CHAMPCAR/CART: Newman/Haas Racing race report

Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Driver Da Matta Finished 6th In The Motorola 220 At Road America; Kmart Driver Fittipaldi Had A Shot At Top-Three But Damage From Contact Ended His Race - Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta returned to ...

Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Driver Da Matta Finished 6th In The Motorola 220 At Road America; Kmart Driver Fittipaldi Had A Shot At Top-Three But Damage From Contact Ended His Race

- Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta returned to Road America with many goals in mind. One of which was finishing his first Champ Car event at the 4.048-mile road course in his third attempt. Other goals included finding a good set-up for his Toyota-powered Lola and collecting the maximum points toward the Championship. At the end of the day on Sunday, da Matta had accomplished two out of the three with a sixth place finish as well as knowledge gained over the weekend that could possibly assist the team at the remaining races in the 2001 season.

After torrential showers began falling at approx. 11:00 am CT, the road course was covered with standing and flowing water before the 12:00 PM CT start. Rain subsided into light sprinkles around start time but the track was still flooded in areas. The 55-lap event started under caution for the first four laps and the green flag flew on lap five. After qualifying fifth for the Motorola 220 during a wet qualifying session on Saturday, da Matta moved into fourth place on the first green lap after passing Scott Dixon who started third. On the same lap, Bryan Herta and Max Wilson collided and Wilson's car became airborne and skimmed the top of Herta's cockpit.

Paul Tracy was also collected in the incident and Christian Fittipaldi and eventual winner Bruno Junqueira came into contact and spun dropping to 19th and 20th. The yellow flag was out from lap six to lap 9 and then brought out again on lap 10 after eventual second place finisher Michael Andretti spun following contact with Scott Dixon. On lap 11, da Matta made his first pit stop and returned to the event in 9th place after having traded in his grooved rain tires for racing slick tires. Most of the field had made their first pit stop by this point except for race leader Helio Castroneves and Patrick Carpentier who was running in second. On lap 14, CART red flagged the event due to the dangerous conditions and proceeded to stop the flow of water across a portion of the track in turn 11 by digging a trench to divert the water. The race was restarted approx. 46 minutes later and da Matta held 9th place until lap 17 when he moved past Shinji Nakano and Alex Tagliani who had been running in seventh before running off course. He held seventh place until lap 23 when Christian Fittipaldi who was in third place made a pit stop under caution for the crash of Memo Gidley allowing da Matta to move into sixth. On the following lap, he moved into fourth place after second place runner Michel Jourdain and fourth place Kenny Brack pit. He held fourth place through the restart on lap 28 and moved into third place after second place runner Alex Tagliani drove off course. He held third place until lap 35 when he made his final pit stop and returned to the race in 10th place behind those who might have to make a pit stop depending on whether the race would be declared a two-hour timed race (minus the red time) or run the full 55-lap distance. On lap 40, it was announced that the race would run four more additional laps and end after 45 laps were completed. He moved into eighth place on lap 42 after fourth place Alex Zanardi and sixth place Nakano made their final stops. The following lap, fourth place runner Kenny Brack and seventh place runner Michel Jourdain made their final stops and da Matta moved into sixth place. He held his position until the race was completed after 45 laps. He collected eighth points toward the Championship but dropped from sixth to seventh in point standings with a total of 78 although he narrowed his margin on the leader Helio Castroneves to 31 points (previously 34 points back). Following are his post-race comments:

"Those other guys really lucked out with the pit strategy and how the yellows fell," said da Matta. "Our lap times weren't good and the car wasn't very good so we are happy to score points for sixth place. I had lots of push in the car. We have found some things that we think will help the balance of our race car in the future though."

- Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi had yet to run lower than fourth place in his previous six events at the picturesque Road America road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. and he was able to extended that today in the Motorola 220 although he did not finish in the top-three as looked likely due to contact with 10 laps to go in the two-hour timed event. Before a few front-runners darted into the pits for their final stops, Fittipaldi was running in sixth place ahead of former teammate Michael Andretti, who attempted to pass on the inside of turn five and the two made contact which resulted in damage to Fittipaldi's car as well as his ultimate retirement.

After starting in 9th place, Fittipaldi dropped to 19th on lap five, the first under green, as a result of contact with 10th place and eventual first time winner Bruno Junqueira who was attempting to pass. Junqueira and Fittipaldi had been swapping positions on the lap and at the moment Fittipaldi had the lead until Junqueira hit the side of Fittipaldi's car while attempting to pass on the wet track. Both cars spun off course but he returned to the track in 19th place with Junqueira in 20th. Fittipaldi reported to the team that the contact had damaged his sidepod and aerodynamic bodywork and he was then instructed to pit on the following lap. On lap seven he pitted and the team quickly inspected the car, topped off the fuel and left his rain tires on before signaling him back on track. Once the team was able to discuss the best scenario to fix the winglet in front of the left rear tire so that the car would not be blackflagged, Fittipaldi was called back into the pits on the following laps. The team moved the damaged bodywork back and forth until it broke off, topped off his fuel and changed from grooved rain tires to smooth racing slicks. He returned to the race in 23rd place without losing any positions as he was already in last place and was the first and only driver on rain tires until others pit the following lap. On lap 9, he moved up to 20th and then on into 15th by lap 11 during caution to remove the car of Mauricio Gugelmin who went off course in a flooded section of the track. By lap 12, he was in sixth place as the majority of the field except, notably, race leader Helio Castroneves and second place Patrick Carpentier, who had yet to make their first stops and remained on the slower grooved rain tires. On lap 14, Chief Steward Chris Kneifel made the decision to red flag the event in order to slow water flow in turns 11 and 12. For the following 46 minutes the field parked in their respective pit stalls until the problem was remedied. All competitors were allowed to top-off their fuel and change to "slicks" for the drying track thus taking away any advantage Fittipaldi and his fellow competitors who risked making the switch under racing conditions had. Once the cars were regridded, the race was restarted at 1:56 PM local time with Fittipaldi in sixth place. He held sixth place through the restart until he jumped into third place after passing Shinji Nakano then Kenny Brack a few corners later as well as Alex Tagliani who made a mistake and briefly went off course. He held third place for six laps before he made his third pit stop during the caution period for Memo Gidley. At the time, the move appeared risky as the leader Castroneves did not pit but second place Jourdain and third place Fittipaldi although most of the front runners followed Castroneves' lead.

Prior to the pits being "opened" during the caution, Fittipaldi reported to his crew that he ran over debris from Gidley's accident and that he was dragging it under his racecar. During the stop, the crew replaced his fuel, made a wing adjustment and removed the debris but elected not to change tires to save time. He returned to the track in 11th place behind those that did not pit but moved into 10th place after he passed Michel Jourdain on lap 29 during the restart. On 34 he moved into eighth place after Max Papis made his out-of-sequence stop and then on into sixth after Oriol Servia and Alex Tagliani made pit stops. On lap 35, when the top five runners made their pit stops, Fittipaldi was the first car in the running order not in need of another stop. Fittipaldi, who was running immediately ahead of Michael Andretti and eventual race winner Junqueira, came into contact with Andretti when he attempted to pass in turn five. Andretti was able to continue but Fittipaldi slowed on course and came to a stop ultimately finishing in 18th place with suspension damage. Junqueira was able to get by both cars and held the lead until the final lap of the timed race. Andretti finished just ahead of third place Adrian Fernandez. Fittipaldi dropped from 10th to 11th place in the CART point standings and is 55 points back from leader Castroneves who has 109 with six races remaining in the Championship. Following are his post race comments:

"I wasn't even expecting him (Michael) there," said Fittipaldi. "I think it was a little over optimistic to pass there. I doubted our strategy after we made our last stop but it would have ultimately put us in position to challenge Bruno or finish third at the worse but Michael made that an over optimistic pass and my car was too damaged to continue. We could have had a podium finish but ended in 18th. It's a shame for myself and the team after a lot of hard work this weekend."

One Week Off Until Vancouver - a Favorite Stop For Both Fittipaldi and da Matta. The FedEx Championship Series will take next weekend off before heading north to Vancouver, B.C., Canada for the Molson Indy Vancouver street race.

-NHR-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Chris Kneifel , Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Memo Gidley , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Max Wilson , Oriol Servia , Bryan Herta , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain