Newman/Haas Racing Goes "Down Under" In Search Of Their Second Victory Of The Season SURFERS PARADISE, Queensland, Australia (Oct. 24, 2001) --- With two races left in the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series, Newman/Haas Racing drivers Christian...
Newman/Haas Racing Goes "Down Under" In Search Of Their Second Victory Of The Season
SURFERS PARADISE, Queensland, Australia (Oct. 24, 2001) --- With two races left in the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series, Newman/Haas Racing drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta have gone "down under" for one of their favorite races of the season - the Honda Indy 300 -- in hopes of capitalizing on a venue where Newman/Haas Racing has been competitive in the past.
"The team has had success over the years in Australia and I hope it continues this year," said Fittipaldi, whose top finish in five races here is third place. "I enjoy the whole racing experience in Australia. I really like the place and I think we put on a great show for the fans there. You have to try to be competitive everywhere you go regardless of whether the track suits you driving style or not but we have run well on the track in the past so I hope we continue to this year."
Newman/Haas Racing has won two of their 59 wins at the venue with Nigel Mansell winning the 1993 race and Paul Tracy winning the event in 1995 and a total of five podium finishes (Mario Andretti 3rd in '94; Michael Andretti 3rd in '97; Christian Fittipaldi 3rd in '98). In fact, Newman/Haas driver Michael Andretti led 12 laps of the event last year before a mechanical failure ended his race. Fittipaldi also ran as high as second place before contact ended his day.
"Both Jimmy (Vasser) and I ran into the last turn and Jimmy touched my rear tire with his front wing," said Fittipaldi. "It was just one of those things. It poked a hole in my rear tire and I got a flat and didn't even make it back to the pits. I stopped in the next corner."
On road and street courses this season, da Matta won in his debut with the team on the road course in Mexico and followed that up with a second place finish on the streets of Long Beach. Fittipaldi's highest finish of third place this season came on the temporary road course in Portland and he always looks forward to the possibility at running on a course that suits his style although he has experienced both good and bad times at the track.
"Surfers is a place of mixed feelings for me," said Fittipaldi. "I have some very good memories from there, especially in 1998. Although I only finished third, I think it was my best race of my career there. I didn't have a very good year there in 1997 though. I broke my right leg and my left foot but at the same time you could look at it another way. I had a pretty bad accident and I only broke my leg and my foot."
Fittipaldi's teammate Cristiano da Matta is hoping to finish in the top-five in the Championship standings in his first season with the team and build on the relationship for a run at the 2002 CART Championship. Da Matta led the point standings through the first four races and was a contender for the honor until the previous race in Laguna Seca. He is now ranked in sixth place with 100 points, just 41 points out of third place with 44 points remaining in the season. He hopes to build on a strong run last year in Surfers Paradise and earn points toward his goal of a top-five finish in the Championship.
"Last year I had a podium finish that escaped from me but I'm going to go back and get it this year," said da Matta. "Last year I finished fourth in the race but I was actually penalized a bit. I was running third and had a podium finishing car but they closed the pits when I was going to stop and it ultimately caused me to drop back to seventh place so I had to work my way back up and pass a bunch of cars. I had a quick car but I didn't have the fastest car on the track. I believe we will be competitive there but we will have to wait and see during the first practice session."
Although da Matta has only raced at the 2.795-mile temporary street course in picturesque Surfer's Paradise twice, he has determined it is one of his favorites in the 21-venue series. "The track is absolutely a fun place," said da Matta. "It is a long street course that has long straights, fast and slow corners and hard braking areas. It has everything you want from a street course. The street course tracks in Australia and Long Beach are my favorites because of that. I finished second in Long Beach this year and would be very happy to finish one better in Australia."
The Honda Indy 300 at Surfers Paradise has become one of the showcase events of the FedEx Championship Series season - a true spectacle, with a weeklong assortment of activities scheduled in conjunction with the event, and race-day crowds in excess of 100,000. Although they came here with the goal of winning the race, both drivers enjoy the action away from the track as well.
"The track is on the beach and it's in a nice place and we all like to go to nice places," said Fittipaldi. "The race attracts a lot of fans from all over Australia and Japan and they get a good crowd there. It makes you proud to be part of such a great event. I asked the most important question of my life in Australia last year. I proposed to my wife after the race on Monday evening and about four months later we were married. I have good memories both on track and off of Australia."
"The whole atmosphere is good," added da Matta. "You spend a whole week there acclimatized yourself before the race. We have a couple of days off so I plan to dedicate a lot of time to working out and enjoying the sun and Australian weather. (Said jokingly) I'm going to have my girlfriend there, which is my bike, and I plan to spend a lot of time with her."
ESPN's taped delay race broadcast of the Honda Indy 300, round 20 of 21, begins at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 28. Twenty of 21 FedEx Championship Series events are being televised live on ABC-TV or ESPN and 18 are being televised live on Eurosport, a European network that reaches 250 million viewers in 54 countries. Sunday's race will also air on the CART Radio Network - which will provide audio to nearly one million American servicemen and women worldwide through the American Forces Radio Network - and on CART's official website, which will also carry Friday's qualifying, at www.cart.com .
The Honda Indy 300 is Round 20 of 21 in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series. The series visits seven countries and four continents during the season and climaxes following the Honda Indy 300 with the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota on Sunday, Nov. 4 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Thanks to a partnership between Marlboro, Toyota, CART and California Speedway, the winner of the season finale will collect $1 million, one of the richest paydays in all of motorsports. Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing is the defending event champion. An additional $1 million, as well as the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup, will be awarded to the driver who wins the FedEx Championship Series championship.