CHAMPCAR/CART: da Matta claims the spoils again in Montreal qualifying

It looked like a yet another day at the office for Cristiano da Matta. The diminutive Brazilian claimed the pole position for the Molson Indy Montreal by setting a fast time of 1:18.959 in the dying seconds of the session.

Cristiano da Matta.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
"It was a perfect run," da Matta said. "I had no traffic, and it was clear from beginning to end. The tires were great and I had enough fuel."

The loser in da Matta's 11th-hour run was Dario Franchitti, who appeared to have wrested the pole from Brun Junqueira in the final minutes of qualifying. However, da Matta clearly bested Franchitti, whose fastest lap was clocked at 1:19.334.

"We changed everything on the car from yesterday and I think it showed," Junqueira reflected after the session. "But Cristiano is still four-tenths quicker than we are and that's too much."

Patrick Carpentier.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
Behind da Matta, Junqueira and Franchitti was local favorite Patrick Carpentier, who has won twice in the last four CART events to move into second place in the CART FedEx Championship.

However, the points da Matta has scored for topping qulifying timesheets yesterday and today have increased his lead over Carpentier from 42 to 44 points.

"Good, not great," Carpentier admitted. "We finally got into a rhythm today and that makes a big difference."

The crowd, some 50,000 strong, certainly approved of Carpentier's performance, giving the French-Canadian a standing ovation for his fourth-place starting position.

The other Canadians, Alexandre Tagliani and Paul Tracy, qualified in eighth and tenth places, respectively.

The organizers have chosen a somewhat smaller-capacity grandstand configuration than that used for Formula One's traditional Canadian Grand Prix in June of each year, and so far there has been no shortage of fans to fill those seats.

"It's pretty impressive when you see all the fans, with the stands full and the reaction to the Player's guys," reflected Franchitti. "They have a passion here."

On the absolute speed, though, the heavier Champ Cars do suffer in comparison to the nimbler, razor's edge F1 cars; da Matta's pole time was 6.323 seconds slower than that set by Michael Schumacher in June.

"I said I thought we'd be within five to seven seconds of F1 and I was right," said da Matta. "But I think that's pretty impressive considering we only have one tire company and our budgets are about $200 million less."

Admittedly Ferrari may spend $200M more than Newman-Haas, but rookie F1 driver Mark Webber, driving a Minardi (whose budgets are much closer to those of Newman-Haas), drove around the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in 1:15.508, still nearly four seconds faster.

But variety is the spice of life, and it certainly appears that Montreal is enjoying the distinction of being the only city in the world to host borh Formula One and CART.

Now it is up to Franchitti, Junqueira and Carpentier to provide an entertaining race for the fans tomorrow -- first and foremost, by making sure that da Matta does not run away with the lead.