Cristiano da Matta
wins his first CART Champ Car race
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CICERO, Ill. (July 30, 2000) As Chip Ganassi would say, "you da man". Today Cristiano da Matta was the man as he took his first ever CART FedEx Champ Car win and the first for team owner Cal Wells.
The diminutive driver who measures 5-foot-3 and 130 pounds , took the lead late in Sunday's Target Grand Prix during a series of pit stops. He was able to stay well ahead of points leader Michael Andretti, who remained in da Matta's mirrors through the final 33 laps on the 1.029-mile Chicago Motor Speedway oval.
Da Matta's Toyota-powered Reynard crossed the finish line 1.69 seconds ahead of Andretti's Lola-Ford. He was the ninth different winner in 12 races this season.
"It was incredible," said the 25-year-old da Matta said. "I've won some races in other series, but this was just a different emotion."
The youngster was also very happy for PPI Motorsports owner Cal Wells III, whose team has been at the forefront of the development of the Toyota engine since the company entered the CART FedEx Series in 1996.
"It's his first win, too, and that makes me very happy," da Matta said. "This win is for Cal and for Jeff Krosnoff."
Michael Andretti posted his third consecutive podium finish by coming home second in the Target Grand Prix. Andretti (120 points), who started the race from 15th position, also recorded his fifth consecutive top four finish. Gil de Ferran came home third. Rookie Kenny Brack finished fourth, Patrick Racing teammates Adrian Fernandez and Roberto Moreno finished fifth and sixth, respectively, and rookie Alex Tagliani came home ninth.
Andretti (120 points) increased his lead to 22 points in the race for the driver's championship over Roberto Moreno (98 points). Rounding out the top five in the driver's standings are de Ferran (89 points), da Matta (82 points) and Paul Tracy (80 points). Fernandez is sixth with 79 points, Brack is seventh with 78 points and Patrick Carpentier is 10th with 65 points.
Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) finished sixth Sunday. Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske rounded out the podium with a third-place result and also holds down third in the championship with 89 points.
Team Player's rookie Alex Tagliani recorded his fifth top-10 finish of the FedEx CART season and matched his best performance on ovals in this year's series by taking ninth place in today's attrition-filled Grand Prix of Chicago.
Fourteen of the 24 drivers who started were unable to finish the race, and Tagliani's teammate Patrick Carpentier was among this group, as his Player's Reynard went into a tailspin in corner 3 of lap 171, ending what was shaping up as a very promising day. Carpentier had come from 12th on the grid and was running fifth at the time of the incident.
Da Matta's victory enabled him to take over fourth in the championship with 82 points. He led the final 51 of 225 laps - the first oval laps led of his FedEx Championship Series career - taking over the advantage when rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal made his final pit stop under caution while holding the lead on Lap 174.
Substitute driver Memo Gidley finished tenth in the Target Grand Prix, his second consecutive top ten finish for Della Penna Motorsports. The Chicago race was Gidley's fifth Champ Car event this year, and he now has a record of three top-ten finishes and two mechanical DNF's.
Gidley's eventful day was filled with odd coincidences and ironies. Firstly, Gidley started 20th and finished 10th in both today's race and last Sunday's Michigan 500. Then there was his wheel-to-wheel combat in turn one with Gualter Salles, a battle between the only two substitute drivers in the race. Gidley dived to the inside, his two left wheels below the white line, and ran into the orange Dale Coyne-owned car as Salles drifted inside. Gidley got the better end of the skirmish, skidding to a stop in the middle of the track, as the car owned by one of his 1999 employers shattered against the wall.
Salles emerged from the car unhurt, and two laps later Gidley received a pull-start from the CART safety crew. "I made a mistake," explained Gidley after the race. "We were ahead of Gualter coming into the pits, but he made a tires-only stop and emerged ahead of me. I got a run on him on the restart. That's the problem here in Chicago: when a guy comes all the way inside to block you, you have to go down there too. Now your braking markers and references are all wrong. So Gualter hit the brakes, and I wasn't prepared to brake at that moment. I was too close to him, and ended up hitting him. It was my fault, but if he had held onto his line I would have gotten around him."
After his pit-board man conduced a visual inspection of the front wing, Gidley was cleared to continue without the need for an unscheduled pit stop. Gidley settled in behind race leader Kenny Brack, and ran competitive lap times with the leaders throughout the race, steadily gaining positions through attrition. More wheel to wheel action was in store for Gidley on lap 174, when he and his ex-teammate Alex Tagliani pitted at the same time. Both drivers were two laps down, and whoever emerged from pit exit first would assume eleventh position.
Gidley's Della Penna crew finished their work first, and as he rolled down pit lane under the speed-limiter, Tagliani staged a massive burnout and dragged alongside Gidley towards pit exit. The crowd cheered the unexpected yellow-flag racing action, and CART officials made a judgment call that Tagliani should be awarded the position.
"I was ahead of him at the blend line, and I was ahead by a wheel or two coming onto the track, but somehow they gave it to him," reports Gidley. "After that I wanted to pass him real bad. I was faster than him but couldn't get around him. It would have made my day to pass him."
Gidley ran out the rest of the race filling Tagliani' mirrors, and finished tenth. Gidley got an unexpected opportunities to celebrate on the podium, playing himself as the third-place finisher in a cameo for the upcoming Sylvester Stallone movie. Gidley's next appearances, in racing and the cinema, are as yet unannounced.
"You never know what tomorrow brings," muses Gidley. "I really like the people at Della Penna Motorsports. I learned a lot about driving the ovals in these last two races. Although we didn't win, you know it's gonna happen. We were running very competitive lap times here and in Michigan, and for us that's the biggest gauge. Even when you're two laps down, it's no good to be slow. You have to run competitive lap times so that it meant something to be out there."
Tony Kanaanís bid for his fourth career podium finish and the first for
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
Cristiano da Matta, #97 Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota: "It wasn't an easy race for me. The last restart was the part where I was most relaxed in the car. I was able to get a big lead and I just concentrated on trying to control it. The run before my first pit stop, the car was really loose; I wasn't really expecting that. After I pitted, I had a very clear track ahead of me and I was able to go at almost qualifying pace, while those guys [the other contenders] were in traffic. That was the key to the race for me. It's been almost two years since my last win and it's good to refresh in your mind what it is to win a race. I was never really worried about getting my first win. I knew we were always running in the top five and my experience is that if you can run consistently in the top five, one day the door will open. Everything fell my way today."
Jim Aust, Toyota vice president of motorsports: "I'm absolutely thrilled for Cristiano and PPI. The team's been with us since day one. They deserved it. Cristiano's been fast and fighting up in the top five every week for the past two months. Today, all their hard work was rewarded. On the other hand, I feel terrible for Juan. I think he would have ended up on the podium as well. Finally, kudos to Memo Gidley. He's a racer. He's jumped into a new car without testing at two very different types of tracks and had two top-10 finishes. He has a bright future."
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (#6 Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford-Cosworth) - Finished 2nd - "We did everything we wanted to do today. We wanted to come in and finish in the top five and I would have to say we definitely accomplished that goal and then some. The future was pretty bleak this morning because the car was not good. (Engineer) Peter Gibbons made some changes and the car was much better. We have been struggling in every session all weekend but by the fifth lap I knew the car was good. You couldn't pass with these wings so our strategy was to be ready to do what ever the leaders didn't do. We pitted under the yellow when they didn't and it put us out of sequence but the yellows went put us in second place. We got there because of track position but we got there with a car that could win and that was the important thing. We were staying with Juan until he had his problem. We had a problem on the last pit stop on the right front and Timmy (Cofeen) did a superb job of saving the stop. He had a problem with the lug. I have to say that if it were anyone else, they wouldn't have done as good and it would have put us in fifth sixth or seventh positions back. It was definitely a team effort. The whole Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline team was excellent today. On the last restart, I was a fraction of an inch from losing it. I tried to get by (the lapped car of) Jourdain and got sideways. That gap (behind da Matta) stayed with us until the end when I began reeling him in. I knew we wouldn't get him in traffic though because of the wing. I knew that once I came upon another car I would lose the air and have to stay there. I decided to just bring it home and get the points. He did a superb job and saved a podium finish for us. I don't know where Cristiano came from. They initially told me that he had to come in with Fernandez and Brack then they told me he could make it to the end. It's too darn competitive. There are fifteen guys that can win. I cannot predict who can win any given race. We've got to stay focused and can't get too caught up in it. We've got to keep our minds on our jobs and we will be okay. Everybody on the team is able to contribute and that's the difference. As we go on, we are getting more and more focused. It always comes down to the people. Obviously you have to have the equipment but it comes down to the people gelling and working together. The whole team did a perfect job and the Ford engine was great as well." TALK US THROUGH THOSE LAPS WHEN YOU BEGAN TO REEL CRISTIANO (DA MATTA) AND THEN HE STARTED TO PULL BACK OUT FROM YOU. "Well on that restart I was a fraction of an inch from losing it. I tried to get a jump to get by (Michel) Jourdain and I got sideways and Cristiano was able to open up a full straightaway just in one lap, and that was the gap that stayed there the rest of the way. And then he (da Matta) started to get held up in traffic and then I reeled him in, and obviously you reel in to a certain point with these wings and then can't get any closer and that's basically the way it was. It stayed pretty much status quo there in the end and that was it. I knew as soon as we got within a second or so I would lose all of my air and that's exactly what happened, so then we just ended up staying there. It was predictable from where I was sitting, and that's what happened. But then I was thinking that maybe a mistake would be made, but when I saw Cristiano get by (Mauricio) Gugelmin I thought I better just bring it home now because there's not enough time and that's what I did." COULD YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR BATTLE WITH JUAN (MONTOYA). IT'S GETTING TO BE A WEEKLY THING. "Well Juan is a tough racer and he was doing a heck of a job. He got it a little bit out of shape one time and I was able to take advantage of it. And then I had to get off the throttle a little bit and he took advantage of that, and that's what it's about. He's a hard racer, man, he doesn't back off. I don't back off and we have good racing, but we took care of each other." YOU HAVE A 22-POINT LEAD IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP. HOW DO YOU KEEP UP THAT MOMENTUM? "You've just got to stay focused, I think that's the main thing. We can't get caught up in it because now you guys are going to be talking about it for two weeks, and then it's just saying to the guys, 'let's just keep our minds on our jobs. Let's all of us do our jobs. If we do our jobs we should be okay in the end.' So far everyone is doing what they're supposed to do and we're hoping it will continue."
GIL de FERRAN, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "It was a great day. The weekend started a bit slowly, but last night, we sat down for a couple of hours and had a long, deep think about what we wanted to do, and this morning, the car was very, very good. We just held our own, and the day turned out to be very, very good. My finger was all right; the only thing I had to be careful of was not to bang it on anything in the cockpit."
KENNY BRACK (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth) - Finished 4th - WHAT HAPPENED WHEN YOU STALLED IN THE PITS? "I left it (the car) in neutral a little bit longer than normally because I wasn't sure whether the clutch was going to work or not; it felt lighter than normal. I put it into gear and it was okay, so I put the pedal to the floor and dropped the clutch. The revs came up and even hit the limiter, but I think it didn't clear out all the fuel, so when I dropped the clutch it just stalled." HOW WAS THE CAR? The car felt very good. I don't think we were as fast as (Cristiano) da Matta in the end; we couldn't run with him. But all the way through the race we had a very balanced car all the way through. You know, we dropped to last and came all the way through, so that was good."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#40 Tecate/Quaker State Ford-Cosworth) - Finished 5th - It was a tough day as I predicted. At the start of the race I just passed Mike (Andretti) and Michel Jourdain, Jr., but after that it was very difficult. One restart I had a problem. I tried to go around somebody on the outside and again like Milwaukee I went into the marbles and that was really a problem because I lost a few positions and tried to clean my tires and it's a shame that the (racing) line closes up so quickly. That really limits your ability to make any passes, so at the end I was pretty happy with the result because we were back but we were playing our strategy, and it was well played by the team. They gave me a great car, and after the problems we had yesterday they deserved this fifth place (finish). We just have to keep doing the same thing."
MORENO (#20 Visteon Ford-Cosworth) - Finished 6th - "We got
a little advantage on the yellow, but I think it was a great result
for the team anyhow. Coming from the back, making up so many
positions and we had a good strategy from (crew chief) Jim McGhee
again; it was perfect. We had a lot of vibration at the end when I
caught my teammate Adrian (Fernandez). It was too bad but we just
had to finish like that, so I kept pushing hard and trying to hand
on to it. It was extremely hard but it was a very important points
position for us since we didn't finish the last two races. So we'll
take sixth place; we're very happy and we'll go to the next race to
chase a win."
GUALTER SALLES (#19 Sports Today Ford-Cosworth) - Finished 22nd - WHAT HAPPENED UP THERE IN TURN ONE? "It's just a very stupid situation. We're on lap 18 of the race, I was 18th, he (Memo Gidley) was like 19th and a guy like him should know better. He had cold tires, and you don't break very deep on restarts with cold tires. The guy just hit me from behind and spun me off and destroyed my race early. I know it wasn't on purpose, but a guy like him should know better than that."
BARRY GREEN ďObviously Iím very disappointed for Team KOOL Green. We were in the race with both cars. Paul had just lost a few spots for whatever reason. He got a bit anxious when he saw a hole to get one of those spots back. He got alongside Dario and I donít think that Dario saw Paul. Itís tough to pass here and Paul was trying to make up for some spots he just lost. Itís not a good day. I keep reminding my guys that there are two green and white cars out there and they need to take some consideration that theyíre teammates. Itís tough though because Iíve asked them both to race hard. The championship is still fairly wide open and they both can do well if they have some success. Theyíre trying. In this series today, itís tough.Ē
PAUL TRACY, #26 TEAM KOOL GREEN HONDA/REYNARD/FIRESTONE: (Started 7th / DNF - Classified 19th ; Currently 5th in the standings with 80 points) ďDario had got around me and I was trying to get the position back. I made a move on him, but he was busy trying to work on da Matta and he didnít see me coming. I was down on the edge of the apron and we just barely touched each other. Itís disappointing for both KOOL cars out of the race, but weíll move on from here. It was just a racing incident. Itís so hard to pass with these wings now. Youíve got to make such a big commitment to get by going into the corner. If the guys doesnít see you, thereís no way you can stop on the entry (to the turn) and give enough room. ďItís frustrating because Dario and I have got together a couple of times. But it hasnít upset the team or our program. It cost us some points today, but thereís a lot more races down the road. Weíll just re-group and become a stronger team.Ē
DARIO FRANCHITTI, #27 TEAM KOOL GREEN HONDA/REYNARD/FIRESTONE: (Started 11th / DNF - Classified 20th ; Currently 11th in the standings with 58 points) ďPaul and I discussed it and it was just one of those things Ė it was a racing incident. Paul and I will look at it on tape later and talk about it a bit more. Itís a shame because we had a really good race car. Iím pretty upset for everybody on Team KOOL Green. I didnít see Paul coming down the inside. I donít know how far down the inside he was at the time. Itís just really unfortunate that both KOOL cars were put out of the race that early.Ē
Memo Gidley: ďI was trying to pass Salles going into Turn One on the restart, but he broke sooner than I thought he would and I hit him. There was no damage to the car, just a big black streak on my nose from his rear tire. I kept the engine going, but stalled it trying to back out. That cost us a few laps. The Della Penna Motorsports team and I persevered though again this weekend. The yellows worked out for us and we got one of our laps back. Itís great to have another strong finish for myself and the team.Ē
TONY KANAAN ďIt was great while it lasted. We lost fifth gear a few laps before, and then I lost them all. Itís really unfortunate because we were running really well. The guys were working hard. We had two great pit stops. It was looking like it was going to be a great day. Iím really upset. Luck just isnít on our side right now. But weíll turn that around. Iím sure of it. Thatís the way it goes in racing. We showed up this weekend, thatís for sure. We showed people that we can do it. All we need is a little luck.Ē
MAURICIO GUGELMIN - # 17 NEXTEL PACWEST MERCEDES-BENZ Ė 7th
ďWe ran a very smart race today and we were able to finish with a reasonable amount of points,Ē said Gugelmin.
ďI had a great handling car which was important because this is such a difficult place to pass. I am very happy with my Nextel crew who gave me great pit stops all afternoon and helped us gain track position. Certainly a better qualifying spot would have helped us a lot. This result gives us a needed confidence boost going into Mid-Ohio in two weeks.Ē
Michel Jourdain Jr., Car #16, Herdez/Bettenhausen Motorsports: "My car was great and to have a two-pit stop strategy worked very well. Unfortunately something failed, we don't know what yet. Probably it was something electronic."
Joe Ward, Team Manager, Herdez/Bettenhausen Motorsports: "This was a disappointing result, because the fact we had an undetermined problem on lap 207. We had run as high as third and we were running eighth at the time of the problem. Michel (Jourdain Jr.) drove a great race. Tom (Brown, engineer) set up a perfect car, we did not change it all the race long. Even though our fueling crewmen were both out due to medical reasons, the pit crew did a good job. Now, we look forward to Mid-Ohio."
∑ Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) became the fourth first-time winner of the FedEx Championship Series season, joining Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) at Homestead; Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) at Detroit and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) at Cleveland.
- Today's victory gives Cristiano da Matta four top-five finishes in his last five races. Included along with today's win was a third at Cleveland, a fourth at Toronto and a fifth at Portland. Da Matta also was running in the top five at Michigan, before a pit incident knocked him from the race.
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