CHAMPCAR/CART: Newman/Haas Racing Europe inaugural races preview

Newman/Haas Racing Packs its Bags For Europe as The Cart FedEx Series Heads To Germany and England For Inaugural Events at New Venues DRESDEN, Germany (Sept. 11, 2001) --- The Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx series is taking to...

Newman/Haas Racing Packs its Bags For Europe as The Cart FedEx Series Heads To Germany and England For Inaugural Events at New Venues

DRESDEN, Germany (Sept. 11, 2001) --- The Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx series is taking to Europe for the better part of September as they will be racing at back-to-back oval events in Germany and England. Everyone will be considered rookies on these tracks as they are both will hold inaugural CART events, Newman/Haas Racing drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta will look to rely on other advantages to give them an edge in Europe.

The first of the two European affairs, the German 500, held on the EuroSpeedway of Lausitz, Germany, is a 500 kilometer race on the new two-mile, 3-turn oval. Fittipaldi got the chance to take a look at the track during a press conference in Germany in March. None of the CART drivers have tested on the track so Fittipaldi was happy to be able to at least view the facility as well as get in a little seat time during media rides around the track and was impressed with the facility.

"I was at the track for a press event a few months back and am one of the few that had seen the track before arriving for the race," said Fittipaldi. "The facility is great. Of all the tracks we go to, this will be one of the best venues -- if not one of the best tracks in the world for any series. I think the track will be pretty unique to our series. It has long straights and pretty quick."

Fittipaldi is confident that the Newman/Haas Racing engineers will come up with a good baseline set-up for the new oval. "You can prepare for a new race with a lot of computer simulation," said the Brazilian. "Basically the computer prepares us more than we prepare the computer. Hopefully by the time we get there, our work will be cut in half."

Despite never racing at the EuroSpeedway in Lausitz before, Fittipaldi, driver of the No. 11 Kmart Toyota-Lola, has an extensive racing career that has taken him to Europe, especially Germany several times. In fact, when Fittipaldi gets behind the wheel of his Kmart Toyota-Lola on September 15 for the German 500, it will be the first time for him to compete in the country since he finished fourth in Hockenheim in 1994 while competing in the Formula One series. All three times he has competed in Germany (Hockenheim), he has posted top-eight performances including a fourth (1994) and eighth place (1993) while competing in Formula One as well as a fourth place finish while competing in the 1991 Formula 3000 series where he won the Championship.

Two of the seven countries to hold CART events, Fittipaldi feels the European additions to the CART FedEx schedule are a wise move. "It is really important to add races in Germany and England for the FedEx Championship series," said Fittipaldi. "Going to races in international countries can bring the series a bigger audience and more fans. I think the new experience we will bring to European fans is that we will race on a completely different kind of track than they are used to seeing in person. The two ovals in Europe are even different from the rest of the ovals we race on now. I think it will be exciting and I think we will put on a great show - something people over there have never seen before. I think the Germany fans have been able to get close to the drivers during Touring Car races but I wouldn't say that about the Formula One races. It's completely different. The paddock is very tight and closed."

The recently constructed EuroSpeedway is just a portion of the 914-acre Lausitzring Complex, located approximately 135 kilometers from Berlin. A two-mile tri-oval, the EuroSpeedway is 60 feet wide through the straightaways, and 80 feet through the turns, with 10 percent (5.7 degree) banking. The state-of-the-art venue can accommodate up to 120,000 spectators.

Although Fittipaldi has spent most of his racing career on road and street courses, he has been competitive on oval tracks like the two-mile one in Germany. Fittipaldi's last win in CART came on an oval in the 2000 season-ending Marlboro 500 in Fontana, Calif. which bettered his previous best 500-mile finish of second place in the 1995 Indy 500 when he finished second to Jacques Villeneuve. Fittipaldi also won his first CART pole on an oval when he set the fastest lap in his homeland of Brazil in 1999.

Fittipaldi will not only have a busy work schedule on track but he also has plans between the events in Germany and England. "We won't have much time between races but I am actually going down to Switzerland from Germany. I still have a house there and I need to make sure that everything is okay and that it still exists and is still standing in one piece. I will go there for one day then drive up to England. I'm going to be in a car a long time for the race in Germany, then be in a car a long time between races before I get out of the car after the race in England."

Cristiano da Matta, behind the wheel of the No. 6 Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota-Lola, won his first CART FedEx race on an oval in Chicago last season and scored his first road course victory in CART in his debut with Newman/Haas Racing in Monterrey, Mexico. He is one of many to admit that you don't forget your first victory or your first time to experience other things such as watching an oval race.

"The first time I watched an oval race, I was really, really impressed with the speed," said da Matta. "I went to the 1996 race in Homestead when I was racing in F3000 in Europe. The first time I saw the cars going through Turn 1, I was shocked and I was used to watching F1 races and everything. I hope the European fans get that same kind of feeling, that shock, when you see it for the first time because it's something else. It's something really, really different than they are used to."

Like his teammate, da Matta competed in Europe as well as specifically in Germany in British Formula 3 in 1995 and in Formula 3000 the following season and is looking forward to his return to racing in Europe. "I drove three races in Germany," recalled da Matta. "I raced at Hockenheim twice and Nurburgring once when I was in F3000. I have good memories from both places but not from the races. The races didn't go so well but I have good memories of being in Germany. Europe is so different from being in the US or even Brazil."

Currently, da Matta is 37 points out of the CART FedEx Championship lead, with 78 and is in seventh place to leader Gil de Ferran who has 115 points with six events to go that offer 22 possible points maximum per weekend. He is looking forward to racing at Lausitzring, a track where he feels is both a world-class facility as well as one that will showcase a driver's ability.

"I heard that Lausitzring is an amazing facility," said the 27-year old Brazilian. "Everyone has been comparing it to Motegi (Japan), which is also an amazing facility. People have said that Lausitzring is even more impressive. It's a two-mile track with three turns, which is very different from the other two-mile ovals we race on. It's going to be very different to set-up the car. I heard we are going to be lifting and maybe even braking going through the turns where as the other two-mile tracks we race at are flat out all the way around so I think the track in Germany will be more technical for the driver. I'm looking forward to driving there."

Fans are integral to any sport and da Matta is looking forward to meeting some of his from Germany who routinely email his website as well as send autograph requests although he says some might be hesitant due to new accessibility to some of open-wheel racing's top drivers.

"It's going to be very different for the fans to be able to get up close to us," said da Matta. "When I was racing in Formula 3000, I wasn't even allowed in the F1 paddock so imagine how it was for the fans. They could only see the drivers when they were in the cars or maybe on the podium. They don't get to see the drivers up close, talk to them or even ask them for an autograph. That's not even in their dreams. They way the CART paddock is open will be a good opportunity for the fans. I don't know how they are going to accept it though. I think they'll find it strange. They will think 'Maybe I shouldn't get too close to them' or 'Am I going to bother them?' I think it is to their advantage though. I think CART has a very big fan base in Germany because I receive a lot of letters from there asking for an autograph or photos. I think the success of the Schumacher's has made racing even bigger than it used to be there."

Both Fittipaldi and da Matta are avid cyclists and watched Lance Armstrong's recent victory in the Tour de France with added interest. While in Europe, da Matta hoped to experience two of his favorite things - racing and cycling. "I have many friends in Europe from when I lived there for two years. I hope to have time to visit some of them. I wanted to go to the South of France to ride my bicycle a little bit but there is no time. I wish I had more time but we have a lot of work to do to so that we can score as many points as possible toward the Championship."

The German 500 will mark the first European event sanctioned by Championship Auto Racing Teams in the organization's 23-year history. The German 500, round 16 of 21, will air live in the United States on ESPN, beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday. The race will also air live locally on ARD, Germany's dominant television network, beginning at 1:03 p.m. 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. A total of eight international broadcasters will be televising Saturday's German 500, including TV Azteca of Mexico; Automundo of South America; Rede Record of Brazil; Innovative Media of Canada; NTV of Japan; Channel 10 of Australia; SVT of Sweden and Mediaset of Italy. Saturday'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 .

Following Saturday's 16th round of the championship, the FedEx Championship Series travels to Corby, England for the Sept. 22 Rockingham 500 at the new Rockingham Motor Speedway (7:30 a.m. ET, live, ESPN).

-NHR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Gil de Ferran , Christian Fittipaldi , Cristiano da Matta