a Champ car after running in Formula One events from 1992-1994. After being fifth fastest in provisional qualifying, he and the Lilly team were disappointed with an 11th place starting position but Fittipaldi's ability to gain three positions on the first lap brought encouragement for all after he passed Kenny Brack, Scott Dixon and Shinji Nakano. He held eighth place until the restart from the first full course caution for Brack on Lap 4 but moved into seventh when sixth place runner Alex Tagliani attempted to pass Jimmy Vasser and spun but subsequently continued. He held his position until Lap 12 when the second full course caution came out to remove the stopped car of Mario Dominguez. During the caution, Fittipaldi was initially instructed to "follow the leader" if he pitted but as only da Matta came in while the other remained on course, Fittipaldi was then instructed to continue on track and moved into sixth place. He held the position until Lap 21 when he pitted with the leaders but a problem with the installation of the inside front tire caused him to lose four to five positions before he rejoined the field in 13th place after all of the stops were complete. By Lap 27 he was in 11th place after passing Adrian Fernandez, and the retirement of local favorite Patrick Carpentier. He held 11th place until his second stop on Lap 42 and returned to the field in 10th place ahead of Shinji Nakano. On Lap 55 he reported to the crew that he had been having problems changing gears and that it was forcing him to run a slower pace in order to continue. He made his final stop on Lap 63 and after the final round of stops were finished he was running in eighth place after passing Michael Andretti and the retirement of previous top-five runner Bruno Junqueira. He held his position through the final full course caution for Adrian Fernandez and gained one spot on Lap 78 of 80 when fifth place runner Scott Dixon pulled into the runoff area with apparent mechanical failure. Fittipaldi finished in seventh place and collected six points for a total of 88 and closed on a two-way tie for third place in the standings with Patrick Carpentier and Bruno Junqueira who both have 101. Following are his post race comments:
"The race was looking pretty good after we picked up three places on the start but on the first stop we had a problem on the inside front tire and lost four to five places," said Fittipaldi. "We could have finished fourth or fifth but about the last 40 percent of the race, we had gearbox problems so ultimately it's a miracle we finished at all. A seventh place finish looks okay from that standpoint. Fortunately we didn't lose any ground in the Championship and maintained fifth place."
- Next Up...The series will head west to the Mile High City of Denver, Colo. for the Shell Grand Prix of Denver. It is the inaugural event on this track configuration after the series held two races there in the early 1990's. Michael Andretti won a pole for Newman/Haas Racing there in 1991.