Cristiano da Matta, making his last start for PPI Motorsports, failed to provide the postscript he had hoped for Orange County team owner Cal Wells III.
Da Matta, who has not made an official announcement about his future but according to Wells will join Newman-Haas Racing, was a hard-luck finisher Sunday at the Marlboro 500 at California Speedway. His crash on Lap 22 brought out the day's first caution flag--which later became a red flag because of rain.
He will not be allowed to restart when the race resumes today at 10 a.m.
Da Matta, whose oval race victory at Chicago provided Wells his only Champ car win as an owner, was an unfortunate bystander when Paul Tracy's car started falling apart.
After da Matta had moved his Toyota-powered Reynard from 18th to 12th place, the suspension connecting the chassis with the right front tire was broken when it was struck by the pop-off valve from Tracy's car.
The wheel turned outward, carrying da Matta into the Turn 4 wall at 220 mph. His only injury was a bruised knee.
"It's my last race for PPI, and PPI's last race--of course I wanted to do well," da Matta said.
Despite da Matta's comment, Wells still doesn't know if this was Santa Margarita-based PPI's final Champ car race. He told employees last week to use the weekend as a job fair, but hasn't made a definitive announcement about the team's future because, he said, "Every time it looks like we're dead in the water, something else comes up that's pretty encouraging."
Da Matta, who began the day 10th in the series championship standings, will be credited with 25th place among 26 drivers and will not receive any championship points; Tracy will be 24th.
Rookie Oriol Servia, who also drives for PPI, took over da Matta's spot in 12th place before the race was red-flagged. He qualified 16th.
Servia could remain with PPI next season if Telefonica renews its contract. The Spanish telecommunications company is expected to provide an answer to Wells within the week.
Andrew Bordin of Laguna Niguel, who took third in the Toyota Atlantic Series, sustained a fracture and dislocation of his C-4 vertebra when he crashed into the wall in Turn 2 while giving guest rides in a pace car. Bordin, who drove last season for PPI, was taken to Loma Linda Hospital along with his passenger, Yoshimichi Inada.
Inada is senior managing director at Pioneer Electronics, sponsor of Wells' Champ car team. Inada, briefly knocked unconscious, suffered a laceration on his head and was kept overnight for observation.