CHAMPCAR/CART: Newman/Haas Mid-Ohio preview

Newman/Haas looks forward to return to road courses The Miller Lite 200 is no "Lite" Affair as Newman/Haas Racing Heads into One of The Toughest Tracks in The CART Fedex Series - The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (August 7,...

Newman/Haas looks forward to return to road courses

The Miller Lite 200 is no "Lite" Affair as Newman/Haas Racing Heads into One of The Toughest Tracks in The CART Fedex Series - The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (August 7, 2001) --- Considered to be one of the toughest tracks on the circuit, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio is the next stop for Newman/Haas Racing in the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx Championship Series for the Miller Lite 200.

After a frustrating weekend in Chicago two-weeks ago, Newman/Haas Racing is ready to move from the oval tracks and return to the road and street course tracks where they have been competitive this season. Despite chalking up three wins, six poles, and nine podium finishes at Mid-Ohio since Newman/Haas Racing's founding in 1983, the team has had a rough go at it in recent years. However, it looks as though the drought may be over as last year Newman/Haas Racing driver of the No. 11 Kmart, Toyota-Lola, Christian Fittipaldi, drove to a third place, podium finish behind the two Penske cars last season.

"We went to Mid-Ohio basically with a completely different set-up in the car and it worked very well for me," Fittipaldi recalled. "We qualified fifth and we ran very strong the whole race and only got beat by the white and red cars which were really in a class all their own last year.  Because of that, I was happy to finish third and hopefully we can repeat the same thing this year and finish even better."

Not only is the driver competing against his peers at Mid-Ohio, but against the track itself as well. Mid-Ohio's reputation for being one of the toughest tracks has Fittipaldi, an avid cyclist and runner who won his first triathlon earlier this season, eager to take to the course. "I think it's very hard physically at Mid-Ohio," Fittipaldi said. "It's one of the most physically demanding tracks and we look forward to it because it's a challenge for us in the car and I think we will be competitive there."

Currently, Fittipaldi is running 11th in the CART FedEx points series, with 49 points after not finishing the past two events in Michigan and Chicago due to mechanical failures. He is 55 points behind the leader Kenny Brack who has 104 points after 11 events but knows that the team can gain some momentum against others who have not fared as well on road and street courses as Newman/Haas Racing.

Fittipaldi's teammate and fellow countryman, Cristiano da Matta, who navigates the No. 6 Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola hasn't had the best of luck at Mid-Ohio, but has an impressive resume on road/street courses thus far in the season. He won the season-opener at the road course in Monterrey, Mexico, finished second in the following race on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., was competitive at the road and street course in Detroit, Portland and Cleveland.  Due to the level of competitiveness of da Matta and the team on road and street courses this season, he is looking forward to returning to Mid-Ohio this weekend.  

"Mid-Ohio is a track that everyone on the team jokes about because they had struggles there until last year, when Christian finished on the podium," da Matta said. "Everybody now has great confidence in the set-up going back there. Hopefully, we have a winning racecar. Last year they went from a 10th place car to a podium finish car, just behind the two Penske's. Hopefully this year with all of the experiments we've tried over the winter, we're going to have a much better set-up than what they had last year. It looks like they've got things turned around at Mid-Ohio and we're going to be strong there too."

This year will mark da Matta's third start at Mid-Ohio and first with Newman/Haas Racing. Last year, driving for PPI Motorsports, he was forced to retire early as he ran off course to avoid contact, finishing in 17th after starting seventh. "I was involved in an accident when Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani touched and spun and I had to go off track to avoid it," da Matta remembered. "Hopefully this year it won't happen again. I had a good qualifying session and I started seventh, which was good for me and the team but I think I can do better this year. I don't think it will be that difficult to get good results there." In 1999, da Matta started in 14 and was able to score a top-10 finish of ninth place.

Like his teammate, da Matta agrees that Mid-Ohio is a physically challenging course for drivers. However, as a fierce competitor da Matta not only has honed his skills as a driver with quick hand-eye coordination, he has been training on foot, bicycles, and even with the fish and also won his first triathlon during the one week break before the Mid-Ohio race. All this added exercise and training has left him in good shape to compete in the racecar each weekend.

"At all the places I have been to, I haven't been worried at all about my physical condition," said the 27-year-old who calls Miami, Fla. and Belo Horizonte, Brazil home. "The things I am doing to stay in top physical shape are a lot harder then just trying to drive the car, not that driving the car isn't hard, because it is very hard. I'm preparing myself for a bicycle race that is going to be lot more difficult in terms of stamina. I'm swimming, running, and everything to train and stay in shape.  I feel that I am going to be ready for everything that comes. It has not been a worry for me."

After leading the standings for the first four events before being caught up in accidents by other drivers as well as other things beyond his control ended the momentum, da Matta is now in seventh place in the standings, a mere 37 points out of the lead after 11 races.  A good finish will propel both da Matta and Fittipaldi back in the thick of the championship with 9 races remaining.

Qualifying for the Miller Lite 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will air 1 a.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 10:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2, while ESPN-TV's live race broadcast begins 12 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 .

Cast your vote for Fittipaldi or his teammate Cristiano da Matta for the 2001 MCI Worldcom Most Popular Driver on cart.com or texaco.com/racing until October 9.  

-NHR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta