Cristiano da Matta used a fast car, quick pit work from his Newman/Haas Racing crew, every bit of racing skill he has - and a bit of help from his closest friend on the circuit - to win his seventh Champ Car race of the year and clinch his first CART FedEx Championship Series title in downtown Miami.
RESULTS: Miami classification & updated standings
Perera ends Sebring test on top
05/02/2008 AT 16:19
Da Matta came from his sixth-place starting position to lead 58 of the 105 laps and win the inaugural Grand Prix Americas on the temporary 1.379-mile street course on the shores of Biscayne Bay. The win was his seventh of the season, and combined with Bruno Junqueira's fifth-place finish, it gave da Matta his first Vanderbilt Cup.
The championship is the first for the 29-year-old Brazilian and the fourth for Newman/Haas Racing, and is the first for the team since Nigel Mansell turned the trick in 1993.
Da Matta's close friend and roommate Tony Kanaan led the race from pole for the first 23 laps, but set the stage for da Matta's ascension through the field when he and Scott Dixon brought out a yellow flag with a Lap 19 crash.
The timing of the caution flag was nearly perfect for some drivers as the pit window to make the race on just two stops opened on Lap 21. All but six cars took the opportunity to pit on Lap 21, but da Matta led the group that stayed on course, effectively moving himself from sixth to first--but only after Kanaan got sent to the rear of the field by CART stewards for causing the Lap 19 accident.
The yellow flag not only moved da Matta into the lead, it also vexed his closest challenger in the championship, as Junqueira was called in on Lap 20 by his Target Chip Ganassi Racing squad, a decision that proved to be a dubious one as the timing of the stop meant that he would have to pit twice more before the end of the 105-lap event as CART rules dictated that everyone had to stop every 42 trips around the course.
The middle part of the race was clean as da Matta, Paul Tracy and Junqueira swapped the lead as their respective fuel strategies cycled through, but just when it appeared that everyone had a handle on the race and how the championship race was going to shake out, things got a bit sideways.
Dario Franchitti, who was trying to keep his title hopes alive, brought out a caution on Lap 90 and bunched the field up behind the leader when he spun and got stuck in Turn Three. The stop not only bunched the field, but also aided the Junqueira cause as he was able to make his final pit stop under the yellow flag and rejoin the fight in seventh place.
Da Matta claimed the championship point for leading the most laps after the Lap 93 restart, meaning that Junqueira would have to climb to fourth place in order to stay in the hunt. One lap later it appeared that all hope was lost as Junqueira and Kanaan tangled in Turn One, sending Junqueira rolling through the runoff lane. He would keep the car moving however and took the subsequent restart in seventh place, needing to pass four machines to stay in the hunt.
Help nearly came four laps later in the form of Jimmy Vasser when Vasser cut inside of Alex Tagliani in Turn Three in a move for fourth, and hit Tracy's car in the rear, spinning him out in the middle of the track. The spin collected Michel Jourdain Jr. and brought out another yellow flag, but Junqueira was trapped behind the stricken cars and could not advance any positions.
The CART Simple Green Safety Team cleaned up the broken cars quickly and got the race restarted with five orbits to run, but Tagliani and Vasser would maintain their spots ahead of Junqueira through the finish, meaning that da Matta would clinch the title by taking a 69-point lead in the series with just 68 points left on the board for the 2002 season.
Da Matta's big day nearly overshadowed another strong run from his Newman/Haas teammate Christian Fittipaldi, as Fittipaldi would finish second for the third time this season, coming home a scant 0.734 seconds behind his teammate. Fittipaldi earned his fifth podium of the year and cemented his hold on fifth place in the title standings.
Vasser would round out the podium in third, taking his best finish since his runner-up placing from the pole in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Season 2008
Perera ends Sebring test on top
05/02/2008 AT 16:14
Conquest to double ChampCar assault
03/01/2008 AT 14:20