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Da Matta Maintains CART Points Lead

September 2, 2002

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DENVER (AP) _ Cristiano da Matta’s third-place finish in the inaugural Shell Grand Prix of Denver helped him maintain his sizable lead in the season points standings.

With five races remaining, da Matta has a 52-point margin over Sunday’s winner, Bruno Junqueira.

Da Matta earned 14 points, increasing his total to 175. Junqueira got 20 points for winning the race, 1 point for leading the most laps and 1 point for gaining the pole on Saturday, boosting his total to 123.

Dario Franchitti _ who began the day in second place with 106 points, 55 points behind da Matta _ was eliminated in a first-lap collision with teammate Paul Tracy and earned no points. He slipped to third in the standings.

Da Matta, who has won six races this season, qualified a disappointing seventh here but said the weekend ``ended up very good. My car was actually running better than I expected. I was able to keep pace with Christian (Fittipaldi) and (Adrian) Fernandez. When they finally came into the pits, I was able to get them. And that last stop was perfect for us. I’m very pleased with third place.″

Da Matta fretted about finishing because of the high number of mishaps in practice and qualifying.

``I was just worried about finishing this race,″ he said. ``Everybody saw how many mistakes everybody was making in the practice session. So I was very worried just to keep my nose clean on the race course.

``I wasn’t running conservative. I was running as fast as I could. I just didn’t feel I was strong enough to attack.″

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FEUDING TEAMMATES: Franchitti was upset with Tracy, his teammate, after Tracy braked hard, hit Franchitti’s car from behind and went airborne on the fifth turn of the first lap.

``As usual, Paul gets behind the wheel and gets crazy,″ Franchitti said. ``Basically, Paul took us out on the first lap of a 100-lap race. It’s beyond comprehension at the moment how this could have possibly happened. We talked about it before the race.

``Any slim chance we had at the championship is now gone. Time is getting too short.″

Tracy was apologetic and went looking for Franchitti after the race.

``I locked the brakes and I ran over Dario,″ he said. ``I couldn’t avoid hitting him. The track was slick, but nobody else out there hit their own teammate.

``I drove the whole race with a broken heart.

``It was my fault. I tried to miss him but I was committed to the inside line and I had nowhere to go. I feel really terrible for Dario.″

Team owner Barry Green also was peeved at Tracy.

``I’m mad at him right now,″ Green said. ``He took his teammate out. It’s too bad because Dario, after his win last week (in Montreal), was climbing up the points standings.″

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TRACK CHANGES: Race officials announced that the track will be resurfaced for next year’s event, a decision that pleased the drivers.

They complained throughout the weekend that the concrete surface was too bumpy and the asphalt portion didn’t have enough grip.

``I think the whole track has to be repaved and with some proper tarmac,″ da Matta said. ``What we have out there now is very slick.

``But I think the layout of the track is very good. For a first year, it’s not bad. Of course, we wanted to see it better, but it’s a good start.″

Junqueira agreed.

``It’s bumpy where there’s concrete, it’s slippery where there’s asphalt,″ he said. ``If they improve that, it will be great. It’s a good venue and a good stadium. There are a lot of good things about this race.″

The 1.647-mile, nine-turn temporary street circuit is built around the downtown Pepsi Center.

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NEW ENGINES: Ian Bisco of Cosworth Racing, which will be the sole supplier of engines to CART in 2003 and 2004, said Cosworth expects to supply 20 new engines by late November.

``This is my no means a low-tech engine,″ Bisco said. ``This is still a complicated, high-tech engine that we will be supplying next year, and it will be the same engine that everybody will get. Right now, we’ve got parts loaded for 20 cars next year.″

Cosworth replaces Honda and Toyota, which will supply engines to the rival Indy Racing League next season. Ford will also withdraw its engine from CART at the end of 2002.

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PIT STOPS: Fittipaldi was fined $2,500 for blocking Shinji Nakano during Friday’s practice. Nakano ran into the back of Fittipaldi’s car and both cars came to a stop. Moments later, as both cars returned to speed, Fittipaldi began blocking Nakano. ... Junqueira’s win and Scott Dixon’s runnerup finish marked the first time Target/Chip Ganassi Racing finished 1-2 since Jimmy Vasser won and Juan Montoya was second at Houston in 2000. ... Townsend Bell, who lost his ride with Patrick Racing to Oriol Servia, hasn’t raced since July 14 but still leads the CART rookie standings over Mario Dominguez.