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GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH / NOTES

Situation is Rare, but da Matta's Pass Well Done

April 06, 1998|JIM HODGES

Didier Andre was too hot going into the first turn Sunday, and it cost him every advantage he had accrued in winning the pole for the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights event at Long Beach.

Cristiano da Matta was even hotter going into the same turn, and it won him the race.

Da Matta passed Andre on that first turn, then turned the race into the usual 47-lap parade, winning by 0.459 seconds over Geoff Boss, with Naoki Hattori finishing third.

Da Matta's winning speed of 89.951 mph was a record for Indy Lights at Long Beach. The pass that gave him the lead was the first such maneuver in an Indy Lights race here since 1994.

The key was the start.

"I had a great one," said da Matta, last season's Indy Lights rookie of the year and the current points leader of the series that uses identical 425-horsepower engines and Lola T97/20 chassis.

"I got a good run on Didier, and Didier started faster than you were supposed to start."

Andre had to brake--hard--and da Matta went to the left, the outside of the turn that is at the end of a long front straightaway. "I had to decide to go to the outside, and I was concerned that that would leave the inside for [Sergio] Paese," da Matta said.

But Paese was behind Andre and had to slow his car to avoid a collision. That left the outside for da Matta alone, and it was only a matter of whether he could slow his car before hitting the wall.

"It's a second-gear turn, but I had to put it in first," da Matta said.

He put on the brakes maybe 50 feet closer to the turn than Andre, kept the car off the fence and had it in the lead the rest of the way.

Da Matta needed only to hold off Boss, who passed Andre--who eventually finished fifth after nearly sliding off the course later in the race--with 12 laps to run. Boss began chipping away at da Matta's lead, which had reached 3.7 seconds, and came nose-to-tail with him when Rodolfo Lavin went off the course, prompting a caution flag on Lap 43.

Boss even rammed da Matta just before the restart when he misjudged da Matta's speed.

"But unless he made a mistake, I couldn't catch him," Boss said.

*

The day's final race became another parade when Paul Gentilozzi started on the pole, beat the field to the first turn and stayed in front the rest of the way to win the Trans-Am event in a Chevrolet Corvette.

"It was about as perfect a race as it could be," said Gentilozzi, a former drag racer who ran 52 laps and beat second-place Stu Hayner by 6.65 seconds.

It was Gentilozzi's fourth win in the series, and his second at Long Beach. His other victory there came in 1988.

*

Greg Moore finished sixth in the CART event and could have finished a couple of spots higher had he not been assessed a drive-through penalty for hitting a crewman in his pit.

Tim Wilson, who handles fuel venting, was brushed by Moore's car during a pit stop on the 99th lap, and complained about a sore leg afterward.

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