Montreal: Dario beats da Matta

Dario Franchitti and Team Green emerged victorious in a battle of strategy against Cristiano da Matta and Newman/Haas Racing in CART's inaugural event at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The key moment in the race came when Newman/Haas called da Matta into the pits under yellow on Lap 12, nine laps earlier than the CART-mandated pit window of 21 laps.

Montreal: Dario beats da Matta

The team may have thought that the rest of the field would follow their lead. But no one did and da Matta was stuck in 12th place when racing resumed.

"We thought a lot about that before the race and we decided to come in if we got an early yellow because the percentages are in that favour," da Matta said. "But it didn't work that way today."

The leaders (Franchitti, Patrick Carpentier, Bruno Junqueira and Paul Tracy) pitted as expected on Lap 21, and da Matta moved back into the top spot three laps later as backmarkers on alternate strategies pitted. But his margin was only 8.6 seconds, and Cristiano was only able to extend it to 11 seconds over Franchitti before he had to pit again on Lap 33.

That put Franchitti in front by 10.2 seconds, and the same pattern continued throughout the rest of the race. The two leaders pitted around 10 laps apart and ran on opposite sections of the track in a race against the clock rather than each other.

Franchitti stopped on Lap 42 and saw his 18.6-second lead over da Matta turn into a 9.4-second deficit. Then da Matta came in a few laps early on his next stop (on Lap 50), but it didn't make a difference in his remote battle with Franchitti.

Junqueira was the only driver who could keep pace with da Matta and Franchitti, but Bruno's Toyota engine gave up the ghost shortly after he and Franchitti made their final stops on Lap 63. Da Matta was left with a 14.5 second lead over Franchitti, and now Paul Tracy ran third, albeit some 37 seconds behind.

Da Matta stopped for the last time on Lap 71, and he caught a break moments later when Adrian Fernandez crashed on the backstretch, bringing out the yellow. That bunched the field, but the lapped car of Shinji Nakano ran between Franchitti and da Matta and he was unable to challenge the Scot in the run to the flag.

Franchitti won by 2.59 seconds in claiming his ninth career CART race win - his fourth in Canada. However, with da Matta claiming second place and two bonus points for qualifying, Franchitti only made up three points on the championship leader. Da Matta leads Franchitti by 55 points with six races remaining.

"Races like today are always fun," Franchitti remarked. "Cristiano and I were always on different parts of the track because of strategy. I couldn't see where he was, but I knew I had to attack every lap and push for every tenth of a second.

"I thought our strategy was better than his," Dario added. "But all he needed was a yellow at the right time and it would have played into his hands. The last yellow bunched us up, but we had Shinji between us and I was able to pull out a bit of a gap."

Da Matta said he was pleased to consolidate his championship lead. "We were kind of conservative because we felt like we couldn't throw any points away. You want to attack and race, but you have to tell yourself to behave."

Tony Kanaan ran the same pit stop sequence as da Matta and turned a 13th place grid position into a third place finish, while Tracy battled with Jimmy Vasser all day to take fourth place. The consistent Michel Jourdain Jnr was sixth ahead of Christian Fittipaldi and Michael Andretti as only 10 of 18 cars were running at the finish.

The key retirements were Kenny Brack (out in a first lap collision triggered by Tracy) and the local favourite, Carpentier, who ran strongly in third before losing an engine. His team-mate Alex Tagliani had an eventful day, but he persevered to be classified 11th.

The Montreal weekend was considered a smash hit for CART, with race day attendance announced at 64,000 and a three-day total of 172,000.

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