LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (July 10, 2001) --- Every team in the CART FedEx Championship Series looks forward to returning to Toronto for the Molson Indy. If you are the team that is the defending champion, you look forward to the event even more.
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (July 10, 2001) --- Every team in the CART FedEx Championship Series looks forward to returning to Toronto for the Molson Indy. If you are the team that is the defending champion, you look forward to the event even more. Especially if the new driver on your team, Cristiano da Matta, led a dominating 73 laps before then-Newman/Haas driver Michael Andretti's crew stole the victory after a quicker pit stop. Couple that with competitive runs by team member Christian Fittipaldi and the anticipation builds further.
Newman/Haas Racing has consistently been a contender north of the U.S. border and this season should be no different for team veteran Christian Fittipaldi and newcomer da Matta. On road and street course events so far this season, the team won the season-opener in Mexico and finished second in Long Beach, both with da Matta behind the wheel of the familiar Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota. In Detroit, da Matta was capable of a fourth place start but a red flag dropped him to 17th on the grid. Both drivers managed a top-seven finish with Fittipaldi fifth and da Matta seventh although both felt capable of much more.
The next event in Portland saw Kmart Toyota driver Fittipaldi finish on the podium with third place. The team felt that the results were about to equal the effort again in Cleveland when both drivers were capable of no less than top-four qualifying spots as well as da Matta being a pole contender after setting the fastest time on Friday at the temporary road course. Unfortunately Mother Nature intervened after the first session of qualifying went as planned for those drivers 14th and higher in the point standings but when the "fast group" took to the track for their session, light sprinkles were followed by heavy rain and setting a fast lap was rendered impossible and a win, difficult.
Three consecutive races led to a much-needed weekend away from the track but now the team has set their sites on Toronto as the location of their reappearance on the podium. They hope the 1.755-mile temporary street course in Toronto will be another strong showing to add to the list of 2001 road/street course successes.
"If you look at every time we have qualified so far, we, in truth, should have qualified in the top four spots in every street and road course," da Matta said. "We had good results in Mexico, Long Beach, Portland, and everywhere. Detroit and Cleveland were the only ones where we didn't have a good qualifying but that wasn't because we weren't capable. One thing that I feel is very good about the Newman/Haas team is that even though we have missed some opportunities and suffered in some situations, the team still believes that we are a championship contender. Everybody knows that, not only believes, but knows that and everybody knows that the performance is there, so when we finally put everything together, the results are going to come fast."
Putting everything together is just what Newman/Haas Racing has done several times in Toronto as they are no stranger to success here with a total of five wins (Michael Andretti - 1989, 1991, 1992, 1995, 2000) a pole (Mi. Andretti - 1991) and 10 podium finishes (Mario Andretti - 3rd in '86 and 2nd in '91; Mi. Andretti - 2nd '90 and '98; Christian Fittipaldi - 3rd in '99). Both Fittipaldi and da Matta know what it takes to not only race at Toronto, but to race well here. In six showings in Toronto, Fittipaldi has three top-10 finishes including a third place in 1999 and leading a lap in 1998 race as well as setting the fastest race lap.
Da Matta, who has only raced Champ cars in Toronto twice, led a race for the first time at this track in 2000. He earned his highest qualifying position to date of second place and jumped into the lead on the first lap. He held the lead through his second pit stop on lap 73 but a slower stop dropped him to a fourth place finish. His only other Champ car race in Toronto ended early due to contact but it is said that the third time is the charm.
Da Matta obviously has fond memories of the venue after leading a CART event here for the first time. "It was a good weekend overall for me," said da Matta, 27. "I qualified second, which was my best ever qualification. In the race I was able to get the lead from Castroneves on the second turn and then I lead most of the laps. It was my first time to lead a race and we stayed in the lead after the first pit stop. Unfortunately, after second pit stop, a couple of guys got us and I wasn't able to finish the work we started. It was nothing new to me to lead a race, but it was kind of new to me to lead a race in CART Champ cars. It's basically the same, but it's more important. It makes you feel good!"
Da Matta led the standings for the first four events but heading into the ninth 2001 CART FedEx series event, he is in fifth place with 55 points, just 29 behind series leader Kenny Brack, who has a total of 84. Teammate and driver of the No. 11 Kmart Toyota-Lola, Fittipaldi is 36 points out of the lead in eighth place with 48 points.
Chalking up a third place podium and two other top-10 finishes in Toronto, Fittipaldi has a good handle on the demanding street course. He said, "Toronto is definitely one of those places where you need to be there for the end of the race. Surviving the whole race is key, but more important than that, you need to have a good car. We had a very good care there the past two years. In 1999 I finished third and last year the car was unbelievably strong and looking strong for a race win, but coming into the pits I hit Gil de Ferran and my race was finished.
In 1998, Gil was pitted next to me and hit my tire that was just taken off of my car on his way out of the pits and broke his suspension. My crew guy had to chase the tire that rolled and it cost us a lot of time. I ran in third place most of the race in 1999 and Gil was pitted beside me again. He hit my rear tire on his way out on the final stop and the penalty dropped him to the back from second place but luckily I was able to get out of the pits and still finish third. We just need to have a trouble free race this year and be there at the end with a strong car.
Traveling outside of its U.S. home, CART is excited about taking open-wheel racing to another international location. Toronto being the first of two Canadian CART races, the other being in Vancouver, is home to many Champ car fans. "There's no doubt about it, Canada is a huge market for us," Fittipaldi said. "We have a lot of fans in Canada plus the fact we have Paul Tracy and the Players drivers, Carpentier and Tagliani, coming from Canada. I think that adds to the desire of fans to want to come to the races. On top of all of that, the two places we go to, Toronto and Vancouver, they do a helluva job and we get treated very well. They set up the track well and one thing adds to another and it comes out to be an excellent event."
Qualifying for the Molson Indy Toronto will air 5:00 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, while ESPN-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 .