Cristiano Da Matta gave Cal Wells and the entire PPI team their first CART Fed-Ex win with a strong run at the Chicago Motor Speedway.
Reynard-Toyota driver Cristiano Da Matta made it a triumphant day for Brazilian Motorsport by scoring his first Champ Car win in an attrition hit Target Grand Prix of Chicago where only ten of the 24 starters made the finish.
The PPI Motorsports driver moved into the lead for the first time during the final round of green flag pit-stops 50 laps from the end of the 225 lap event. The Brazilian's cause was aided when his nearest challenger Juan Montoya coasted to a halt after leading most of the way.
Da Matta then controlled the pace and kept a four second gap back to second placed man Michael Andretti who had risen from 15th place on the grid in his Newman-Haas Lola Ford by virtue of adopting a different pit strategy during a rash of early race caution periods.The strategy also benefitted Michel Jourdain Jr and Tarso Marques who were elevated to thrid and fifth places for much of the first half of the race.
Towards the end of the race Da Matta was slowed by several backmarkers and the American moved to within 1.5 seconds with just five laps to go but it wasn't to be and Cristiano swept to a deserved first win.
Gil De Ferran and Kenny Brack completed the top four with Patrick twins Adrian Fernandez and Roberto Moreno the only other drivers left on the same lap as the winner. Brack was left to rue a fluffed pit-stop earlier in the race when he was leading the event comfortably. The Swedish rookie stalled his Team Rahal Reynard and was left to fight his way through the field from 16th place.
Fernandez was another driver to make up a lot of ground in a race where overtaking was a rarity. Indeed the turbulence created by the Mark Two Handford wing was so great that it took Juan Montoya more than 20 laps to pass the Swift of Marques as the two battled for fifth early in the race. Fernandez stared 19th and was on the verge of going a lap down on several occasions only to make up ground by virtue of good fuel consumption and slick pit work.
Moreno had a quiet run to sixth place, losing more ground to Andretti in the championship which he now leads by 22 points.
Mauricio Gugelmin, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Tagliani and Memo Gidley were the only other drivers running at the end of the gruelling event which saw Gualter Salles, Patrick Carpentier and both Team Green cars hit the wall with varying degrees of force.
The incident which eliminated both Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy occurred on lap 74 when Tracy dived down the inside of his team-mate in Turn One as the two battled for eleventh place. Franchitti appeared to miss Tracy and turned in on the Canadian, both drivers skating into retirement.