CART drivers achieve high speeds in Texas

Saturday, April 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ CART drivers now have no doubt they are in for a tough, fast race at Texas Motor Speedway.

There was speculation before this week about what they could expect on the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked oval during the inaugural Firestone Firehawk 600. Afte two practice sessions and nearly four hours on the track Friday, there were no more questions.

``The place is fast. We are flat out all the way around,'' said Max Papis, whose 231.683 mph session was only the eighth-fastest Friday.

Unprecedented force and stress will be placed on the cars and the drivers because of the 24-degree banking.

``It was like my F-16 ride I took in Ohio. It's pulling my stomach, my arms and even the skin on my face to the right,'' Papis said.

Cristiano da Matta, the CART season points leader after his first two races for Newman-Haas Racing, said the track might not be technically challenging, but it is unique for the world's fastest race cars.

``The track is physically demanding from the standpoint of G-forces. We are pulling 5 Gs in the corners and the steering gets pretty heavy,'' da Matta said. ``The track is not physical like a road or street course in terms of constantly using your strength to turn the car, but the loads are pretty high.''

Kenny Brack, who ran five races on the Texas track while driving in the Indy Racing League from 1997-99, turned in the fastest lap of the day at 233.785 mph _ just .024 ahead of Tony Kanaan and .115 faster than Paul Tracy.

Of the 28 drivers, 25 were within a second of each other. Brack predicted that speeds during qualifying Saturday would be in the 230-233 mph range.

Christian Fittipaldi, da Matta's teammate, had the sixth-fastest lap Friday at 231.955, but expressed concern about the track.

``It's definitely not built for our race cars, there is no doubt about it,'' Fittipaldi said. ``We just have to make the best out of it. We can't bail out now.''

Fittipaldi has two career victories, including the 2000 season finale at California in CART's last oval race. Da Matta was also an oval winner last year.

Da Matta is off to a fast start replacing Michael Andretti. After winning the CART season opener in Mexico in his debut for Newman-Haas Racing, he finished second in Long Beach, Calif.

``Obviously, it's going very well. I couldn't ask for a better start,'' da Matta said. ``The period of getting used to the team and the team getting used to me went really fast during the offseason. I thought the process was going to take longer, so that makes me feel really positive about the whole season.''

Before winning on the 2-mile road course in Mexico this year, da Matta got his only other victory _ the only one in his two years with PPI Motorsports _ last season on the 1-mile oval in Cicero, Ill. He held on to beat Andretti, the driver he would later replace at Newman-Haas.

Andretti, the circuit's winningest active driver with 40 career victories, gave up his 10-year association with Newman-Haas (1989-92 and 1995-2000) after last season. He opted for a new deal with Barry Green.

Newman-Haas filled the coveted ride abandoned by Andretti with da Matta, the 27-year-old Brazilian who was the 1998 Indy Lights Champion before making all 40 CART starts the past two seasons for PPI.

Da Matta insists that he never concerned himself about who he was replacing.

``My job is to drive the car as fast as I can and not worry about that,'' da Matta said. ``If we keep getting results like we have right now, there won't be any pressure.''