CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland: Newman/Haas preview

Da Matta and Fittipaldi aim to score fifth win in eight races for Newman/Haas Racing at this weekend's G.I. Joe's 200 CART event in Portland. PORTLAND, Ore. (June 12, 2002) --- Coming off a 1-2 finish and capturing the points lead last weekend...

Da Matta and Fittipaldi aim to score fifth win in eight races for Newman/Haas Racing at this weekend's G.I. Joe's 200 CART event in Portland.

PORTLAND, Ore. (June 12, 2002) --- Coming off a 1-2 finish and capturing the points lead last weekend at the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) looks to for a repeat performance this Father's Day weekend in round 6 of the 20 round CART FedEx Championship Series, the G.I. Joe's 200 at the Portland International Raceway. Chevron driver Cristiano da Matta and Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi both hope the combination of NHR's road course dominance with their Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone package and their previous experience at Portland will help them continue the momentum all the way to the podium this weekend.

Regaining the CART points lead with a dominating 19-second victory over teammate Fittipaldi, it was da Matta who led 82 of 87 laps at Monterey, Calif., where he was able to pull off the Monterrey/Monterey double, winning this past weekend and the season opener at Monterrey, Mexico. Commenting on his achievement, da Matta said, "I think they should add more races in cities named Monterey since that is where we have won our two races so far this season!"

Starting from the pole, da Matta was able to come away with 22 of 23 possible points last weekend giving him a grand total of 51 as well as the lead. He said, "We didn't score as many points as we should have after winning in Mexico so it is good to get 22 of the 23 points available at the last race. We're going to try to do even better in Portland. After winning in Mexico we dominated in Long Beach but a silly pit accident ruined our chance at winning. Then we didn't run well in Japan but were better in Milwaukee but had a fuel pressure problem. It's good to get back to the road courses where we run well."

Da Matta's first-place pole start was the first in his four seasons of Champ car racing after he qualified second five times. It was also the first pole for NHR in 56 races dating back to 1999 when Michael Andretti earned the top starting spot for the Texaco/Havoline 200 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. The win in Monterey was da Matta's second of the season, sixth of his career, and fifth with NHR.

"Portland should be another good race for us -- I can't wait!" da Matta commented after last weekend's win. "We know we have a good car for Portland because we almost got the pole there last year and started second. Lola has made improvements with the car since then and we have improved our set-up as well so we are pretty confident about being a contender for all 23 points. There are so many variables in racing that can change the situation quickly but we should run well again this weekend."

Having good reason to be anxious, da Matta's best finish at Portland was 5th in 2000, although he looked likely to surpass that with his second place start last year. However, due to a mishap on track under caution, da Matta was forced to settle for a 10th place finish last year.

"I still don't completely understand what happened last year," da Matta said. "It was a strange incident. Under the yellow (flag), (race leader) Papis went on the throttle then suddenly got on the brakes hard and it caught me by surprise and I ran into the back of him and went off course. I learned that I have to be switched on more of the time. You always have to be 100 percent switched on - even if the yellow (flag) is out. I was just trying to keep the heat in my tires and was caught by surprise. It cost me a lot - I went to 19th place and had to work hard just to get back to 10th place and score three points. This year I want to change that story." For a little added incentive, da Matta's father, Antonio, will be on hand to watch his son race in the Father's Day affair.

Fittipaldi faired well last weekend, as he was able to score his best finish of second place since winning the 500-mile 2000 season-finale event at The California Speedway. On the strength of his third top four finish in five races this season he jumped from eighth into third place in the points race, just eight points behind da Matta.

"We were able to put the Lilly car on the podium twice so far this season and I have more points now than I did last year at this time so we are really motivated," Fittipaldi said. "A good finish in Portland can only put us in a stronger position to fight for the Championship."

Of the two NHR drivers, Fittipaldi could be the favorite this weekend as his best track in the CART FedEx Championship Series might just be the 1.969-mile permanent road course in Portland. Fittipaldi noted, "I always look forward to the race in Portland. We are good on these types of tracks so we need to capitalize on the points available when we come to them. I'm am aiming to win $1 million for the Championship, $1 million for another win at the California Speedway and $50,000 for the guys in the pit stop contest so we have our work cut out for ourselves. To finish one-two (last Sunday in Monterey, Calif.) really motivated the team. It would be a dream weekend for me to continue this momentum in Portland, which is a very special place for me."

Despite never capturing a win at Portland, Fittipaldi's 2001 season highlight came there as his spectacular drive earned him a third place finish while racing in limited visibility due to rain after driving off course to avoid a sliding car and dropping back to 19th.

"Last year the race in Portland was the best for me all year," said Fittipaldi, who is known in racing circles as the "Rainmeister." "The track was very slick and Helio (Castroneves) went off and I had to go off track as well to avoid hitting him. Then we dropped back to 19th place and had to work our way back up the field. We were doing almost all of the passing that day and it was a good race for us to finish third. I just wish there were more laps because I am confident we could have kept moving up the field. Of course it would have been much easier if we had worked our way up to the front from our seventh place start rather than from 19th. With the number of positions we managed to pick up, a win would have been possible from seventh place. We are in much better shape this season to win in the wet or the dry so it should be a good race for us. "

This weekend will mark Fittipaldi's eighth career start at Portland where his best finish is third, a feat he has done three times (1996, 2000, and 2001). Although he narrowly missed a podium finish in 1997, it was the most memorable finish of the season for him. Despite being unable to walk in his return from racing after an accident in Australia, he earned his best qualifying start at the time of third place and ran in second until the last lap when he dropped to fourth after two drivers, who gambled on the track drying and made a late pit for racing slicks, passed him. Fittipaldi's father won't be on hand for the event, but supporting him from the pits will be both his mother and mother-in-law as well as his wife on Father's Day.

Continuing their road course dominance, NHR has scored 41 of their team total 63 wins on road and street courses while in the midst of their 20th season. In fact, the team has five wins (Michael Andretti; 1992, 1991, and 1990; Mario Andretti 1986, 1985) and two poles (Nigel Mansell; 1993; Ma. Andretti; 1984) at Portland. This season alone, 49 of da Matta's 51 championship points have come from his success on road courses and da Matta and Fittipaldi combined have captured two first place finishes, as well as a second and a third place finish on road courses.

SPEED Channel will air live coverage of Friday's afternoon practice session beginning at 5:00 p.m. ET while CART Friday Night will air live at 10:30 p.m. ET on the Speed Channel on Friday, June 14. Coverage of Saturday's qualifying session will air live on SPEED Channel beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET while CBS Sports will air the first of four races in a row with live coverage of the G.I. Joe's 200 beginning at 3:30 p.m., ET on Sunday, June 16.

Newman/Haas Racing, owned by actor/race car driver Paul Newman and racing entrepreneur Carl A. Haas, is in the midst of its 20th season in 2002 and is the most successful active competitor with 63 race wins and 64 pole positions in the CART FedEx Championship series. For more information, log on to www.newman-haas.com, www.texaco.com/racing or www.cart.com. The 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series 20-race schedule will be broadcast by new television partners, CBS, Fox and Fox Networks Group, including Speed Channel.

-NHR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Christian Fittipaldi , Nigel Mansell , Mario Andretti , Paul Newman , Cristiano da Matta