Elkhart Lake: Da Matta returns to form

Cristiano da Matta and Newman-Haas Racing won a battle of speed and strategy on Sunday to emerge victorious after 60 flat-out laps of the legendary Road America circuit.

Elkhart Lake: Da Matta returns to form

The 28-year old Brazilian gained positions during his first two pit stops, then had the pace to hold off Alex Tagliani and pole man Bruno Junqueira to claim his sixth win of the season. His CART championship lead now stands at 42 points over Junqueira and Patrick Carpentier, who took seventh on Sunday.

From fourth on the grid, Paul Tracy powered around the outside into second place at Turn 1, then made an authoritative outside pass on Junqueira for the lead at Turn 5. The Canadian still held the top spot after the first round of pit stops on lap 14, but his Honda engine wasn't making fuel mileage as well as the competing Toyotas and Fords and Tracy had to make his second stop on Lap 26.

Junqueira, da Matta and Tagliani ran the maximum allowed number of laps and pitted on Lap 28, and the two Brazilians came out ahead of Tracy, who in turn headed Tagliani and Kenny Brack. The Swede was within five seconds of the lead when he triggered the third round of stops on Lap 36, followed by Tracy on Lap 37, Junqueira on Lap 39, and finally da Matta on Lap 41.

By that time, Tracy and Brack had already eliminated themselves when Kenny unsuccessfully tried a pass entering Canada Corner on Lap 40.

"There wasn't enough room and he got into the side of me," Tracy said.

"He braked late on the outside, I braked late on the inside, but my car started rotating before we actually touched," Brack admitted.

After a three-lap yellow to clear the two Lolas out of the gravel, fourth-placed Dario Franchitti was overtaken on the restart by Tony Kanaan and Carpentier. The Scot's engine lasted just four more corners before expiring in a cloud of smoke.

Carpentier was the first man to make his final pit stop, on Lap 46, and he was unlucky when the yellow again flew four laps later when Shinji Nakano spun off course. That allowed all of the leaders to pit under yellow and also allowed da Matta to maintain his advantage at the front.

Junqueira dropped from second to third during his final stop. In addition to needing more fuel, he hit a crewman's air gun as he entered the pit box. "That's where I lost the race," Junqueira said.

Da Matta kept his cool and maintained his advantage to the flag, winning by 0.805 second after averaging 124.856 mph. It was his 10th career CART race win, tying him with Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Juan Pablo Montoya.

"This is very satisfying after we had a few bad races," da Matta remarked. "It's so rewarding to be back in first. It was a tough race, and Bruno and Tag were running strong. But I was most concerned about just making it to the end. We knew we needed a result to bump start our rhythm and get some momentum again. So it's a fantastic feeling."

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