CHAMPCAR/CART: Toronto: Newman/Haas race report

Havoline driver da Matta won seven of the last 10 cart races with his victory in today's Molson Indy Toronto Cart Fedex Race - matched Cart record of four consecutive wins; Lilly river Fittipaldi finished third. Havoline driver Cristiano da ...

Havoline driver da Matta won seven of the last 10 cart races with his victory in today's Molson Indy Toronto Cart Fedex Race - matched Cart record of four consecutive wins; Lilly river Fittipaldi finished third.

Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta became only the third in CART history to win four straight races after he led all 112 laps from his third pole position in the series to win the Molson Indy Toronto. Da Matta joined Al Unser Jr. and Alex Zanardi as the only drivers to win four straight CART events. Two-time CART champion, Alex Zanardi, was on site to watch the feat while attending his first racing event since his accident last September at the American Memorial in Germany.

The win was da Matta's seventh in the last 10 races, matching the best 10-race streak in CART history, previously established by Rick Mears (1981-82) and Al Unser, Jr. (1994). The triumph was also da Matta's fifth of the season and his ninth overall career Champ Car win - all coming with Toyota power. By scoring the maximum of 23 points available, da Matta built his series lead to 48 points over second place Bruno Junqueira who failed to score points due to being taken out of the race by rookie Townsend Bell. The only two drivers to win from the pole at the Toronto Molson Indy are da Matta and former Newman/Haas Racing driver Michael Andretti, who won five events while with the team - including the 1991 event from the pole.

If a point was given for setting the fastest race lap, da Matta would have also won that with his 108th lap which was the only one recorded in the 58 second range. Joining da Matta on the podium was second place finisher Kenny Brack, whom da Matta beat by a 4.398-second margin, and his teammate Christian Fittipaldi who finished third.

-After earning his third pole in the series and first on a street course, da Matta raced toward the green flag under sunny skies in front of a race day crowd of 73,160. Fellow front-row starter Paul Tracy jumped the start and beat da Matta to the first turn, but Zanardi, who served as the honorary starter for the event, rightly waved the yellow flag instead of the green to reset the field for a second try. Da Matta led the field into the first turn of the 1.755-mile temporary street course and proceeded to build his lead in the ensuing laps to a comfortable seven seconds on Tracy.

Soon he came upon backmarker, Tora Takagi, who had pitted and returned to the track ahead of him therefore slowing him and enabling Tracy to cut his lead. Once he was able to pass Takagi he momentarily increased his lead again but it was only a matter of time before he was faced with the same situation with rookie Townsend Bell, who was on a different pit sequence than the leaders. Second place runner Tracy made his first stop on lap 33 while da Matta continued to make up valuable track position before the majority of the field made their first stop on lap 34, which was the maximum number of laps in a "stint" per CART rules devised to reduce the possibility of a "fuel conservation race."

After quick pit work by the Havoline crew, da Matta was able to return to the track in the lead ahead of Tracy. By lap 43 of 112, da Matta built a lead of 10.3 seconds over Tracy but came upon traffic again and his lead began to shrink. The majority of the field made their second stops on laps 62 and 63 after Tony Kanaan stopped on course and subsequently brought out the yellow flag. Da Matta was again able to return to the race in the lead, which he held through the restart on lap 72. On lap 73, Tracy spun but continued although he handed second place to Kenny Brack.

Soon da Matta was able to build a 9.8 second lead on Brack by lap 80 but saw it evaporate again by being held up behind Alex Tagliani, who was desperately trying not to be lapped, and a caution period on lap 88 for Tracy, who lost control of his car reportedly due to a brake problem. During the caution period for Tracy, the field made their third and final stops and da Matta maintained his position. After Tracy restarted his car and returned to his pit, the race was restarted on lap 92 but the fourth and final caution period shortly came out when rookie Townsend Bell, who was a lapped car in 12th place, attempted to pass sixth place runner Bruno Junqueira and caused the pair to crash in to the tire barriers in Turn 3.

The race was restarted on lap 97, which saw Dario Franchitti, and Michel Jourdain involved in an incident that included contact with Alex Tagliani. All three were able to resume a few laps later without forcing another caution period. When the white flag was brought out signifying there was only one more lap, da Matta had built a 5.6-second lead on Brack. The 28-year old Brazilian took the checkered flag by a 4.398-seconds margin and collected 20 points for the win, one point for leading the most laps to add to his two points for leading each of the qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday. Following are his post race comments:

"I wasn't trying to go for any record, I was just concentrating on the championship," da Matta said. "Of course, I had the opportunity in front of me: a good car, good team, good pit stops, good starting position. It was even better than I thought it was going to be. I have to thank my team for this one, they're doing such great work on the Havoline Toyota-Lola. The only time I had any pressure was on the last restart (lap 96) with Kenny behind me. I was able to use lapped traffic as a buffer. I'm very pleased with my weekend. Since Friday morning, everything went well. There's a reason for the success we've had. It happens because we have a very good team, the Toyota engine is working very well, the Lola chassis is good and the crew has been doing a good job. We had a trouble free weekend except for my mistake on Friday in qualifying. (On Alex Zanardi waving off the start) He did an excellent job on the start because [Paul] Tracy obviously took off before me. The second time we came around clean and he did a very good job. We are pretty confident right now, especially on the road and street courses."

- Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi drove to his third top-three finish of the season with a third place in the 112-lap Molson Indy Toronto and was able to close the gap on fourth place in the CART FedEx Championship to one point. After he started the race in fifth place, Fittipaldi held his position until his first of three mandatory pit stops on lap 34 and came out of the pits ahead of previous third place runner Bruno Junqueira.

He held fourth place until his next stop on lap 62 and came out in the same position but moved into third place on lap 73 when previous second place runner Paul Tracy slid off course and Fittipaldi took over third place behind Kenny Brack. As was the case for most frontrunners for the majority of the race, Fittipaldi encountered trouble passing backmarkers on the tight street course. By lap 80, Fittipaldi was only one second behind Brack but the gap slowly grew between the ensuing caution periods for Tracy (87-90) and Bell and Junqueira's accident (93-95). With the majority of the field, Fittipaldi made his third and final stop on lap 88 and returned to the track in third place which he held until the checkered flag after 112 laps.

He earned 14 points for his third place finish and closed the gap to one point on fourth place Michel Jourdain, who only earned one point for his 12th place finish, in the standings. It was his third podium appearance of the season after a third place finish in Mexico and second place in Laguna Seca. He also narrowly missed making another podium appearance with his fourth place finish in Milwaukee. Following are his post race comments:

"We were pushing it all the time," said Fittipaldi. "On my last stint I was trying to hang with this man [Kenny Brack] and I ended up burning off my tires. Thank God that Bruno [Junqueira] was in front of us and he was holding us up because that managed to keep the gap between Kenny and I pretty close. The two middle stints were very good. My car had a good balance and on the last stint I had a lot of push. Apart from that, mechanically everything was perfect. I think the only struggle we had was in the middle of the race when some back markers didn't help out there, but apart from that, it was a trouble-free race. Obviously, Cristiano is definitely on a roll. Apart from that, I think there were two races this season that I failed to score any points in because I had some small mechanical problems. The last race I lost a wheel. In Long Beach, we had a gearbox problem and had to stop again. What happened in Portland was a racing incident. That's definitely going to happen, probably two or three of those during the whole season. When we were racing over there with Paul [Tracy] - I don't think it was anyone's fault. We were just trying too hard. But both these races that I didn't finish, I know I wasn't in a position of winning them, but in Long Beach, I probably would have finished third or fourth. That was a bunch more points. Then last race, I probably would have finished in the top six. And that would have been a bunch more points. So instead of having 57, now I probably would have had maybe more than 70 points and I would be P-2. But Cristiano is definitely on a roll. No doubt about it, he's very, very quick. And everything seems to be working his way. He's going through an excellent phase. What can you say? I guess you just have to work a little bit harder at it and try to go for it. But there's nothing I can say apart from the fact that I need to try harder and I am happy that when I can get it together, I can finish on the podium. Maybe I will have to lose a little bit more weight also."

- Manufacturing Success: Today's victory marked the 17th for Toyota since joining the series and sixth in eight races so far this season. Nine of those 17 were won by da Matta. For the fourth consecutive race, Toyota-powered cars finished one-two with Cristiano da Matta leading Kenny Brack and Christian Fittipaldi in a 1-2-3-podium sweep. In addition to the four straight 1-2 finishes, it also gives Toyota its second 1-2-3 podium sweep in the last four races. It was also the 114th for chassis manufacturer Lola, of which 62 were won by Newman/Haas Racing.

- Big Crowd: The three-day total attendance figures for the Molson Indy Toronto was 168,421 with 73,160 of those showing up on race day.

- Next Up...Round 9 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship, the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland, Presented by Firstar will take place next Sunday and will be televised live by CBS Sports at 1:30 EST. Newman/Haas Racing has won two events at the track (Michael Andretti 1991, Mario Andretti 1988) and three pole positions (Michael Andretti 1989, Mario Andretti 1983-1984). Da Matta's highest finish in Cleveland as well as his first Champ car podium finish of third place came at the track in 2000. Fittipaldi led the race two different years although mechanical failures in both events dropped his highest finish to sixth place in 1997.

-nhr-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Kenny Brack , Townsend Bell , Mario Andretti , Rick Mears , Cristiano da Matta , Al Unser , Michel Jourdain