da Matta Return to Site of First Podium; Fittipaldi on a Roll in 5th Newman/Haas Racing Looks to Add to 11 Podium Finishes in Cleveland Cart FedEx Series Race and Propel Fittipaldi and Da Matta Further up in Top-Five LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (June...
da Matta Return to Site of First Podium; Fittipaldi on a Roll in 5th
Newman/Haas Racing Looks to Add to 11 Podium Finishes in Cleveland Cart FedEx Series Race and Propel Fittipaldi and Da Matta Further up in Top-Five
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (June 27, 2001) - Heading into Cleveland for the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Firstar, Newman/Haas Racing is looking to add to its impressive list of podium finishes while continuing a strong Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx Series points run with both drivers, Cristiano da Matta (4th) and Christian Fittipaldi (5th) in the top-five of the standings.
With 11 podium finishes at the 2.106-mile temporary street course, Newman/Haas Racing, has continually been a strong contender at the Burke Lakefront Airport. In all, the team has two wins (Michael Andretti - 1991; Mario Andretti - 1988), three poles (Mi. Andretti 1989; Ma. Andretti - 1983, 1984), and 11 podium finishes (Ma. Andretti - 2nd-'89, 3rd-'86; Mi. Andretti - 2nd-'86, '92, '98, and 3rd-'84, '99; Nigel Mansell - 3rd-'93; Paul Tracy - '94) at Cleveland and the outlook of improving on their history here looks to be promising after competitive runs on street and road courses this season.
Scoring his first ever CART podium finish in Cleveland just last season with PPI Motorsports, Texaco/ Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta is confident he can repeat or improve on his third place finish in 2000. He said, "It was really great to get to the podium, especially the way we got there. I had a strong car all weekend and I qualified fifth but we were pretty confident that I could have qualified better than that, but the red flag came out at the end of the session. On the start I was involved in an accident at one of the most exciting places for the first turn of the first lap of the season. I went all the way to the back and had to work my way up from last place to third again. It was a tough day and a hard race. My team was a little tight on fuel so I couldn't try and charge (second-place) Brack at the end, and I remember that wasn't a good feeling. It was pretty close at the end of the race and they could only get one cup of methanol out of the car."
In his only other start at Cleveland, he finished 20th due to suspension failure. Despite this only being his third start at the Burke Lakeland Airport, da Matta has a good handle on the tricks of the track. "The best thing I can compare turn one in Cleveland to is a motocross race," da Matta said. "At the start of a motocross race you come out of the gate into a very narrow first turn. Even though the braking is very wide as you go into the turn, it gets very narrow, with only two lines maximum, but really only one line. At the start you can go two by two, but as it goes into one line on the first turn it can make for a fun start. It wasn't a fun start for me last year, but it is a place where you have to pay a lot of attention because cars are coming from everywhere. That is why it gives drivers the confidence that makes them think that that can make a big jump at the start and pick up a lot of positions. Your instinct makes you want to gain a lot of positions but you have to back off a little so you can get through the first turn without an incident. The way to keep you from having to take that chance is to qualify way up front and hopefully every one else behind you has to worry about Lap one, Turn one in Cleveland."
After 7 of 21 events, da Matta is fourth in the CART FedEx point standings with 49 points, just 27 points behind series leader Kenny Brack who has 76 points. Just last weekend, da Matta qualified second at Portland, but finished in 10th place after bumping the leader and sliding off course in a very wet affair. "We qualified well in Portland (second place) so we need to match that or make it one better this weekend," da Matta said.
Excited about Cleveland and the fervor surrounding the event, da Matta noted, "Cleveland is not only one of my favorite races, but I am sure it is one of everybody's favorite races because it is very challenging to drive. It demands a lot of a driver and team skill to put together a good lap and the atmosphere of the fans is great and the track is really safe. The whole Ohio crowd is so enthusiastic about CART. Every race in Ohio is fun to go to because fans really understand and you can tell that by the questions they ask you."
Christian Fittipaldi, the man behind the wheel of the "Blue Light Special," or No. 11 Kmart Toyota/Lola, has not "officially" faired as well as his teammate da Matta in his six starts at Cleveland, but he is still optimistic about the race after running in third place last year before an engine failure ended his day. "As far as my history in Cleveland, I would say it's interesting," Fittipaldi said. "I have never finished on the podium, but I had very strong runs and unfortunately it would just come down to luck. I can remember that I should have finished on the podium three times. One was last year when I was in third place and the engine blew. The year before, we had a very good car but a downpour came and everyone was sliding everywhere trying to get to the pits for rain tires. I spun in the pits and that pretty much ruined my chance at a podium. In 1998, I was leading and a yellow came out and they told me to pit but my radio didn't work around pit in and I didn't hear them. I pitted while in the lead in 1997 but the airjack broke and our stop was long enough to drop us to a sixth place finish when we could have won or finished second. So, in all, we have been very strong in Cleveland in the past and this year should be no exception."
Like his teammate, Fittipaldi believes this race is one of the most exciting ones of the season. "What I think makes Cleveland one of our best races is that it is incredibly wide, and that creates a lot of passing during the race," Fittipaldi said. "The drivers know if they out-brake someone by too much and go way too deep in a turn, the worst that can happen to them is that they will go on the grass and can come back to the track because there is a whole lot of run-off area. At other places, there is a concrete barrier that isn't too friendly. It's fun for the drivers to be able to give 110 percent because we don't have to worry about keeping it off of the wall and that makes it great for the fans watching the race too."
Not only is Fittipaldi confident of a good personal showing in Cleveland, he believes the fans will have a good experience as well. "Another interesting aspect about the Cleveland track is that no matter where you sit in the grandstands, you can see 90 percent of the track," added Fittipaldi. "On an oval it is easy for you to do that, but on a road course it is very hard because usually no matter where you are on the track, you can only see one or two corners maximum. That is what makes Cleveland a good race to attend."
The "Rainmeister," as he is often referred to, lived up to his nickname last weekend in Portland as Fittipaldi charged to a podium finish of third place after dropping back to 19th place on the slick track. Putting in an aggressive and flawless performance, Fittipaldi made a saturated Portland course look manageable, while several drivers struggled to stay on track. His strong run at Portland catapulted him out of 11th place in the points up to the fifth position, behind teammate da Matta. With 46 points, Fittipaldi is 30 points behind points leader Kenny Brack and is looking to make up even more ground at Cleveland.
"We had a slow start to the season but there are many races in front of us for the Championship and we are coming back strong," he said. "We would be in a much stronger position right now if we had the points from our fourth place run in Milwaukee but I would say our chances are good to continue the momentum in Cleveland. We are definitely due for a podium in Cleveland."
Qualifying for the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Firstar will air 6:30 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 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 .