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Published: Monday, 7/15/2002

CART notebook: Da Matta forced out, still gains 2 points

BY DAVE WOOLFORD
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

CLEVELAND - The “other” drivers vying for the CART championship got what they hoped for yesterday at the Cleveland Grand Prix on Burke Lakefront Airport.

With Cristiano da Matta dominating the series, leading by a very sizable 48 points and on a record pace to break a lot of records, all those in arrears could only hope problems would eventually assault the pint-sized Brazilian.

Their wishes came true, but not their ascension.

Seeking a CART-record fifth consecutive triumph, da Matta fell out of the race after only 22 laps because of a mechanical problem. He wouldn't win for the sixth time in the first nine races this season and put a headlock on the title.

But, oddly enough, da Matta actually extended his points lead from 48 to 50 over second-place Bruno Junqueira and third-place Dario Franchitti.

That's because neither Junqueira nor Franchitti finished the race, either. While da Matta's final standing was 16th, Junqueira was 13th and Franchitti 14th. Neither got any points in the race while da Matta picked up a pair of bonus points, one each for winning the pole on Saturday and the provisional pole on Friday during qualifying. He was also fastest in all of the qualifying sessions.

“It was the least-worst thing that could possibly have happened because Bruno and Dario didn't get any points,” da Matta rationalized.

He's still on pace to top Alex Zanardi's CART record of 285 points in 1998. Zanardi had 134 after the first nine races that season. Da Matta, ahead of Zanardi's pace going into last weekend, now has 120.

Five of the pre-race top six drivers in points failed to finish the race and went home scoreless. It did bring the 10 drivers from positions 2-11 to within 20 points of each other.

TOP ROOKIE: Rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay of Boca Raton, Fla., easily won his third CART Toyota Atlantic Championship Series race of the season here yesterday, leading from start to finish.

The 21-year-old Hunter-Reay, who won 40 national go-kart races and 11 championships, defeated runner-up Jon Fogarty of Palo Alto, Calif., by about seven seconds.

FEWER STANDS, FANS: While the stands were all but packed, there were fewer stands for yesterday's Cleveland Grand Prix than in previous years.

Attendance was announced at 51,317, about 10,000 fewer than was announced in previous years.

Corporate participation was also lagging in Chalet Village, where business types hang out and entertain customers.

“What is happening now, because of the economy in the United States [regarding] baseball, basketball, football, corporate America has cut back on ticket purchases,” explained new CART CEO Chris Pook. “Call up [baseball commissioner] Bud Selig, [NFL commissioner] Paul Tagliabue, they'll tell you. Call the NHL. Everybody is hurting in the corporate area. But the core product is still great.”

EXHAUST FUMES: Southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd, a band perhaps more suited for the NASCAR crowd, played a post-race concert next to the pit area. Skynyrd also sang the national anthem. ... The 18-car starting field was the smallest in the race's 21-year history. ... Carpentier is the third Canadian to win in Cleveland. Paul Tracy won in 1993 and Jacques Villeneuve was first in 1995. ... As soon as Burke Lakefront Airport reopened following the race, the first plane to take off was a jet piloted by Adrian Fernandez, who finished 11th. ... Michael Jourdain Jr. finished ninth, extending his scoring streak to nine races.



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