CHAMPCAR/CART: Surfers Paradise: Newman/Haas race report

Caltex/Havoline driver aa Matta Led The Most Laps Of The Race But Finished Eighth At The Rain-Soaked Honda Indy 300 In Australia; Lilly Driver Fittipaldi Ran As High As Second But Finished 11TH --- Race Was Red-Flagged After First Lap Multi-Car ...

Caltex/Havoline driver aa Matta Led The Most Laps Of The Race But Finished Eighth At The Rain-Soaked Honda Indy 300 In Australia; Lilly Driver Fittipaldi Ran As High As Second But Finished 11TH --- Race Was Red-Flagged After First Lap Multi-Car Accident

- Caltex/Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta led the most laps of the Honda Indy 300 in Surfer's Paradise, Queensland, Australia, including a mere seven that were run under green conditions, but finished eighth after a bizarre race that was dictated by a first lap multi car accident and rain, which shortened the event. Last place starter and rookie Mario Dominguez won the event. Da Matta's first race weekend as 2002 CART FedEx Champion began with a short informal ceremony, which included his replacing the No. 6 on his Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone with a No. 1 in honor of his winning the Championship. Da Matta told all that he was happy to be able to run the number since he and his team had been chasing it all season and it served as a testament to the hard work by all. He immediately reinforced why he had No. 1 on his car in Saturday's final qualifying round when he set a track record in route to his seventh pole position of the season and looked a good bet to be the first two-time winner in the 12 years of the event as well as match a CART record for most wins in a season at eight with Michael Andretti (and NHR - 1991) and Al Unser Jr. (1994).

The Raceâ^À¦After enjoying the sunny skies and warm temperatures since arriving in Australia, the CART community woke to an overcast day with a looming chance of rain and cool mid-60 degree temperatures. Light rain began falling on draught-stricken Surfer's Paradise prior to the 10 a.m. pre-race warm-up and continued throughout the day. Immediately prior to the 2 p.m. start, the rain began to fall steadily and CART mandated a single-file start due to the wet track condition. As the field was set to take the green flag for the originally scheduled 70-lap event, Bruno Junqueira was alongside da Matta despite the prior declaration that the race would start single file and Junqueira took over the lead into Turn 1. When the back part of the field passed under the flag stand a violent multi-car accident occurred and was apparently triggered by contact between Jimmy Vasser and Adrian Fernandez and also included a total of nine cars with those of Vasser and Tora Takagi landing upside down. Cars and errant bodywork blocked the front straight and the red flag was shown to stop the race on the first lap. Many of the drivers involved in the accident as well as crewman along pit lane rushed to the aid of the involved drivers as the Simple Green Safety Team approached the scene. Fortunately only Fernandez and Takagi needed to be transported to hospital with Fernandez departing the same night and Takagi suffering a minor fracture of his pelvis. The race was re-started after a 90-minute delay to clear the debris and attempt to dry to track, and it was shortened to 50 laps although the race would be deemed "official" after 36 laps as that was one more than the half-way point of the originally scheduled 70-lap event. Da Matta led the field for the first three laps, which were run under yellow before the green flag was thrown on Lap 4. Rain began falling once again as da Matta began to build a lead over second place Bruno Junqueira which had increased to five seconds by Lap 8. The race stayed green only until Lap 10, when it was yellow-flagged due to heavy rain, and it never went back to green again as rain continued to pass through the area the rest of the day. Da Matta and several other front runners pitted on Lap 10, halfway through this weekend's mandatory 20-lap maximum per fuel-and-tire run and he returned to the race in second place to second place starter Junqueira who did not pit. He resumed the lead on Lap 19 after Junqueira made his first stop on the previous lap. As the field continued to follow the pace car lap after lap under yellow-flag conditions, the Caltex/Havoline crew as well as every other crew on pit lane attempted to guess when the race would be called due to the limited visibility and slick conditions. When his mandatory pit window of Lap 30 (20 laps after his first stop) came da Matta was followed into the pits by Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti. He returned to the race in 11th place and held the position until Lap 34 when he spun and stalled his car in Turn 4 on the slippery track. Once he was restarted he caught up to the field and was in 14th place. As the field was working Lap 36, CART announced that the checkered flag would come out on Lap 41 rather than the first opportunity of an "official" race on Lap 36. Once the field completed their second mandatory pit stops, da Matta moved into eighth place and held the position on Lap 40 when CART brought out the red and checkered flags simultaneously one lap early due to the downfall of harder rain. He scored six points for his eighth place finish and one for leading the most laps. He also ran the fastest lap of the race on Lap 7 although it was far slower than his record setting pole speed due to the wet conditions.

Following are his post race comments:

"When there was a race, I was leading it and pulling away," said da Matta. "I led all the laps when it was a race. Afterwards it wasn't a race anymore. It's a big, big disappointment that the race went the way it did. I really love racing here and it's a shame that we didn't get to put on a good show for all of the great fans here because we had a good car."

- Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi looked likely to earn his sixth podium and fourth second place finish of the season in the Honda Indy 300 which looked probable to end on Lap 36 due to near impossible conditions but he dropped to an 11th place finish due to a call to end the race later than most expected. Prior to the re-start of the race after debris and race cars involved in the multi-car accident were cleared, the event was shortened from 70 to 50 laps with Lap 36 designated as the half-way point in order to be called an official finish. After switching to his back-up car because his primary car was damaged when he was hit from behind by someone involved in the multi-car accident, Fittipaldi began the restarted race in 12th place after initially qualifying 13th due to Adrian Fernandez not participating due to pain from the Lap 1 accident. On the pace laps of the restart, Fittipaldi reported that his race car was experiencing a misfire. The team instructed him to attempt to correct the problem through a variety of ways but he was unable to do so and the collective decision was made to keep Fittipaldi on track rather than loose laps to pit. Fittipaldi ran in 12th place for the first three laps, which were run under yellow before the green flag was thrown on Lap 4. Rain began falling once again as Fittipaldi struggled with a lack of power. On Lap 8, he dropped to 13th place after being unable to hold off a charging Alex Tagliani. The following lap he dropped to 15th place ahead of eventual winner Mario Dominguez after eventual second place finisher Patrick Carpentier and Michael Andretti passed him for position. On Lap 10 a good portion of the field, including Fittipaldi, made their first stop within the 20 lap mandatory window. The team performed a routine stop and he returned on track in 15th place before moving into 14th on Lap 12. As the field remained under caution the team monitored the problem and then decided to bring Fittipaldi in again on Lap 15 to download information to reprogram the engine due to the long lap time and fact that they would not loose many positions. The reprogramming worked as Fittipaldi reported that his car was now working properly. He returned to the pits on Lap 16 so that his following pit window would not open until Lap 36, when the race would probably be called due to dangerous conditions. He gradually moved from 14th place into eighth on Lap 22 after others made their stops within the 20-lap minimum. Third place Paul Tracy stopped on Lap 26 and he moved into seventh place, which he held for four laps before he moved into fourth when leader da Matta, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Tagliani made their second stops. As he had the majority of the race, he reported to the crew that he had no visibility due to the water and was having to fight to keep his car under him on the slick course. On lap 31 he was scored in second place to Michael Andretti as the team attempted to ascertain the plan to end the race as the light rain steadily fell. As the visibility was diminishing not only from the water but also from the late afternoon timing, the team hoped that CART would end the race after Lap 36 when it would be declared an official finish. On Lap 35, CART informed the field that the Honda Indy 300 would end on Lap 41 and the crew prepared to pit on the following lap as per the rules and lose a second place podium finish as well as valuable points toward their bid to move Fittipaldi to a second place finish in the 2002 standings. After his stop was completed on Lap 36, which he was credited with leading, he returned to the race in 11th place and held the position until Lap 40, when CART displayed the red and checkered flag simultaneously due to the increased amount of rainfall. He collected two points toward the championship while Carpentier capitalized on a second place finish and increased his fourth place lead on Fittipaldi from one point to 15. Had Fittipaldi finished second, he not only would have surpassed Carpentier, who was then running eighth, in the standings, he would have taken over third place from Dario Franchitti, who had been running 14th.

Fittipaldi's post race comments:

"I'll drive in the rain if I have to just like the next guy but it was totally crazy out there," said Fittipaldi. "I couldn't see a thing and I was sliding all over the place even in second gear. It's with a lot of sadness that I have to admit that this was such a bad race for the competitors and fans. At the start of the first race I was thinking I was pretty lucky to miss the big accident happening behind me but then I was hit from behind. We had to get the spare car out for the second start because the race car had a broken undertray and bent rear suspension. Then on the pace laps I started to get a misfire in the spare car. We tried to stay out as long as possible after our first pit stop but we were slower than the others and finally had to come in. We downloaded information to reprogram the engine and the car was okay after that. We made a third stop on lap 16 because CART said that the race would be official on lap 36 so that we would be set in case the race was called. The visibility was insane and we were just trying to hang on and keep everything in one piece until the race was called. Lap 35 came and they announced that the race would go until lap 41 so we had to give up second place, pit and get back on track in eleventh. Had we been able to finish in second place with Dario not scoring any points, we would have moved up to third in the Championship."

- MANUFACTURERS CHAMPIONSHIPS -- Toyota clinched its first CART Manufacturer's Championship after they built an insurmountable 45-point lead, 300-255 over Honda with two races to go. Jim Aust, Toyota vice president of motorsports had the following comments: "We're thrilled to win the CART Manufacturer's Championship against some fierce competition. I can't say enough about all those involved in the effort - everyone at Toyota, TRD and our teams and drivers."

- RECORD ATTENDANCE -- Despite a cold and rainy race day, the four day attendance for the 2002 Honda Indy 300 was announced at 297,835 and is a four percent increase over the 2001 attendance of 286,610. The race contract was extended through 2008 over the weekend.

- Next Up...The team will spend Monday flying from Brisbane to Los Angeles in preparation for The 500 Presented by Toyota at The California Speedway next weekend.  Da Matta is the defending winner of the race after driving to victory in 2001.  Lilly driver Fittipaldi won the event in 2000 as well as finished third in 1999.


Kathi Lauterbach Director of PR Newman/Haas Racing 317-297-8064 office 317-297-8065 fax

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Mario Dominguez , Cristiano da Matta