Cristiano Da Matta believes that Helio Castroneves should have no cause for complaint following his demotion to fourth place in the official results of Saturday's Rockingham 500 at the Rockingham Motor Speedway, a demotion that gave Da Matta his first podium finish in 14 races for Newman-Haas Racing.

After a miserable German weekend for the entire Newman-Haas team at the EuroSpeedway last weekend, Brazilian Cristiano Da Matta gave the team a good reason to smile at Rockingham motor Speedway as he scored his first podium finish since round two of the 2001 CART FedEx Series at Long Beach and the team's first podium finish since Portland back in June. However Da Matta's third place finish in the inaugural Rockingham 500 in England only came as a result of Helio Castroneves' demotion from third position as a result of overtaking under yellow flags and violating pit lane regulations.

Cristiano scored his third podium of 2001 in England after a weekend of cancelled sessions due to water problems at the new track and a post race protest that moved da Matta to his previous position of third place ahead of Helio Castroneves who passed under a full course yellow track condition during the event. The incident occurred following pit stops at the conclusion of lap 100 and the beginning of lap 101 as Castroneves passed da Matta beyond the blend-out line as the field was attempting to return to the race track. Newman/Haas Racing filled a post race protest and CART ruled in the team's favour after a post-race review of video as well as CART Timing and Scoring information by the CART Chief Steward Chris Kneifel.

On-going water problems forced the total of on-track laps to be 10 between Thursday and Friday on the 1.47-mile four-turn oval. Due to the limited track time, starting positions were determined by point standings and da Matta started in eighth place for the previously scheduled 215-lap event that was to begin at 12:30 PM local time but was postponed to 3:10 due to an expanded schedule on race day that would see a practice session take the place of a 30-minute morning warm-up.

Ultimately the schedule had to be amended again and the race got underway at 4:38 PM. On the first lap, da Matta moved into seventh place when he passed previous seventh place starter Patrick Carpentier. Also on the first lap, 12th place starter Max Papis lost control of his car on the front straightaway and Bruno Junqueira and Tora Takagi subsequently lost control of their cars and spun in order to avoid those in front of them. Once the race was restarted, da Matta held seventh place until his first pit stop on lap 53 during the caution period to check for debris following Michel Jourdain's spin.

The Texaco/Havoline/Kmart crew performed a flawless and quick pit stop that enabled da Matta to move from seventh to third place ahead of Dario Franchitti, Michael Andretti, Castroneves and Scott Dixon. He held third place until his next stop also under caution for a track inspection following Adrian Fernandez's apparent engine failure. As the field pitted, da Matta's team performed another quick stop and he left the pit box area in third place on the pit exit road. Castroneves passed both da Matta and Michael Andretti on the inside in an area where the team believed remained the reduced speed zone. The team informed CART of this but no action was taken before the restart or during the race that was shortened from an already reduced 168 laps to 140. The race re-started on lap 104 and da Matta held his position of fourth place until the chequered flag after 140 laps.

Race winner Gil de Ferran made a last second pass on Kenny Brack to take the victory. With his third place finish, da Matta moved from eighth place in the point standings to fifth with a total of 92 to leader Kenny Brack, who has 147.

"I think Helio forgot that CART changed the speed limit on that part of the lane for pit out because of Zanardi's accident," said da Matta. "He clearly did not follow the rules and everyone could see that he sped past both Michael and myself but he did not get penalized. I am glad we were able to finish third. We didn't get to celebrate on the podium but we celebrated on our own after we found out.

"The car was a little loose but I am very happy with the fact that we ran up front today and scored some points. The guys did a great job on my first pit stop and I got by four people. That put us in the game for a podium finish and we should have gotten it. Balance wise we were fine but we just needed a little more grip. I am happy we were able to get the race in for the fans. I hope they enjoyed the action. From where I was sitting, there was a lot of action going on. Hopefully the problem with the track is an easy one to fix."

"We protested because of the actions of car No. 3," said Brian Lisles, General Manager of Newman/Haas Racing. "When Helio was exiting the pits after his second pit stop, he improved his position by either speeding and/or violating the pit blend line procedure. CART agreed with our protest and found that he had violated the pit lane exit blend procedure thereby overtaking under yellow and awarded us a third place finish."

Newman-Haas' other driver, Christian Fittipaldi, did not enjoy a successful afternoon and retired from the race on lap 52 with a broken gearbox after qualifying 13th and running on the fringes of the top dozen during the first stint of green flag running.

Once the yellow flag waved on lap 50 to check the track for debris following Michel Jourdain Jr's spectacular spin on the front straight, Fittipaldi reported to his crew that he thought he had a drive train or gearbox problem. He held his position until being forced to coast into the pits and retire from the race after completing 52 laps. Fittipaldi held his 13th place in the point standings with 54 points but lost ground to the leader Kenny Brack who now has 147 following his second place finish. Following are his post race comments:

"Something just broke in the drive train or the gear box and I coasted into the pits," said Fittipaldi. "The car was good on balance and we could have possibly picked up some place in the pit stops. I lost three positions earlier in the race when I was trying to pass (the lapped car of) Memo Gidley. I thought he was going to let me pass but he pulled down and I had to lift and the other guys passed. The day was not any tougher because we had to condense everything. It was the same for everyone and we had enough track time in the morning.

"Today wasn't hard but my season has been very tough," continued the Brazilian. "Especially the last couple of races have been difficult with DNF's (did not finish). We hope to get back in the thick of things in the next couple of races. Houston is an important race for our team because of Texaco/Havoline and Carl's involvement in the race. We should be good in Australia as well as Laguna and Fontana (defending champion). There is still some championship left and we can win a race or two."



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