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Opening round joy for Cristiano.

Cristiano Da Matta scored his second career CART victory on his debut appearance for the Newman-Haas team in the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix beating defending CART Champion Gil De Ferran to the flag in a gruelling two-hour time limit race.

Newman-Haas Racing have a habit of winning the opening round of the Fed-Ex Championship Series especially when a river named Andretti is behind the wheel but on a day where there was no Andretti in Newman-Haas colours for the first time since 1983, Cristiano Da Matta continued that fine tradition in his debut race for the team who were also running with the Lola-Toyota chassis/engine combination for the very first time.

Da Matta's victory was his first on a road course after his first win on the Chicago short-oval last August and the 27-year old Brazilian coped superbly with a track that began to break up early in the 78 lap race, cut by two laps owing to CART's two-hour time limit on non-oval race tracks. With just one, narrow racing line and plenty of slippery stuff inches off-line, Da Matta drove a faultless race as he led the most laps and held off Gil De Ferran by a fraction under two seconds at the flag after his team-mate Christian Fittipaldi brought out a late race caution when he became the third driver to smack the Turn 12 wall.

Starting from the outside of the front row, Da Matta followed pole-sitter Kenny Brack for the opening 44 laps of the race that included two caution periods for separate wall-banging incidents and the ridiculously slippery final turn as first Max Wilson and then Roberto Moreno came to grief.

Last season's Rookie of the Year Brack, driving Team Rahal's first race with a Lola chassis for some time, was able to hang on to his lead away from each re-start and was quite content to run roughly three seconds ahead of Da Matta, Helio Castroneves and De Ferran in the two Team Penske Reynard-Honda's and Michael Andretti in the similar Team Motorola example.

However on lap 44 the Swedish driver suddenly slowed on the far side of the circuit with an inexplicable loss of power and Da Matta was through just as Brack's car regained power in time to keep him in second. To ad further confusion to the issue, Brack then quickly erased the two-second lead he had given Da Matta and by lap 47 the top two were together with Brack looking very determined to re-take the lead.

Almost too determined as it turned out as after a couple of half chances, Brack committed himself on the run into Turn Eleven on lap 52 and powered down the inside of Da Matta only to run wide on the dusty surface and overshoot the turn, almost taking Da Matta with him onto the grass.

Brack lost several seconds as he fought to regain the prepared surface and that time was to prove costly four laps later when he made his second and final fuel stop, Da Matta pitting one lap later and coming out with a sizable advantage. Brack's lost time even allowed Paul Tracy, who had risen from 14th on the grid to sixth prior to the final stops, to close right up to the Shell sponsored machine as they exited the pits and De Ferran was able to get out ahead of the Swedish driver when he made his stop on lap 58.

Moving into the picture at this stage was Dario Franchitti in the second Team KOOL Green Reynard-Honda, the Scottish driver reaping the benefits of good fuel mileage in the early going and staying on the track until lap 59, setting the fastest lap of the race on his final flying lap, 1 minute 15.403 seconds only two tenths slower than Brack's pole-time.



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Cristiano Da Matta, Newman-Haas Racing, Lola-Toyota
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