9 April 2001
Helio all the way in Long Beach pressure cooker.
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.
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.
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