CHAMPCAR/CART: Toronto: Newman/Haas pre-race notes

Newman/Haas Racing heads to the Toronto Molson Indy in search of their fourth straight win as well as seventh in the past 10 CART FedEx races. TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (July 3, 2002) --- A total team effort by Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) this past...

Newman/Haas Racing heads to the Toronto Molson Indy in search of their fourth straight win as well as seventh in the past 10 CART FedEx races.

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (July 3, 2002) --- A total team effort by Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) this past weekend not only brought the team a win on their home track of Chicago Motor Speedway, it also extended their Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx Championship Series points lead. The team hopes to carry the momentum of winning six of the last nine events in CART -- dating back to the final two events of 2001 - and score their fourth straight victory at the ever-lively Toronto Molson Indy and sixth at the track.

In a matter of weeks NHR drivers and team personnel were able to collaborate and turn what was once a midfield oval track set-up into a competitive one capable of finding winner's circle, as was the case in Chicago. Combine the newfound oval strength with the team's ability to gain positions in the pits, add in a road/street course set-up that is enviable and the result is a 25-point lead in the series. Consistency is the key ingredient to winning a championship and thus far the team has four wins in seven races as well as a total of six appearances on the podium between its two drivers.

That's not all setting NHR apart from the competition, for their previous Toronto experience illustrates a strong expertise for the 1.755 temporary street circuit. In fact, NHR has won in Toronto five times (Michael Andretti - 1989, 1991, 1992, 1995, 2000) as well as captured a pole (Mi. Andretti - 1991) and earned a total of 10 podium finishes (Mario Andretti - 3rd in '86 and 2nd in '91; Mi. Andretti - 2nd in '90 and '98; Christian Fittipaldi - 3rd in '99).

Since its inception in 1983, NHR has always been a respected force in Champ car racing and has grown into becoming the second most successful team to compete in CART with a total of 65 wins in 323 races to date. Continuing a strong winning tradition, the NHR team has led the way in this season's Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge (CPCC). Standing atop the CPCC competition has been the crew of Christian Fittipaldi's No.11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. Fittipaldi's team leads the standings with 68 points, giving it two more than the squad of the No. 4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone of Bruno Junqueira.

However, NHR team driver Cristiano da Matta, and his No. 6 Havoline Toyota-Lola- Bridgestone has emerged during the past two straight weeks as the race leader in the CPCC competition which vaulted the crew into third place in the overall standings, and earned the team the wild-card berth in the season-ending shootout that was available at Chicago. Craftsman put up a free pass to the finals at last weekend's CART Grand Prix of Chicago, and da Matta's team earned that automatic advance by spending just 1:39.450 in the pits during its three stops last Sunday.

Taking full advantage of his team's talents, experience, and momentum, da Matta has won the past six out of nine CART FedEx events, dating back to his win in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia in October, 2001. At the season-opener in Monterrey, Mexico, da Matta won his third consecutive event for the first time in the CART FedEx Series (Australia and Fontana in 2001 and Mexico in 2002), and after the CART Grand Prix of Chicago this past weekend, da Matta repeated the feat with wins at Laguna Seca and Portland. Da Matta will be looking to tie a CART record next weekend at Toronto as he looks to join Al Unser Jr. (1990) and Alex Zanardi (1998) as the only driver to win four consecutive races.

Understanding that his recent success has come as a result of his team's dedication and hard work da Matta noted, "To be successful in racing, there are many factors involved. Everyone on the Havoline team - from the engineers to the mechanics to the pit crew are working very well together and the Toyota engine, Lola chassis and Bridgestone tires are a strong combination."

A very strong combination indeed, as da Matta has taken a commanding lead on track and in the championship points standings with a grand total of 95 points in just seven events. Trailing da Matta in second place in the standings is fellow Belo Horizonte, Brazil native, Bruno Junqueira, who has tallied 70 total points and has finished second to da Matta in the previous two races. While on track, da Matta has led 301 laps so far in 2002, a single-season CART career-high for him as well as already surpassing his combined total in the series of 228 from 1999-2001.

Chalking up three of four wins and two poles on road courses this season, da Matta is pleased to brave the streets of Toronto for the Molson Indy event. "I'm looking forward to the Molson Indy Toronto," da Matta said. "It helps that our car is working well and the team is confident in the work we have done up until this point. It also helps that the set-up for the car is good and that we have built some momentum."

Building momentum leading up to a track where da Matta has previously had some success is definitely not music to his competitors' ears. Sunday will mark da Matta's fourth CART start at Toronto where he was able to start from second position in 2000 and lead the CART Champ car field for the first time in a race, with 73 laps led although victory eluded him due to running the wrong pit strategy and he finished fourth. In his debut at Toronto, da Matta finished 24th after suffering contact, moving him down from a 13th place start. In 2001, he was the victim of contact again as he became involved in the collision between Gil de Ferran and Max Papis, leaving da Matta in 15th place.

"Toronto is probably the most different street course we go to so we have to keep our eyes wide open beginning with the first session and adapt our set-up to that type of track but the team has won many times there so that's a pretty good indication that they will know what to do when we get there," da Matta said.

Da Matta is looking for a bit of redemption on street courses as his strong run in the only other street race this season in Long Beach was hampered by a collision with Adrian Fernandez as he was leaving his pit box. Da Matta recalled, "We ran very well (on the streets) in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach but the fact is that the Toronto street course is a very different track even though they are both on city streets. The track has many different surfaces so not a lot of information from Long Beach applies so just because our car was good in Long Beach (doesn't mean) it will be good in Toronto but hopefully some of the information does because the car was very good."

Life in the other NHR pit stall has been a bit more frustrating these past couple of weeks as da Matta's teammate and fellow Brazilian, Fittipaldi has failed to score championship points the past two race weekends, despite a very strong start to the season. Currently fifth in points with a total of 43, Fittipaldi hopes to make up some ground at the Toronto Molson Indy with a dominate NHR road/street course set up. "After not scoring any points in the last two races and for a total of three so far this season, we need to go to Toronto and score a good chunk of points to make up for some lost opportunities," Fittipaldi said.

Fittipaldi hopes to bounce back from a loose tire mishap at Chicago and take full advantage of his powerful NHR Lilly-Toyota-Lola-Bridgestone by getting ahead before the green flag is dropped on race day. "Losing a wheel in Chicago was a big disappointment for the team but those things happen when so much pressure is put on the guys to make up positions," commented Fittipaldi. "Obviously Newman/Haas Racing has been strong on road and street courses this season so we need to qualify up front in Toronto so the guys don't have to make up so many positions on the pit stops."

Realizing that pressure is the backbone of racing, Fittipaldi is still confident that his NHR team has the goods to place him in winner's circle, especially with their lead in the CPCC contest. He said, "The Lilly pit crew was leading the Craftsman Pit Crew Contest when the bad pit stop happened so that shows you it can happen to anyone and has to four guys in the past three races."

Like da Matta, Fittipaldi is well aware of how much effort it takes to prepare for the difficult course layout at Toronto. He said, "The Toronto race is a tough one to get a good set-up for the car because of the different racing surfaces. We didn't run very well there last year but we started to improve our car on street courses after running there last year and the progress has continued over from the off-season testing into this year so we know we can run well this year."

In his previous seven starts at Toronto, Fittipaldi's best finish came in 1999 when he grabbed the third place podium spot from a fifth place start. Fittipaldi also has two other top-10 finishes at Toronto and led one lap in 1998. Last season Fittipaldi qualified 14th and finished 12th after contact with Bruno Junqueira, who was attempting a pass.

Toronto marks the eighth race of the season and Fittipaldi is anxious to make up a little ground in the points battle, as his seven previous years in CART has taught him that winning in this sport, doesn't get any easier over time. "The Championship is really heating up now and everyone is going to dig deep to try to get a one-two finish for the team not only in the Toronto Molson Indy but also in the Championship," said Fittipaldi. "Each year it has gotten harder and harder to score each point and this year is definitely not an exception although we seem to be in a better position to be competitive at most of the races."

There's no argument that some of CART's most loyal fans reside outside of the U.S. and with a trip north of the border into Canada, there is sure to be plenty of spectators on hand to witness the finest in open-wheel racing. Toronto being the first of three Canadian CART races, the other two being in Vancouver and Montreal, and the home to a large contingent of Champ car fans. Both NHR drivers have recognized this enthusiasm for their sport in their previous trips to Toronto and are excited to perform for such a racing savvy group.

Fittipaldi said, "The Toronto race is a great event for the fans and the drivers. The fans are really involved with our sport and know what is going on from race to race. Apart from that, I have a good time off track as well in Toronto. I don't have much free time when I am there but I enjoy the restaurants."

Teammate da Matta agrees as he finds Toronto a prime setting for Champ car racing. "The same thing that makes the race good for the drivers also makes it good for the fans," da Matta said. "When the driver likes an event a good part of the reason is because of the crowd. Of course how much you like the track is part of it too but the overall atmosphere of the event is what makes it special and the Toronto Molson Indy is just a big party and we like it a lot."

The weekend opens with practice on Friday morning at 10 a.m. followed by provisional qualifying at 2 p.m. Saturday morning sees another practice at 10 a.m. with the final grid set with another qualifying session at 1:45 p.m. Both qualifying outings will be covered live by SPEED Channel and will be preceded by the "CART Friday Night" show at 7:30 p.m. Friday. CBS Sports will broadcast Sunday's Molson Indy Toronto live, beginning at 1:30 p.m. All times are Eastern.

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 65 race wins and 65 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 Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Christian Fittipaldi , Mario Andretti , Paul Newman , Cristiano da Matta
Teams ART Grand Prix