CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland: Event preview

Cristiano da Matta looks to build newly-earned points lead as CART heads to Portland International Raceway. INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (June 9, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...

Cristiano da Matta looks to build newly-earned points lead as CART heads to Portland International Raceway.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (June 9, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) took the lead in the CART FedEx Championship Series point standings for the second time this season with Sunday's dominating win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and will look to hold on to it a little longer this time as the series heads to Portland International Raceway for this weekend's G.I. Joe's 200 (CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET).

Da Matta took a five-point lead in the 2002 championship by leading 82 of the 87 laps in Sunday's Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300 en route to his sixth career win. The Brazilian took the top spot in the standings from Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) with the win, marking the second time he has led the loop this year. Da Matta led after winning the season-opening event at Monterrey, Mexico and held the advantage through Long Beach, but gave it up after going scoreless in Motegi and Milwaukee.

His prospects of holding the lead are enhanced this weekend as he is heading to the 1.969-mile road course in Portland, a place where he has finished in the points in each of his previous three Champ Car starts including a personal-best fifth in 2000. He has also been the master of the road courses so far this season, winning two of the three road or street course events and leading 164 non-oval laps, 121 more than closest competitor Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone).

Da Matta is being chased most closely in the point standings by Jourdain who has used his consistency to gain a new foothold in the series. Jourdain has finished in the top 10 in each of his five races this season after joining Team Rahal in the offseason, and is the only driver in the series to have fashioned such a streak. Jourdain is also the only driver to have finished every race this season and leads the series in laps completed, having missed just three of the 713 laps during the current campaign.

Jourdain will need to capture some of the magic that defending race winner Max Papis (#22 ROCKWELL FIRST POINT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) used while with Team Rahal last year in order to shave da Matta's lead down as the Mexican driver has only finished in the points once in his six previous trips to Portland, that being a 12th-place run in his sophomore season.

Papis is the defending race winner, having survived a day that was plagued by rains to score his second career victory. Papis was one of the few drivers that was able to avoid the myriad of watery problems last year as the 76-lap race was plagued by nine caution flags, the majority of which were triggered by spins and off-course slides caused by the extremely wet conditions. He would keep his car high and dry to lead 69 of the 76 laps, including the final 36 in a race that was shortened from its original distance of 98 laps because of CART's two-hour time limit for road and street courses.

The chief threat to da Matta's championship lead may come from within his own camp as teammate Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) will follow his runner-up effort from Sunday with a visit to a Portland track that has seen him finish on the podium in each of the last two visits. Fittipaldi placed third in each of the last two seasons at Portland, including last year's event where he was the only driver other than Papis to lead the race, pacing seven circuits before yielding to Papis and Roberto Moreno.

Newman/Haas Racing is no stranger to Portland success, having the only three-race win streak in CART's 18-year history at Portland when Michael Andretti won events in 1990, '91 and '92. Andretti will be looking to take the lead in Portland victories Sunday as a fourth win in Rip City would break a tie with Al Unser Jr., who won the inaugural Portland race in 1984.

The fight for the 2002 championship got even tighter last weekend as some of the drivers that had struggled early in the year came up with strong finishes while some of those that had been strong ran into misfortune. The top-13 drivers in the championship have the ability to leave Portland with the championship lead, owing to the new CART rules that award a point for provisional qualifying, putting 23 points up for grabs at every road and street course event.

Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) and teammate Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) were two of the drivers that will be looking to turn things around from last week and regain their status in the title hunt. Both drivers entered last weekend in the top-five in points but Franchitti was eliminated in a first-lap crash while Tracy retired after a loose wheel sent him spinning into the Turn 4 sand trap. Franchitti has been the most successful of the Team KOOL Green duo at Portland as of late, having finished no worse than ninth in each of the last three visits to the track.

Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) moved past both Franchitti and Tracy Sunday with his fourth-place finish, giving the Motegi race winner the fourth spot in the title chase and leaving just 13 digits behind leader da Matta. The Brazilian driver qualified a strong sixth in his first Portland appearance last season but would finish 23rd after retiring due to contact after 34 laps.

His teammate Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) also got back in the hunt for the Vanderbilt Cup with a podium finish at Laguna Seca, propelling him into a three-way tie with Tracy and Papis for sixth place. Brack earned 15 points on the weekend after claiming the provisional pole on Friday and has finished in the points at Portland in each of his previous two starts.

The weekend opens with Friday's practice followed by provisional qualifying at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Saturday will see another practice with final qualifying slated for 4:30 Eastern, with the G.I. Joe's 200 set to take the green flag at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. All of the qualifying sessions will be shown live on SPEED Channel, which will also broadcast its CART Friday Night program at 10:30 p.m, while CBS will take over broadcast duties for Sunday's race, which is its second Champ Car broadcast of the season.

Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets the CART FedEx Championship Series. Former series champions Michael Andretti and Jimmy Vasser are among the stars who will battle for the 2002 FedEx Championship Series title on ovals, temporary street circuits and permanent road courses. CART Champ Cars are thoroughbred racing machines that travel at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, showcasing the technical expertise of manufacturers such as American Honda, Ford Motor Company, Toyota, Lola Cars, Reynard Motorsport and Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC. The 20-race 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series will be broadcast by new television partners, CBS, FOX and SPEED Channel. CART also owns and operates its top development series, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. Learn more about CART's open-wheel racing series at www.CART.com.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Christian Fittipaldi , Dario Franchitti , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain