CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta beats Tracy for Toronto pole

Toronto, Ont. (July 6, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta displayed his dominance in the CART Fed/Ex Championship Series by finishing first in the second qualifying session for Sunday's Molson Indy at Exhibition Place. He was quickest in both sessions this weekend and picks up one championship point for each pole.

The Newman/Haas driver and Brazilian native extended his lead on fellow countryman Bruno Junqueira in the driver's standings to 27 points. Da Matta has 97 points to Junqueira's 70.

Cristiano da Matta.
Photo by Dave Gallegos.

In a thrilling finish before 51,243 fans, hometown favourite Paul Tracy temporarily snatched the lead from da Matta with six minutes to go, clocking in at 58.172. Da Matta answered with back-to-back laps of 58.161 and finally 58.135 in the second-to-last minute.

Junqueira grabbed third place in the final minute, crossing the line in a time of 58.255. He missed most of the qualifying hour while his crew frantically replaced engine parts from his main car with parts from his backup vehicle. He joined the session with just 6 minutes remaining.

"For me it was a very smooth session," said da Matta after winning his third pole of the season. "I had both runs with no traffic. Everything was just perfect. Our objective is to try to keep it up. The car is running well."

He has won three of the last four pole positions in the series and will start on the front row for the fourth time in the eight races this season.

"It is just pretty much the normal procedure going into the race," said da Matta. "It is the eighth race of the championship. So, it's very early to adopt a very aggressive strategy or a very conservative strategy."

What will it take to beat da Matta on Sunday?

"He's driving the best right now and obviously the team is the best right now," said Tracy, who drives for Team KOOL Green racing. "Somebody is going to come along and challenge him and you have to be able to challenge throughout the whole, complete distance of the race, not just for one stand or a couple of laps. And he really hasn't had a whole lot of pressure on him for a whole race distance, so he's been able to drive within himself and be consistent and not make mistakes."

Junqueira offers a simpler solution, "Finish in front of him."

As the pole sitter for tomorrow's race, Da Matta received the Greg Moore Pole Award, presented in tribute to the memory of CART racing driver Greg Moore who died at CART's Marlboro 500 in Fontana, California on October 31, 1999.

The starting grid will see da Matta flanked by Tracy in the front row. Junqueira will race along side Kenny Brack in the second row, while Christian Fittipaldi and Dario Franchitti will occupy the third row. Completing the top ten are Shinji Nakano, Jimmy Vasser, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

Seventeen of the eighteen drivers bested their lap times of yesterday's provisional pole. Only Michael Andretti was slower, lapping two tenths of a second slower than yesterday.

"We just had a million problems today and it was really frustrating," said a dejected Andretti. "My primary car had a fuel system problem too, so we had to qualify with a ton of fuel in the car. We were carrying around a lot of extra weight so we just didn't have much of a chance. It's a shame because I feel like we had a good car but we just had every problem imaginable in this qualifying session. Tomorrow will be tough, we're starting from the back and passing is so difficult. It's going to be an interesting race."

Andretti was the winner of last year's race, falling to the back of the grid and clawing back to win it. He has won seven times in the 17-year history of the race.