CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta leads Toronto Friday qualifying

Toronto, Ont. (July 5, 2002) - There were no surprises in provisional qualifying for the Molson Indy in Toronto. The top two finishers reflected that of the current driver's standings in the CART Fed/Ex Championship Series with Cristiano da Matta...

Toronto, Ont. (July 5, 2002) - There were no surprises in provisional qualifying for the Molson Indy in Toronto. The top two finishers reflected that of the current driver's standings in the CART Fed/Ex Championship Series with Cristiano da Matta and Bruno Junqueira finishing first and second respectively.

And, under the new qualifying format implemented in 2002, da Matta will be in the front row for the Molson Indy on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The provisional pole winner is guaranteed a front row starting spot regardless of the outcome of final qualifying on Saturday.

The pole position for Sunday will be determined by the fastest lap of both the Friday and Saturday qualifying sessions. Also, the fastest driver from each qualifying session will be awarded a championship point.

Da Matta, a Brazilian native and driver for Newman/Haas Racing, posted the quickest lap, completing the 1.755-mile circuit in 58.487 with an average speed of 108.024 mph. Fellow countryman Junqueira finished second in a time of 58.724 (107.588).

But da Matta's day was not without incident. After setting the standard in the 35th minute, he crashed at Turn 3 with 5 minutes left in the session.

"I didn't expect to make a mistake but I think it is my first one of the season so that's not too bad. The crash happened when I was down shifting and went over a bump on the backstraight, so I only had one hand and didn't have a chance to save it. I was pushing too hard and went in too late on the brakes."

Da Matta continued on with his Toyota RV8F despite heavy damage to the left front side, but soon decided otherwise.

"The car was making such a big noise that I thought I was destroying it by continuing but I thought 'I have to get this car off the track.' If I stopped in a bad spot and brought out a red flag, my fast lap would have been taken away. It's great to know that we will start on the front row no matter what but it would be great to get another point by winning the pole tomorrow."

Junqueira has yet to find a way to better da Matta. The Target Chip Ganassi driver finished second to da Matta in the previous two races in Portland and Chicago.

"It was grand but not good enough today," said Junqueira, who posted his best time of the day in the 40th minute after improving his time on successive laps. "I think the car is good. I changed to a second set of tires but I couldn't catch him."

This marks the fifth time in a row that two Toyota-powered cars have topped the qualifying sheets in the last three road course qualifying sessions.

On the last lap of qualifying, Canadian Paul Tracy shaved a tenth of a second off his previous lap time to move up four places and finish third in a time of 58.953 (average of 107.170 mph).

"It was a good run," recalls Tracy, one of the fan favorites here in his hometown. "There was a lot of traffic out there and I was kind of the first one to leave the pit. So as I was up to speed, my first and second lap I encountered a bunch of guys that came out of the pits and that kind of took the best off the tires. So I had to go a lap slow and wait to get a gap and then my last two laps were quick to the checkered flag."

Tracy admitted that this weekend will be a learning experience since this is his team's first street course with the Team KOOL Green Lola chassis.

"The car keeps getting better and better and we've only scratched the surface in terms of setup. I'm very happy with how the weekend is going so far, but I want to improve upon it tomorrow."

Kenny Brack took the fourth spot with a time of 58.984 after changing to a second set of tires. He posted the fastest time in the morning practice session. Tracy's KOOL teammate Dario Franchitti rounded out the top five, crossing the line at 59.016.

Michael Andretti - who has dominated this race winning 7 of the 17 races including last year's event - finished a disappointing 17th out of 18 drivers, 1.273 seconds behind the leader at 59.760.

"We're still a pretty long way off from where we want to be for final qualifying," said a dejected Andretti. "Our balance on the Team Motorola car is just not right and we don't really have any grip."

All 18 drivers broke the one minute threshold in qualifying.

Da Matta could tie a CART Series record with his fourth consecutive win on Sunday. Although, his incident late in this qualifying session proves that he is human and can make errors.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta