Cristiano da Matta
- September 19, 1973
- Not Active
Cristiano da Matta is a former Brazilian racing driver whose biggest achievement in a career was the 2002 CART FedEx Championship title. After that, da Matta competed for two seasons (2003 and 2004) in Formula One, driving for Toyota, but without notable results.
He returned to the American open-wheel racing for two more seasons (2005 and 2006), concluding a career with 12 wins and 20 podiums in 101 CART/Champ Car starts. Prior to CART title, da Matta was the 1998 Indy Lights champion, 1994 Brazilian F3 champion and 1993 Brazilian Formula Ford champion.
Cristiano's father Toninho da Matta was also a racing driver
Cristiano Monteiro da Matta was born on September 19, 1973, in Belo Horizonte. His father Toninho was a 14-time Brazilian touring car champion, so Cristiano was interested in racing since childhood. He started racing with go-karts at the age of 16.
After winning numerous races and title, he switched to bigger cars in 1993 and immediately won his first title in the Brazilian Formula Ford. In 1994, he progressed to the Brazilian Formula 3 Championship and added one more title to his CV.
Moving to Europe after winning two titles in Brazil
Cristiano moved to the UK in 1995, to compete in the British Formula 3 Championship with West Surrey Racing. In 18 races he scored one win and three podiums, to finish 8th in the points.
In 1996, da Matta joined Pacific Racing in the International Formula 3000 Championship. His best result was fourth place at Pau and he finished eighth in the points.
Indy Lights - rookie of the Year in 1997 and champion in 1998
In 1997, da Matta moved to the United States to drive in the Indy Lights series for Brian Stewart Racing. With three wins in thirteen races, da Matta finished third in the points and won the Rookie of the Year honors. For 1998 season, Cristiano joined Tasman Motorsports and became the Indy Lights champion. He won four of fourteen races.
In 1999, da Matta debuted in the CART FedEx Championship, driving the Toyota-powered Reynard 99i for the Arciero Wells Racing. He failed to finish in 12 of 20 races, with the best result at Nazareth Speedway, where he finished fourth.
Da Matta scored his maiden CART victory at Chicago
The first CART victory came in July 2000 at Chicago Motor Speedway, at the wheel of the #97 PPI Motorsports' Reynard-Toyota. Da Matta scored one more podium at Cleveland Grand Prix and finished 10th in the points.
For 2001, he joined the front-running Newman/Haas Racing team and became one of the top drivers in the championship. He won the season-opening Grand Prix of Monterey in Mexico and the last two races at Surfers Paradise and Fontana. With three wins and five podiums da Matta was fifth in the points.
Cristiano took 2002 CART title in a dominant style
In 2002 CART FedEx Championship season, da Matta was a dominant driver on the grid. His Lola-Toyota was a victorious car in seven of nineteen races and he took the championship title with a big advantage over Bruno Junqueira.
As the reigning CART champion, he signed for Panasonic Toyota Racing to compete in the 2003 Formula One World Championship. He was driving the #21 Toyota TF103, his teammate was Olivier Panis in the #20 car.
Da Matta scored points in five F1 races
Da Matta retired in the F1 debut at Australian Grand Prix and then he was between P10 and P12 in the next three races. In May, at Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya, da Matta finished sixth and earned his maiden F1 points. He was in the points three more times, at British Grand Prix (7th), German Grand Prix (6th) and Japanese Grand Prix (7th), to collect 10 points in total, four more than his teammate Panis. In the overall standings, da Matta was 13th.
For 2004 season, da Matta and Panis stayed with Toyota, but not until the end of the season. After poor results, with sixth place at Monaco Grand Prix as the season's highlight and the only race in the points, da Matta was replaced for the 13th round by Ricardo Zonta.
2005 - Champ Car return and Daytona 24h debut
There is no luck in the Formula One, da Matta realized, and he returned to the USA in 2005, to compete for PKV Racing in the Champ Car World Series. Before the Champ Car season started, he debuted at 24 hours of Daytona, partnering Sebastien Bourdais, Paul Newman and Mike Brockman in the #79 Crawford DP03 of Newman/Silverstone Racing. They didn't reach the finish because of an accident.
In the 2005 Champ Car season, da Matta won one race (Portland Grand Prix) and finished 11th in the points. For 2006 season, he moved to the Dale Coyne Racing. After four races in the #19 Ford Lola, he changed the team again in June 2006, joining RuSPORT in the #10 car as a replacement for AJ Allmendinger.
Freaky accident with a deer stopped Cristiano's career
After five races with Ru SPORT and three Top 5 finishes, including second place at San Jose Grand Prix, da Matta's open-wheel racing career was interrupted by freaky collision with a deer during the Champ Car test at Road America on August 3. He hit the deer with his right front tire, the deer then flew back and hit da Matta in the cockpit.
He was airlifted to Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah, Wisconsin, where he underwent surgery to remove a subdural hematoma. He spent a month and a half in the hospital, being released on September 21. His career was over and he was replaced in the #10 car by Ryan Briscoe.
Two races in the 2008 Grand American Rolex Series
After one season without racing activities, he climbed back into a race car on March 20, 2008, completing a two-day test in a Riley prototype of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing. In May, da Matta partnered former Champ Car champion Jimmy Vasser in the #98 Riley prototype at 250 miles of Laguna Seca, which was the part of the Grand American Rolex Series.
They didn't finish the race but Cristiano showed that the still know how to drive. In September, he participated in one more race with AIM Motorsport's Riley-Ford, finishing sixth in the 1000-km race at Miller Motorsports Park.
Finishing a career with Iveco trucks and Jaguar GT cars
In December 2009, da Matta tested Scuderia Iveco's truck prepared for the Brazilian Formula Truck series. He joined the team in the 2010 Formula Truck season and participated in ten races, finishing 23rd in the points.
In 2011, he returned to the US, to join Rocketsports Racing in the American Le Mans Series. He was driving the #99 Jaguar XKR in the GT class, participating in three races (Sebring, Long Beach and Lime Rock Park) alongside Bruno Junqueira. At Sebring 12h race, their teammate was Oriol Servia. The sixth place in the GT class at Long Beach was the crew's best result.