CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland: Friday qualifying report

CRISTIANO DA MATTA FOLLOWS PORTLAND VICTORY BY STORMING TO FIRST-ROUND QUALIFYING LEAD AT CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF CLEVELAND PRESENTED BY U.S. BANK CLEVELAND, Ohio (June 24, 2005) -- Cristiano da Matta ( ...

CRISTIANO DA MATTA FOLLOWS PORTLAND VICTORY BY STORMING TO FIRST-ROUND QUALIFYING LEAD AT CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF CLEVELAND PRESENTED BY U.S. BANK

CLEVELAND, Ohio (June 24, 2005) -- Cristiano da Matta (#21 Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) returned to the top of the Champ Car World Series heap last weekend with a win in Portland, and apparently liked the view so much that he made the climb again on a sunny Friday in Cleveland.

Da Matta topped an 18-car field in today's first round of qualifying for Sunday's Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank, nipping defending Cleveland polesitter Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) by .004 seconds, stopping the clocks at 58.436 seconds (129.742 mph). The effort clinches da Matta a front-row starting spot for Sunday's 94-lap race, and gives him a championship point, tying him for fourth with Mario Dominguez (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) after four races.

Tracy and da Matta battled atop the time charts for nearly all of the 35-minute qualifying session, claiming the top two spots on the time charts before the session ever hit the halfway point. Tracy vaulted to the top of the charts just 10 minutes into the session and posted what would be his best time on his next trip around the 2.106-mile Burke Lakefront Airport, hanging a time of 58.440 seconds (129.733 mph) on the field.

Da Matta headed a group that spent the next 15 minutes stalking Tracy on the charts, a group that included Dominguez and Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) as well as two-time defending Cleveland winner Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). The trio took their best shots at toppling Tracy with the Brazilian getting to within a microscopic two-thousandths of a second of the pole just one lap after Bourdais and Dominguez had swapped the third spot with their own 58-second efforts.

That flurry signaled the end of the first stint and sent most of the field diving down Pit Lane for new sets of Bridgestone Potenzas, with some teams opting for the red-walled alternate tires while others went with the regular shoes for the final minutes. Improvements came quickly as three of the drivers in the middle of the pack carded their fastest times within two laps of bolting on the new tires.

The leaders followed suit immediately after, with da Matta clearing Tracy by the aforementioned margin of four-thousandths of a second with three minutes remaining on the qualifying clock. But the battle went no farther as Portland polesitter Justin Wilson (#9 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) spun in Turn Six and came to a stop while trying to improve his final time. Champ Car stewards tried to handle the situation with a local yellow, allowing those cars on track to take their final shots, but a couple of close calls with the stricken car forced stewards to fly the red flag, bringing an end to the session.

Da Matta and Tracy led the way with Dominguez taking the third spot with a time of 58.546 seconds (129.498 mph). Dominguez started a season-best third in Long Beach, and a repeat of today's performance tomorrow would give him his first top-five starting spot in his four previous Cleveland starts. Bourdais carded the fourth-best time of the session, getting around the high-speed layout in 58.576 seconds (129.432 mph), while Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top five. Tagliani continues to post strong qualifying performances in Team Australia's debut season, and has started in the top five twice already in the year's four races.

Milwaukee polesitter Jimmy Vasser put up the sixth-best time on the day with Oriol Servia (#2 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) taking the seventh spot. RuSPORT teammates Wilson and A.J. Allmendinger (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) stood in eighth and ninth after the session with Timo Glock (#8 DHL Global Mail Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) taking top-rookie honors and rounding out the top 10.

Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 Cytomax Sport Drink Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) had his best road-course qualifying session of the year, filling the 11th spot while new Dale Coyne driver Tarso Marques (#19 American Medical Response Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) took the 15th position after carding a time of 59.819 seconds (126.742 mph).

The final grid for Sunday's 94-lap event will be set in final qualifying tomorrow, in a 35-minute session that gets underway at 2:00 p.m.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE QUALIFIERS

Cristiano da Matta: "I'm very happy with the way things are going. We made some really good changes at the team and we are progressing each weekend and getting better and better. We have a car that will allow us to be strong. We have a lot of momentum right now and we need to stay in front of it throughout this weekend."

Paul Tracy: "The session went okay our first set of Bridgestone's went well. Our second set of tires was a little different and the car kept sneaking out in the last corner. I hit something and ripped part of the front wing off and that ended my qualifying run. I was looking forward to running on the "red" Bridgestone tires because I think we would have been a lot quicker."

Mario Dominguez: "The day went well. We started really fast and changed a few things in the car. Hopefully we can improve the car tomorrow. The track is in good shape, it is a fast race track and it is a challenge for the drivers. We are still working on Turn 7 & 8 but the car is getting better every time."

NOTEWORTHY

* Today's performance by Cristiano da Matta guarantees him a front-row starting spot for Sunday's race, giving him his first front-row Champ Car starting position since he sat on pole for the Surfers Paradise event in 2002.

* Today's .004-second margin that separated the top two drivers in first-round qualifying marked the closest Champ Car qualifying session since Jimmy Vasser bested da Matta by .003 seconds in the 2002 Long Beach event.

* Justin Wilson's spin that brought out the red flag and prematurely ended the session, cost him a fast lap of 58.875 seconds, dropping him from seventh to eighth in the qualifying results.

-ccws-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Jimmy Vasser , Tarso Marques , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Timo Glock , Dale Coyne , Cristiano da Matta