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Cristiano da Matta tops test times at Fontana

 March 8, 2005

It hasn’t taken long for 2002 Champ Car World Series champion Cristiano da Matta (#21 PKV Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to climb back the top of the time charts, but Tuesday’s testing at Fontana showed that the rest of the field wasn’t about to let him get away clean.

Da Matta led a field of seven Champ Car drivers on the 1.45-mile Fontana road course during a full day of testing under sunny Southern California skies, posting a best time of 53.27 seconds. The effort didn’t give him much in the way of breathing room however, as the seven cars were separated top-to-bottom by a scant 0.64 seconds.

The 2002 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford champion led Justin Wilson (#9 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) by 0.03 seconds and the impressive Timo Glock (#8 Rocketsports Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) by another 0.01. With the Long Beach season opener looming less than five weeks away, da Matta feels that today’s results bode well for the 2005 season opener.

“I think that after the first hour of being in the car in my first test, I was feeling comfortable enough to start seriously working on getting the car better,” da Matta said. “This team is really making big strides every time we go out and if we keep progressing like this, I think we could be in position to do well at Long Beach.”

Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was just a tenth of a second off da Matta’s pace after carding a time of 53.37 seconds. A day-long effort of working through different shock combinations and settings paid dividends at the end of the day with a quick time, and Tracy feels that tomorrow’s testing will be even more beneficial.

“I’m pretty happy with how the day went. We got through a lot of our test items and found some good things,” he said. “Getting through the list took up a large part of the day but I think it gives us a great starting point for tomorrow so we can work on some other areas.”

Mario Haberfeld (#5 Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) made his first appearance of the 2005 preseason in the Walker Racing machine, which switches from Reynards to Lolas for the ’05 campaign. Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 Rocketsports Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ran his first full day of testing as an official member of the Michigan-based Rocketsports squad, as the team announced the signing of the third-year American driver today. Canadian phenom Andrew Ranger (#14 Mi-Jack/Conquest Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) also put in a full day of testing today, turning heads with a competitive time in his first day in the Mi-Jack/Conquest car.

“Man these cars are a lot of fun,” beamed Ranger. “It was good for me to get out here and see where I stand. I felt very comfortable with the Mi-Jack team, and working with David Faustino as my engineer made it a little easier for me because we worked together last year.”

Ranger and his agent Alan Labrosse are working diligently to put together a Champ Car program for 2005, coming off a 2004 season that saw Ranger have a successful rookie season in the Toyota Atlantic Championship. The jump to the Champ Cars is a big one for any driver, which makes test days like today valuable teaching tools for the young Canadian.

“The braking zones are tough to master because you really need to carry a lot of speed into the corners,” Ranger said. “You have to be able to go in a lot harder than I did in Atlantics. There is so much more power in the Champ Cars and it takes some getting used to. But for my second full day in one of these cars, I am very happy.”

Testing will continue tomorrow in Fontana with Jimmy Vasser (#12 PKV Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and A.J. Allmendinger (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) expected to join the festivities.

Test Times
Times as reported below were provided courtesy of Cosworth Racing engineers.
1) Cristiano da Matta, PKV Racing – 53.27
2) Justin Wilson, RuSPORT – 53.30
3) Timo Glock, Rocketsports Racing – 53.31
4) Paul Tracy, Forsythe Championship Racing – 53.37
5) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rocketsports Racing – 53.46
6) Mario Haberfeld, Walker Racing – 53.79
7) Andrew Ranger, Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing – 53.91

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