Marlboro Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves led all 82-laps of Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach after soaking up tremendous race-long pressure from Cristiano Da Matta and a host of others on a hot day in California.

It was surprising that Helio Castroneves had the energy to perform his usual post-win fence climbing acrobatics after claiming his fourth career CART victory around the bumpy 1.9-mile, 12 turn Long Beach street course for the Brazilian Reynard-Honda driver had spent the previous one hour and 52 minutes keeping a bunch of up to nine cars at bay on a track where overtaking opportunities were at a minimum.

The second round of the 2001 CART Fed-Ex Championship may not have provided much in the way of out-and-out excitement but for all it lacked in drama, the race certainly made up for it in tension and complete precision around the tight confines of the California waterfront.

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The gap from Castroneves back to his pursuers, firstly led by Kenny Brack until he broke his gearbox on lap 31 and the Cristiano Da Matta for the remaining 51 tours, was never more than two seconds and regularly came in at under one but the 25-year old remained faultless throughout and not one did he allow either Brack or Monterrey winner Da Matta to get fully alongside the red and white machine.

Da Matta's best opportunity to take his second consecutive CART victory and the third in a row for Newman-Haas Racing, came a lap after the fourth and final re-start on lap 79 when the Brazilian Lola-Toyota was able to get a good tow from his countryman out of the ludicrously tight final hairpin onto Shoreline drive. Da Matta had the drive into the first corner to make the move but Castroneves sensibly kept his challenger to the outside where a pass was simply impossible, the Marlboro Team Penske driver unruffled by the occasional duck-and-weave from the black machine filling his mirrors.

The eventual margin of victory was a shade over half a second as Castroneves vaults up to third in the Championship behind Da Matta and his Team Penske team-mate Gil De Ferran who completed Sunday's all Brazilian podium.

De Ferran had driven another fine defensive race right from the start from his fifth grid position, holding off an inspired Michel Jourdain Jr in the opening laps and then passing front-row starter Tony Kanaan for fourth shortly after the first caution period on lap ten. However as Castroneves, Brack and Da Matta eked out a massive 2-3 second advantage over De Ferran, the defending CART Champion had his mirrors full of a pack of cars that comprised Kanaan, Jourdain Jr, Dario Franchitti who had been passed by the Mexican Team Bettenhausen driver going into Turn Eight on the opening lap, Jimmy Vasser, last year's winner Paul Tracy and Max Papis.

The leading group remained tight, with less than eight seconds separating them for the opening 25-laps, until the second caution flag of the day came out on lap 29 enabling the leaders to make their crucial first pit-stops where Brack's challenge came to an end, the Swedish driver stalling his Team Rahal Lola-Ford and then cooking the gearbox as he attempted to make up time leaving the pit-lane.

Brack's demise enabled Da Matta to assume second spot while Vasser Patrick Racing crew pulled of a superb stop to move their man up to third place ahead of De Ferran and the remainder of the leading group, now joined by the quickly emerging Patrick Carpentier who benefited from making an early fuel stop under the first caution period.

With racing back underway and many of the leaders looking at their fuel metres (although not Castroneves whose fuel gauge broke in the early laps) to try and ensure that they would be able to make the full race distance on just one more pit-stop, the top ten once again remained tightly bunched with Da Matta making the occasional half-move on Castroneves and Vasser looking threatening in third.

However the only actual passing move amongst the leading group came on lap 48 when Tracy neatly outbraked his Team KOOL Green team-mate for sixth place going into the first corner until the third caution period flew on lap 54 which sent all those who pitted on lap 30 scurrying to the pit-lane for their final fuel stops, Castroneves once again leading Da Matta back out behind the pace car with De Ferran third ahead of Vasser and Tracy.

One driver thinking about fuel stops at this time was the unfortunate Carpentier, whose Player's/Forsythe Reynard-Ford was at the centre of the caution period after running over the rear of Max Papis' Lola-Ford and tearing the Italian's rear-wing off. However in doing so the 29-year old Canadian driver sustained his second broken wrist in just over a year although on this occasion it was his left wrist and not his troublesome right and his participation in the next race on the calendar, at he 1.5-mile banked oval in Texas, is currently in doubt.

The third caution was prolonged slightly when a bizarre incident involving veteran Brazilian's Mauricio Gugelmin and Roberto Moreno ended with Gugelmin's PacWest Racing Reynard-Toyota sitting broadside on the run down to Turn Six and its angry driver gesticulating furiously at Moreno as the field continued to circulate behind the pace-car.

One racing finally resumed on lap 63 Tracy was able to slip underneath Vasser for fourth on the run down to the first corner as Da Matta laid siege on the bows of the leading Reynard-Honda as De Ferran began to come under pressure from Tracy's expertly driven Reynard-Honda.

Although the closing laps promised much, in reality they failed to deliver and despite Tora Takagi doing his best to spice up the action a considerable way in front of him by spinning his Walker Racing Reynard-Toyota into the tyres at Turn One on lap 74, thus bringing out the fourth and final caution, Tracy could not quite get on terms with De Ferran and settled for more valuable Championship points while Vasser rounded out the top five, still only 3.3-seconds adrift of Castroneves.

Franchitti scored a solid sixth place after struggling with a slightly 'off' car all day while Kanaan finished seventh for the second time this year after a slightly disappointing run in Mo Nunn's Reynard-Honda. Best rookie on the day was Nicolas Minassian once again who finished a well deserved eighth after a late race move on his team-mate Bruno Junqueira, arguably one of the stars of the race as he fought from 28th and last on the grid into the points despite suffering a badly blown left rear tyre during the first half of the race.

Behind Junqueira in tenth spot was local man Bryan Herta in the Zakspeed-Forsythe Reynard-Ford while the unimpressive Moreno and the steady Nakano completed the point's scorers in a race that saw 20 of the 28 starters running at the end.

Unluckiest man of the day has to be Michel Jourdain Jr who may have taken the lead after making his second fuel stop under green flags but staying on the lead lap had he not been issued with a pit-lane speeding violation that dropped him to 15th. The young Mexican eventually salvaged 13th place but it was of no consolation to the team whose 2001 season looks very promising when a little luck finally falls their way.

Max Papis was able to soldier on after being assaulted by Carpentier although the Italian was a lap down in 17th place at the end behind Oriol Servia, Michael Krumm and Adrian Fernandez and ahead of only Alex Tagliani who cut a tyre on the opening lap, Scott Dixon who spun into the tyres without serious damage on lap 53 and Max Wilson who finished behind the retired Takagi on official classification a massive 15 laps down on the winner after his Arciero-Brooke team had to replace the Brazilian's rear wing and suspension assembly following an altercation with the tyres.

Joining Takagi, Brack, Carpentier and Gugelmin on the retirement list was Michael Andretti who disappeared from the fray as early as lap three when he felt the electrics die on his Team Motorola Reynard-Honda, Alex Zanardi who was again singularly uninspiring in the second Mo Nunn Racing Honda that is currently suffering from a major handling deficiency just about everywhere it goes, Christian Fittipaldi in the bright-blue Newman-Haas Racing Lola-Toyota and Luiz Garcia Jr who both suffered mechanical problems.

The CART teams have another three weeks off before they re-group in Texas for the inaugural Champ Car event at the ultra-quick, 1.5-mile banked tri-oval that has already been the subject of much scrutiny by the drivers and teams due to the 220mph+ speeds that many are predicting when the Fed-Ex Series comes to town on April 27-29.