CHAMPCAR/CART: Newman/Haas Houston race report

Houston, Texas --- October 7, 2001 - Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta came to Houston for his third event here and first with Newman/Haas Racing as well as first as the "Texaco/Havoline" driver in the Texaco/Havoline-sponsored ...

Houston, Texas --- October 7, 2001

- Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta came to Houston for his third event here and first with Newman/Haas Racing as well as first as the "Texaco/Havoline" driver in the Texaco/Havoline-sponsored race. After running the second fastest time in the practice session before qualifying, da Matta earned an eighth place starting spot. The fact that the race was scheduled for 100-laps led to team strategy dictating a fuel conservation race because it might be possible to complete the event in one pit stop depending on the timing of the caution periods. In the race, da Matta held eighth place for the first 39 laps before his first pit stop during the caution period to remove the crashed cars of Oriol Servia and Michel Jourdain. He returned to the race in seventh place after passing then sixth place runner Kenny Brack in the pits. He held seventh place until lap 48 when he passed eventual second place finisher Dario Franchitti for position. Two laps later on lap 51, he moved into fourth place after fourth place runner Bruno Junqueira ran into the back of third place Scott Dixon and both dropped back in the order. When the yellow flag came out to pick up debris from the accident, the team elected to bring da Matta in for a second stop due to the timing of the first pit stop. A good portion of the field pitted except notably pole sitter and race leader Gil de Ferran, Dario Franchitti, who was running behind da Matta and moved to second place and drivers Mauricio Gugelmin and Tora Takagi. Da Matta returned to the race in 11th place and hoped, like the team, that any future caution periods would come in the very near future or at the very end of the race in order to force the leaders to make their second and final stops under green flag, racing conditions.

After running in 11th place for 12 laps, he moved into 10th after fifth place runner Roberto Moreno retired with mechanical failure on lap 65 but was losing ground to the leaders due to being behind drivers who were trying to conserve fuel. He held his position until lap 78 when ninth place starter Mauricio Gugelmin, who had worked his way up to third with the help of pit strategy, retired with mechanical failure. He held ninth place for two laps until 24th place starter Jimmy Vasser, who had worked his way into third place due to pit strategy, made his second stop and da Matta moved into eighth place. He held eighth place until he passed Max Papis on lap 92 and moved into sixth place on lap 94 when second place runner Alex Tagliani brushed the wall and sustained damage while attempting to hold off a charging Dario Franchitti. Da Matta took the checkered flag in sixth place and collected eight points toward the Championship but dropped from his fifth place ranking to sixth behind Franchitti, who collected 16 points for his second place finish. He is only 63 points out of first place in the Championship with 100 to Gil de Ferran (163) with three races to go and 66 points maximum available.

Following are his post race comments:

"We were hoping no yellows would come out after our second stop but Michael brought out one at the perfect time for Gil and Dario," said da Matta. "They were able to build a huge gap in front of us because we were behind some guys that were tight on fuel. We should have been able to keep up with Gil after our last stop but the traffic hurt our track position and they ended up being able to pit under yellow and get back on track in front because of the big lead they had built. It's tough to pass here so we were stuck behind them. Our strategy turned out to be the wrong strategy the way the yellows flew but we were able to collect some points at the Texaco/Havoline race. We'll get them next time. The car was okay the first part of the race but the final stint after my last stop, the car was loose. Strategy is such a big part of our races these days. For instance, Memo started 23rd and moved his way up to the front by topping off during some yellows because he didn't have as much to loose."

- Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi ran the second fastest time on Friday and was third fastest on Saturday morning but had to qualify in the first session or "slow group" due to his 13th place standings in the Championship (top-12 qualified in the second or "fast group"). He was the second fastest in his session but dropped to a 13th place start for the 100-lap event. In the race, he held 13th place until lap five when he passed Michael Andretti for 12th. He held his position until lap 38 when Roberto Moreno pit and then held 11th place for one lap before he made his first pit stop on lap 39 during a caution period to remove the crashed cars of Oriol Servia and Michel Jourdain. He returned to the race in 12th place and held his position until he moved into 11th place when third place runner Scott Dixon pit after being hit by fourth place Bruno Junqueira who continued for one lap before pitting. Fittipaldi and eight others came into the pit on the following lap to take advantage of the caution period. Race leader Gil de Ferran and a few others did not pit. Fittipaldi returned to the track in 13th place and hoped that the race would either remain green for as long as possible or have a yellow fall soon or near the end of the race to allow him to move up in the running order. He held 13th place until lap 65 when fifth place runner Roberto Moreno pitted and subsequently retired with mechanical failure.

He moved into 11th place on lap 79 when previous third place runner Mauricio Gugelmin pitted and retired with mechanical failure. On lap 81, he moved into 10th place when Jimmy Vasser pit. He held the position until lap 94 when he took over ninth place when second place runner Alex Tagliani retired after he made contact with the wall while being pursued by Dario Franchitti. Two laps later he moved into eighth place after passing Max Papis on lap 96 and held his position until the checkered flag. He collected five points for his finish but remained in 13th place in the point standings with 61 points but lost ground to the race winner and points leader Gil de Ferran who has 163. Following are his post race comments:

"We had a good car on Friday and Saturday but having to qualify in the first group hurt us," said Fittipaldi. "Passing on this type of track is tough so a good qualifying position in half of the battle. We needed to score a good amount of points and get back in the second group. We have been on the bad end of the strategy gamble more times than not. Sooner or later it has to come our way. The good news this weekend was that the car was good for most of the weekend. It wasn't the best car on the track but we have something to work with. We will keep working hard the remainder of this season as well as begin focusing on being competitive next season."

- On to Laguna SecaThe FedEx Series heads to the west for the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey, Featuring the Shell 300 at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif. on October 14, before making a transoceanic trip to Surfer's Paradise, Australia.

-NHR-

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