Da Matta Serves Notice of Intent

After an unhappy one-and-a-half-year spell in Formula One with the Toyota team, Cristiano da Matta achieved a measure of redemption in Portland by winning his first Champ Car race since returning to the series at the beginning of this season

The 31-year-old's stellar drive chalked up another milestone by delivering the first win for the PKV Racing team owned by Kevin Kalkhoven, Dan Pettit and teammate Jimmy Vasser.

It also launched da Matta to fifth in the points standings, and may even herald the beginnings of a championship challenge from the 2002 title holder.

Unlike his win from pole at Portland in '02, he achieved this one the hard way, starting 10th and using a bold out-of-sequence pit strategy to leapfrog ahead of the competition. Once in front, he had the speed to make the strategy count.

"I've always liked this track," explained da Matta, relieved to discover he can still find victory circle.

"Since the start, all I was asking of the team was to get me in a clear gap. I knew when I was stuck in traffic there was not much I could have done.

"I knew that was the time [once in clear air] I had to just go and push as hard as I could. We weren't worrying at all about the fuel mileage. I didn't expect to be able to pull away that much. At a certain point, I had a 12-second lead which was more than I expected.

"We were starting 10th which is already borderline for the defensive strategy [the alternative ploy of pitting early]. We thought if we have a good start, we'll just play it normal. But my start wasn't very good at all because I dropped down to 13th.

"So it was an easy decision. I told the team on the radio, 'From here I'm not going to be make many positions. I'm just stuck. But I feel like I can go much faster.'"

Da Matta's achievement was especially praiseworthy given that he completed all three of his pit stops under green-flag conditions while the other drivers took advantage of the only caution period of the race to take on service.

Hard on the heels of Vasser securing PKV's first pole at Milwaukee, da Matta's Portland triumph signals that the third-year outfit are now really making progress up the Champ Car food chain.

Procuring the services of the Brazilian (in place of the backmarker Roberto Gonzales) filled in one big piece of the jigsaw. An equally important step was bringing veteran team manager Jim McGee on board as General Manager.

Even so, PKV determined that they were at a disadvantage at the start of the season. In particular, other teams were using a superior differential and shock package that resulted in less tyre wear. The parts have been on order for months and the team hope to be using them by Toronto.

"We're trying to catch up to the other guys, doing all the development programs that we weren't able to do in the off-season," explained da Matta. "We still have to make sure that we understand exactly how to be consistent everywhere we go.

"It's a bit too early to put pressures on ourselves to be on the podium all the time. We can at least have the dream to fight for the championship at the end of the season. [But] we still have a lot of work to do."

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