LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (July 17, 2001) --- Completing 500 miles is no small task, however Newman/Haas Racing seems to have some success over the years after 15 top-three podium finishes to their credit since the team first competed in 1983 and most ...
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (July 17, 2001) --- Completing 500 miles is no small task, however Newman/Haas Racing seems to have some success over the years after 15 top-three podium finishes to their credit since the team first competed in 1983 and most recently in 2000. In the only two 500-mile events last year on the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx circuit, the team finished second at Michigan by a mere 0.04 seconds and then went on to win the season-ending 500-mile event in California.
It also goes without mentioning that earlier in his career, current Newman/Haas driver, Christian Fittipaldi, has finished second at the famous Indianapolis 500 in his only appearance there in 1995.
On ovals, Newman/Haas Racing has won 21 of their 59 victories as well as chalked up 15 poles since their inception in 1983. At the Michigan International Speedway (MIS), the team has four wins (Michael Andretti - '89; Mario Andretti - '84, '84*; Nigel Mansell - '83; *200 mile race) and four poles (Ma. Andretti - '84, '92, '93; Mansell - '94), as well as a total of eight podium finishes (Ma. Andretti - 3rd in '86 and 2nd in '93; Mi. Andretti - 3rd in '88 and 2nd in 2000).
Fittipaldi, who earned $1 million dollars for winning the second of two 500-mile races at last year's season-finale in Fontana, California, and also ran among the leaders as well as led 13 laps last year at the Michigan 500 and is confident that Newman/Haas Racing will fare well this year. He said, "I think we're going to be competitive because we tend to run strong at Superspeedways. We have a very good set-up and it's my opinion that we're going to do very, very well. I'm happy to go back to Michigan. I think we definitely have a great car and it's going to be a very competitive race. The fans will see a lot of overtaking as you have seen in the past couple of years."
Fittipaldi knows well what it takes to put together a successful 500-mile race. "To win a 500-mile race you definitely have to be there at the end, there's no doubt about it," Fittipaldi said. "You have to survive everything like mechanical problems or small incidents that might happen. Apart from that, I think that you need to have a very quick car for the last 100 to 50 miles of the race because that's what it really comes down to - the last 20 minutes of racing."
As the driver of the No. 11 Kmart Toyota-Lola, better known as the "Blue Light Special," Fittipaldi heads into this year's event at MIS with a career best start of third and finish of eighth here. He was also one of only five drivers allowed to test here during the season but Fittipaldi feels that despite getting a feel for the track a little earlier than most, it won't give him a clear cut advantage in the race. "I don't really think it's going to be an advantage to be one of the five guys who tested at MIS because there's a lot of practice time," Fittipaldi stated. "We have three hours of practice on Friday and on a track like Michigan that's plenty of practice. You can try a bunch of different things, but really, I'm happy with everything I learned I really do think we have a great racecar."
Fittipaldi's teammate and fellow countryman, Cristiano da Matta, driver of the No. 6 Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola, has only raced at the Michigan International Speedway two other times in a Champ car, both times finishing 17th due to events beyond his control. Last year da Matta, after running as high as third place while driving for PPI Motorsports, was motioned to leave the pits after a stop but the fueling system was still attached to his car. In 1999 he was subjected to electrical problems after a strong run as well.
After signing a multi-year contract with Newman/Haas Racing last fall, da Matta is confident in his new team's ability to put together a good race set-up for a 500-mile race, but knows he must perform as a driver. "I don't have more confidence because Newman/Haas Racing is the reigning 500-mile winner," said da Matta. "I have more confidence in being competitive because I know they have good set-ups for these tracks and that gives me a better car."
Determination might be the story of da Matta's focus come race weekend in Michigan, as the Brazilian hopes to do something he has yet to do it CART Champ cars this weekend. Da Matta said, "I've never finished a 500-mile race before, so I am looking forward to not only finishing my first 500-mile race, but finishing well,"
Despite not finishing a 500-mile affair, da Matta understands what's necessary to get the job done. He said, "It's a long race so reliability is always important. You have to try and save your equipment in the first 400 miles because after that it's a sprint to the end. Also, good pit stops, a good crew, and good teamwork helps. It's usually a six to eight pit stop race, so it demands a good crew and I am very confident about the Texaco/Havoline/Kmart crew because they have been excellent all year."
Even though da Matta hasn't finished a 500-mile race, that doesn't mean he hasn't done well on other ovals. In fact, his first CART win came on an oval in Chicago just last season. However, no two ovals are alike as Chicago is a one-mile oval while Michigan doubles the Chicago track in size. "The two-mile ovals are usually very easy to drive physically," da Matta said. "In the race it is a very different situation because we have all of that drafting and passing, which you don't have on the one-mile ovals. You are mentally exhausted the next day."
This year's Harrah's 500 Presented by Toyota, happens to be the last CART FedEx race at the Michigan International Speedway and both Newman/Haas drivers have mixed emotions concerning the decision. "It's a tough call, the fact that we're not going to Michigan any more," said Fittipaldi. "To be honest it is a bit disappointing because it's a really unique place for us, and CART has been going to this venue for a lot of years. Yeah, I think we will miss it because it has played a major role in CART, and all of the championships and how the CART family developed and grew. Unfortunately, the track wanted to go a different direction. In a way, I'm a little bit relieved because we were very, very quick at MIS and I think everyone wants to go to Michigan and get in and out of the place without having any problems. You definitely don't want to be sitting inside the car when something goes wrong. CART has been working on ways to slow the cars down safely and still make the race exciting. We've produced a great show for the fans. As a series we just have to keep looking at ways to make all of our races as popular as the ones in Mexico, Long Beach, Toronto and the others. Maybe one day we can come back to race at Michigan International Speedway."
Qualifying for the Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota will air 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, while ABC-TV's live race broadcast begins 1:30 p.m. ET. 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 and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com .