CLEVELAND (July 12, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...
CLEVELAND (July 12, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) has taken the proactive approach as he looks to set an all-time CART FedEx Championship Series record with his fifth consecutive win, besting the entire field by nearly a half-second in taking the provisional pole during Friday qualifying at Cleveland.
Da Matta claimed a championship point and a guaranteed front-row starting spot for Sunday's Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank by putting up a best lap of 57.641 seconds (131.531 mph). The winner of the last four CART events, da Matta waited until late in the session to go out, and found himself eighth after his first few laps, but then snapped off a pair of blistering laps on tires that had seven laps on them to vault to the top of the charts.
The quick trip around the 2.106-mile Burke Lakefront Airport road course gave da Matta a cushion of 0.451 seconds over his closest competitor and erstwhile video-game partner Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola Bridgestone) as Kanaan posted his best qualifying effort since taking the second spot at Motegi and his best since his Mo Nunn Racing squad switched chassis from Reynard to Lola.
Scott Dixon (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) also posted his best performance after making a mid-season change, putting his Target Chip Ganassi Racing machine into the third spot on the provisional grid, a starting spot that would be his best of the 2002 season if he can back it up in Saturday's final qualifying. Dixon will be looking to better his previous season-high of fourth on the grid and will be trying to earn his best starting spot since joining TCGR from PWR Racing earlier in the season.
A flurry of activity in the final 10 minutes of the hour-long session saw a few contenders to da Matta's throne step up, but quickly wither away from the spotlight as da Matta made his blistering late-session runs. Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) rebounded from a dismal qualifying performance last weekend in Toronto to hold the pole for a good portion of the hour. Andretti held the point before the da Matta tidal wave hit, but held on to the fourth position in the order with a best lap of 58.111 seconds (130.468 mph). The finish was a boon for Team Motorola, which - despite having a win to its credit this year at Long Beach - has yet to qualify in the first three rows for a race this season.
Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) would round out Friday's top five with a best lap of 58.211 seconds (130.243 mph), an orbit that would give him an advantage of more than a quarter-second over the rest of the field. Fittipaldi, who has finished in the top four in four of the season's eight races, will be looking for his best-ever Cleveland starting spot when final qualifying gets underway on Saturday, that being a fifth-place grid spot in 1997.
Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was the best of the Ford contingent on the day, holding down the sixth position as he looks to shake a recent qualifying slide for Team Rahal. Vasser won the pole at Long Beach earlier in the year, but had only qualified inside of the top 10 on one other occasion before starting eighth last weekend at Toronto.
Defending Grand Prix of Cleveland Champion Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) rebounded from an engine fire that cost him much of the morning practice to card the seventh-best time on the day with a lap of 58.515 seconds (129.567 mph) while Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) snared the eighth position ahead of Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) and Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone), who rounded out the top 10.
Sunday's final grid will be set with another hour of qualifying on Saturday afternoon. Tomorrow's hour-long session will be shown live on SPEED Channel at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The qualifying will set the grid for Sunday's Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank, which will be shown live Sunday on CBS Sports (1:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
QUOTES FROM TOP-THREE PROVISIONAL QUALIFIERS FRIDAY:
CRISTIANO DA MATTA (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I had a lot of traffic in my first run and actually made a mistake. The tires went off slightly but I was able to improve because my car was so well balanced. The track changes here all the time with the airport sections and the amount of rubber in different areas, so it will be interesting to see what the conditions are like tomorrow in qualifying."
TONY KANAAN (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): "We've been struggling with the chassis switch from the Reynard to the Lola. Some would call it bad luck this season but I wouldn't call it that. I wasn't happy with the way our whole team was working. I'm not able to drive my car right now. My car is driving me - and it's frustrating. I'm not confident with it. But we'll keep working on it, keep up the pace and hopefully we won't get lost."
SCOTT DIXON (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "My car was pretty good this morning in practice. We stayed out on the first set of tires in the first stint as many others did. We were up a few tenths on our last lap until we hit traffic, but we waited until the end of the session as everyone else usually does and it paid off today."
* Cristiano da Matta has finished in the top two in each of the last nine CART FedEx Championship Series qualifying sessions. The finish and the bonus point earned for the provisional pole gives da Matta 12 bonus points on the season - the equivalent of a fourth-place finish in a race.
* Da Matta will be looking to break the all-time Champ Car record Sunday with his fifth straight win. He is currently tied with Al Unser Jr. and Alex Zanardi with four-straight wins. Both drivers would finish third in their attempts to win a fifth in a row, Unser starting and finishing third at Mid-Ohio in 1990, with Zanardi starting seventh and finishing third at Michigan in 1998.
* Da Matta's championship point for the provisional pole gave him 119 on the season and puts him ahead of the points pace set by Alex Zanardi in 1998 when he set the all-time CART record with 285 points. After eight races in '98, Zanardi had earned 113 to 118 for da Matta after last weekend.