Newman/Haas Racing hopes to score its fourth victory in past five CART races at the Bridgestone Potenza 500 event in Motegi, Japan. MOTEGI, Japan. (April 22, 2002) --- Despite putting in competitive performances leading up to the Toyota Grand...
Newman/Haas Racing hopes to score its fourth victory in past five CART races at the Bridgestone Potenza 500 event in Motegi, Japan.
MOTEGI, Japan. (April 22, 2002) --- Despite putting in competitive performances leading up to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Newman/Haas Racing drivers Cristiano da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi missed the chance of scoring four consecutive wins for the team and breaking records. Both have put the disappointment behind them and are on their way to Motegi, Japan for the Bridgestone Potenza 500 with the hope of bringing the team its fourth victory in the past five races as well as gaining the maximum amount of points available toward their bid for the CART FedEx Championship.
In the past four events held at Twin Ring Motegi, Newman/Haas Racing has performed well on the 1.549-mile oval. Team highlights include a third place finish by Fittipaldi in 1999 and a win by Michael Andretti in 2000 after he led 26 laps. Andretti led the inaugural event in 1998 and ran second in 1999 until a fuel miscalculation and gearbox malfunction (respectively) diminished his chance for victory. Last season, Fittipaldi narrowly missed a podium finish with fourth place but da Matta wasn't as lucky and was taken out of the race on the first turn of the first lap.
Despite his results in Japan last year, da Matta, driver of the No. 6 Havoline Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone, is optimistic about his chances this weekend after a recent development on a team-wide effort to improve their short oval set-up after a two-day pre-season oval test.
"We tested at the oval in Homestead and have done a lot of simulations on the computer," said da Matta, whose top finish in Japan came in 2000 when he finished fourth while driving for PPI Motorsports. "That's been helping our program a lot and the team is actually pretty optimistic about what we found lately with this program. It's still a little bit of a question mark for me but I think we should do all right."
After scoring wins in three of the past four races in CART but only one so far this season, da Matta is looking to win his fourth race in the past five this weekend but not because he wants to keep the string alive. Da Matta is in search of his first CART Champ car Championship and a win would help him build on his current lead of five points over second place Michael Andretti, who has 22 points to da Matta's 27 heading into Round 3 of 20.
Not only would a win this Saturday pad his point total, da Matta would be in an eight way tie with other drivers in CART history that have won four out of five consecutive races. For now though, da Matta is taking things one step at a time and is looking forward to experiencing the Japanese culture.
"Personally I enjoy going to Japan," said da Matta. "I really like the culture and the people. I really like the way they do things. It is just so different for me, being a Brazilian. Looking at the way the Japanese people do things, the way they appreciate your sport is just so different. I love to spend time in Tokyo the days before I go to the racetrack. I like the racetrack. I like the hotel - especially the karaoke at the hotel. I like to sing too. It's just a very pleasant experience and a great opportunity."
After driving his Lilly Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone to a third place finish at the season-opener in Mexico and running as high as third in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach before gearbox failure ended his race, Christian Fittipaldi is travelling to Japan in hopes of another podium appearance - preferably the top rung.
"I think the team has a good baseline set-up for this track," said Fittipaldi. "Last year we had a good car and finished fourth despite being at a power disadvantage due to the valve issue. It should be a good, close race this year but hopefully not to close if the Lilly car is at the front of the pack. Toyota is going to do everything they can to win the race this year. For most of the weekend in Long Beach, we looked like we could bring Toyota a win in a race they sponsor but we came up short. Hopefully we can make it up to them in Japan. The team has built some good momentum up to this point in the season and we plan to carry it over in Japan. The race is also the biggest one for Bridgestone of the season so we plan to put on a good show for everyone."
Backing up the pre-season buzz of being one of the teams to beat for the Championship with competitive performances, Newman/Haas Racing knows the importance of momentum.
"Not only is Newman/Haas Racing on a roll right now, I think CART is too," said Fittipaldi. "Everyone is doing a better job of marketing the series. Chris (Pook) is being aggressive and it is building momentum for CART. The fans like the new changes, especially with qualifying and in the race and that can only help our momentum. The first two races were a big success for the series and Japan should be as well."
"I always go to Japan a few days early to get to know a new part of Tokyo," added Fittipaldi who also raced in Japan while competing in Formula One. "It is unlike any other place in the world - very unique. Every year on my ride from the airport to Tokyo I look to the left of the road and see the Ski Dome and think about checking it out. I might stop by there this year."
The Bridgestone Potenza 500 in Motegi, Japan will be televised on a tape-delayed basis on SPEED Channel beginning at 12:00 PM as well as on TSN beginning at 11:30 AM on Saturday, April 27. Practice will air at 11 AM on Thursday, April 25 while qualifying will air at 2:00 PM on Friday, April 26. CART Friday Night will air at 9:30 PM on Friday, April 26.
Newman/Haas Racing, owned by actor/race car driver Paul Newman and racing entrepreneur Carl A. Haas, is in the midst of its 20th season in 2002 and is the most successful active competitor with 62 race wins and 63 pole positions in the CART FedEx Championship series. For more information, log on to www.newman-haas.com, www.texaco.com/racing or www.cart.com. The 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series 20-race schedule will be broadcast by new television partners, CBS, Fox and Fox Networks Group, including Speed Channel.