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Da Matta claims CART win in big way

By Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000


CICERO, Ill. -- Little Cristiano da Matta came up big in his race car Sunday, becoming the fourth first-time winner in CART this season.

The Brazilian driver, who claims to be 5 feet 3 and 130 pounds but appears smaller, took the lead late in the Target Grand Prix during a series of pit stops. He was able to stay well ahead of points leader Michael Andretti, who remained in da Matta's mirrors through the final 33 laps on the 1.029-mile Chicago Motor Speedway oval.

Da Matta's Toyota-powered Reynard crossed the finish line 1.69 seconds -- about 20 car lengths -- ahead of Andretti's Lola-Ford to make him the ninth different winner in 12 races this season.

The victory came in the 51st career start for the 1998 Indy Lights champion.

"It was incredible," the 26-year-old da Matta said. "I've won some races in other series, but this was just a different emotion."

The youngster was almost as happy for PPI Motorsports owner Cal Wells III, whose team has been at the forefront of the development of the Toyota engine since the company entered the CART series in 1996.

"It's his first win, too, and that makes me very happy," da Matta said. "This win is for Cal and for Jeff Krosnoff."

Krosnoff, Wells' driver in 1996, his first full season in CART, was killed in a crash in Toronto.

Da Matta's success didn't just pop out of nowhere, although his best finish in just over a season and a half in the Champ car series was a third earlier this month in Cleveland. He had finished in the top five three times in his last four starts, as well as running competitively in several other races this season before succumbing to mechanical problems.

Juan Montoya, the defending series champion and defending race winner, started from the pole, led 110 laps and seemed headed for another victory before an electrical problem ended his day on Lap 178.

GERMAN GRAND PRIX: Rubens Barrichello scored his first Formula One victory in a wild race in Hockenheim featuring a first-turn crash, a protester walking on the track and the memory of a late champion.

Michael Schumacher was knocked out just after the start for the second straight race and had his lead in the season standings cut to two points.

Barrichello, in a Ferrari, battled from 18th place on the starting grid for the first victory by a Brazilian driver in almost seven years and his first in 123 starts.

Sticking with dry-track slicks after rain started 10 laps from the end, Barrichello finished 7.5 seconds ahead of two-time defending champion Mika Hakkinen, who pitted for rain tires. Hakkinen's McLaren-Mercedes teammate, David Coulthard, was third.

Barrichello covered the 45 laps on the 4.240-mile circuit in 1 hour, 25 minutes, 34.418 seconds, for an average speed of 133.834 mph.

Hugging a Brazilian flag, Barrichello broke into tears on the podium: "I can't believe it, I can't believe it. The last lap was the longest lap in my life."

Barrichello dedicated his victory to Ayrton Senna, the late Brazilian champion who was killed in May 1994 at the San Marino GP. The last GP win for a Brazilian was Senna's victory in Australia in November 1993.

"Since 1984, he changed my life, then I definitely became a racing driver," Barrichello said. "I followed him very much, and he heard me."

With 20 laps left, a man suddenly appeared along the track. Wearing a white plastic rain jacket, the man crossed the track and waved to passing cars before security officials grabbed him. Police later said the man was a 47-year-old Frenchman protesting his dismissal by Mercedes-Benz after working for the German car company for 20 years.

NORTHWEST NATIONALS: Gary Scelzi tied the NHRA record for Top Fuel victories in a season, outrunning Doug Kalitta at Kent, Wash., to win for the sixth time. Scelzi covered the Seattle International Raceway quarter-mile in 4.711 seconds at 303.98 mph. Kalitta was clocked in 4.789 at 291.19. Scelzi won for the 20th time in his career. Also a six-time winner in 1998, he shares with eight others the record for Top Fuel victories in a season.

John Force got his sixth Funny Car victory of the season and in cut into Jerry Toliver's points lead. The win over Frank Pedregon also extended Force's record for victories in an NHRA career to 87.

Richie Stevens got his third career win, defeating Jeg Coughlin in Pro Stock. Stevens went 7.018 at 195.70, crossing the finish line in front of Coughlin, who covered the course in 7.498 at 146.

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