CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta grabs the pole at Surfers Paradise

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CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta grabs the pole at Surfers Paradise

Reigning champion Cristiano da Matta is on track to become the first two-time winner of the Gold Coast Honda Indy 300 as he turned the fastest lap of the weekend at 1:30.204 (111.547 mph) in Saturday's final qualifying session for Sunday's race ...

Reigning champion Cristiano da Matta is on track to become the first two-time winner of the Gold Coast Honda Indy 300 as he turned the fastest lap of the weekend at 1:30.204 (111.547 mph) in Saturday's final qualifying session for Sunday's race through the streets of Surfers Paradise.

da Matta, driving for Newman/Haas, clinched his seventh pole position of the season by setting a new track record, topping the one set yesterday by provisional pole sitter Bruno Junqueira.

Cristiano da Matta.
Photo by David Magahy.

The two Brazilian drivers traded for the top position during the final half of the session around the 2.795-mile street circuit. Junqueira will start second with a time of 1:30.214 (111.535 mph). Eleven drivers were under the record set by Junqueira on Friday.

"I am sure having a lot of fun," said da Matta. "This track is one of my favorites. My car was very balanced in the first half. I am just very pleased. I felt confident with the laps and everything just went smooth. The important thing is that my car is very competitive for the race tomorrow.

"Yesterday, I wasn't very happy with the car. We were quite a bit behind Bruno, six-tenths of a second. We made quite a few changes to the car. Now we are right about the same time, so it's good that with all the experience the team has together, we were able to work on the areas of the car that needed it, and the car really responded.

"The Bridgestone tires are very good this weekend, no problems. Our car was very good this morning on old tires, but we were a little concerned with the balance on the new tires (before qualifying). We seem to be getting it right now and should be fine in the race tomorrow."

Bruno Junqueira.
Photo by David Magahy.

Junqueira said vibration problems and trouble with his tires eliminated his hopes of catching da Matta. "I'm happy to be on the front row, but I really wanted to win the pole today for Team Target. I was so close, I only lost it by 0.01 of a second. Something happened with my front right tire on my last run and I had bad vibration, especially under braking.

"I was really trying to catch Cristiano, but that problem slowed my car just enough. That's how it's been all year long. Just behind da Matta. But that's OK, it's a long race, we have a good car and I have a great crew. It would be awesome to win this race in front of all these fans."

Mo Nunn Racing's Tony Kanaan completed the Brazilian sweep of the top three with a top speed of 111.272 mph, after rolling his Lola-Honda out early in the first 10 minutes of qualifying. Kanaan commended his engineers for making necessary adjustments following problems in Friday's first qualifying session.

"The car has been really consistent," said Kanaan. "Yesterday we didn't get the right lap with all the incidents. In the beginning today we tried to go out early in order to avoid some of the traffic. We made a lot of changes and it worked out for us today.

Team KOOL Green's Paul Tracy earned his first top-five starting spot since Elkhart Lake as he steered his car around the circuit in 1:30.731, finishing just behind Kenny Brack of Target Chip Ganassi (1:30.616). Tracy limped the car into the pits with wishbone damage after a wall hit and retired early.

"I missed the line at the entry to the chicane and flew in the air pretty high and that must have damaged my suspension. I got two more laps in and then I was limping it home to the pits and it broke on the straightway and I hit the wall," said Tracy. "I'm sorry for the guys because Team Kool Green put in a good effort and I really didn't put a whole lap together as best as I could have. We'll just have to try to make up for it tomorrow."

Although da Matta came into the 2002 CART championship season without ever having won a pole, he is now tied for 16th on the all-time series list with former champions Al Unser Jr. and Johnny Rutherford, as well as Kenny Brack, Bryan Herta and Helio Castroneves. Surrounded by expected crowds of over 110,000 spectators, da Matta will enter Round 17 of the CART FedEx Championship with his ninth front row start of the season.

NOTE: Prior to Saturday's final practice/qualifying, Championship Auto Racing Team (CART) officials removed the cones and the bolts at the curbings due to safety reasons. The outcome allowed faster speeds on track at the Surfers Paradise Gold Coast track in Australia, especially in the chicane. CART gave the drivers inspection laps to look at the changes that were made.

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Series INDYCAR