Da Matta wins in Chicago

The young Brazilian was always in contention throughout the 225-lap race, then leapt to the front of the field during the final pit stop sequence. When nearest challenger Juan Montoya went out with yet another mechanical problem, da Matta was able to pull away from the pack and secure a fully deserved maiden victory for himself and his team.

Da Matta wins in Chicago

The drama began even before the flag in Chicago, as 1999 polesitter Max Papis pulled into the pits on the pace lap with his Team Rahal Reynard on fire.

Juan Montoya maintained his advantage when the race got underway, building a 0.8s lead over Helio Castroneves. Kenny Brack jumped Tony Kanaan for third at the start with da Matta running fifth ahead of Jimmy Vasser at this stage.

Meanwhile Michael Andretti was making up ground slowly from his 15th starting spot, moving up to 12th by the time the yellows came out on lap 18 after Mark Blundell's expiring Reynard-Mercedes left fluids on the track. Andretti then dived in for his first pit stop in what would turn out to be an inspired move.

No sooner had the race been restarted than Memo Gidley and Gualter Salles tangled in turn one, with the Brazilian hitting the wall heavily.

Disaster then struck for Castroneves at the restart. Reporting a throttle problem, he cruised round intending to get back to the pits, only for his Honda engine to explode in a spectacular display of flame-throwing.

Another full course yellow inevitably followed, with everyone pitting bar Brack, Vasser, Michel Jourdain Jr, Andretti and Tarso Marques.

These five cars then led the queue at the restart, with an anxious Montoya tight up behind them and being hassled by da Matta.

Montoya was being held up by Marques in fifth, but eventually the Colombian got alongside on the outside line and took fifth despite Marques best efforts to squeeze the Ganassi Lola into the wall.

Once clear of the traffic jam, Montoya started lapping a second faster than anyone else. He was just moving in on fourth-placed Andretti when the Team KOOL Green cars tangled and visited the wall in turn one. Dario Franchitti had been making rapid progress through the field and had just passed Tracy for ninth. His team-mate retaliated and got alongside, but Franchitti didn't see him and turned in, causing both cars to spin into the concrete.

The subsequent flurry of pit stops saw Ganassi leapfrog everyone and get Montoya out in the lead. An amazing Patrick Racing stop allowed Roberto Moreno to appear in fourth having been outside the top ten all race, while da Matta remained fifth.

For the next 30 laps the crowd was treated to another tight dice between Montoya and Andretti, with Kanaan shadowing the pair of them in third. Da Matta wasted no time in disposing of Moreno and taking fourth.

On lap 141 Andretti took advantage of lapped traffic to dive inside Montoya and snatch the lead. Montoya tried to cling on around the outside but was forced to give way. He stayed close however and 20 laps later it was his turn to play the traffic to his advantage and slip back into first place.

Da Matta was third by now after gearbox failure had cruelly forced Kanaan into the pits and out of the race. The PPI Motorsports team went through the whole spectrum of human emotion during the final pit stop sequence. Firstly, they had the joy of jumping da Matta from third to first through a combination of an excellent stop and out laps, plus a slow stop for Andretti and traffic trouble for Montoya. But then when their second driver Oriol Servia made his stop, the Spaniard's car moved too soon and two crewmen were knocked down in the confusion. There was a brief fire as the refuelling rig was dragged out of position but no-one was seriously hurt.

Patrick Carpentier, who will find out this week if he is to be retained by Player's/Forsythe for 2001, then brought the yellows out with a graceful spin into the wall. It was during this pace car period that Montoya pulled off course, the wisps of smoke from the engine cover suggesting another Toyota blow-up.

This made life a lot easier for da Matta, and his electrifying pace immediately after the restart saw him instantly pull out a 4s cushion over Andretti. This was whittled down to just under a second in the closing laps as da Matta struggled to lap traffic, but it always looked like the PPI driver had the race under control, and he duly took the flag 1.7s ahead.

"It's very good because we were kind of knocking on the door from a few races ago," da Matta said afterwards. "We've been getting better and better and now finally we've achieved it."

Andretti's second place extends his championship lead to 22 points over Roberto Moreno. Gil de Ferran braved the pain of his broken finger to take third after an unobtrusively impressive drive for Penske, with Brack fighting his way back through to fourth.

The Patrick cars of Adrian Fernandez and Moreno completed the top six after good strategy kept them in contention on a weekend where the team had struggled for pace somewhat.



1 Cristiano da Matta PPI Reynard-Toyota
2 Michael Andretti Newman-Haas Lola-Ford + 1.690s
3 Gil de Ferran Penske Reynard-Honda + 2.519s
4 Kenny Brack Rahal Reynard-Ford + 2.784s
5 Adrian Fernandez Patrick Reynard-Ford + 14.686s
6 Roberto Moreno Patrick Reynard-Ford + 15.549s
7 Mauricio Gugelmin PacWest Reynard-Mercedes + 1 lap
8 Jimmy Vasser Ganassi Lola-Toyota + 1 lap
9 Alex Tagliani Forsythe Reynard-Ford + 2 laps
10 Memo Gidley Della Penna Reynard-Toyota + 2 laps

Retirements:

Michel Jourdain Jr Bettenhausen Lola-Mercedes
Juan Montoya Ganassi Lola-Toyota
Shinji Nakano Walker Reynard-Honda
Patrick Carpentier Forsythe Reynard-Ford
Oriol Servia PPI Reynard-Toyota
Tony Kanaan Mo Nunn Reynard-Mercedes
Luiz Garcia Jr Arciero PRG Reynard-Mercedes
Tarso Marques Coyne Swift-Ford
Paul Tracy Green Reynard-Honda
Dario Franchitti Green Reynard-Honda
Helio Castroneves Penske Reynard-Honda
Gualter Salles Coyne Lola-Ford
Mark Blundell PacWest Reynard-Mercedes
Max Papis Rahal Reynard-Ford


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