CHAMPCAR/CART: da Matta's Friday qualifying luck runs out

Cristiano da Matta has shown himself unstoppable in the races leading up to the Molson Indy Vancouver. So far this weekend, it appears that his luck has run out. Using two cars, he could only manage sixteenth fastest. The 2000 race winner, Paul Tracy, sits on provisional pole.

The sixty-minute qualifying session, the first of two, started with a roar as precisely zero cars took to the track in the first thirty minutes. So, who would be the first to go out? Eventually, it would be Mario Dominguez, who circulated around the track all by himself and set four top times that would not last for long. He was eventually followed by Shinji Nakano, Dario Franchitti and Cristiano da Matta. With twenty minutes remaining, most of the drivers had finally taken to the track.

Paul Tracy.
Photo by John Francis.
Of course, eighteen cars trying to occupy the track and put in fast times led to some conflict and no one could really do their best. Then again, the situation occurred because the competition is so close, according to Tracy, "no one could afford to be first out", effectively wasting a set of tires because the track wasn't ready. So, which is slower?

Franchitti was the first driver to set a serious fast time. Nakano tried to match, but could not beat the Scot. Vasser challenged and beat both their times. He followed this by spinning the car into the tires coming into Turn six, breaking the rear wing off and stopping the session. "I just blew it," he explained.

The session was resumed with twelve minutes to go. Franchitti took back fast time. Besides Tracy, other drivers near the top were Michel Jourdain Jr. and Alex Tagliani, but it was Franchitti held top time for most of qualifying.

As usually happens with minutes to go, the order was changing rapidly. Kenny Brack came in on a charge, getting second position and then moving on up to first. Then Tracy took top time in what he thought was a more of a "warm-up". Dixon, in his words, "got lucky" and got second.

This could have gone on for at least another three minutes, but fate intervened. According to reports, the front suspension on Bruno Junquiera's car broke and, out of control, he slammed into the wall hard going down the back straight. The car continued down the straight and into the run-off area for turn six. The car disintegrated in spectacular fashion as it hit the first tire wall, then spun into the second set of tire walls and broke out in flames. Juqueira was OK, but the qualifying session was done with.

For his efforts, Tracy gets one point and a spot on the front row for the race. Tracy noted that the team's fine tuning of their Lola chassis was getting "better and better" and that "99% of the time I am on a fast lap when the red flag comes out", so it was about time that it not be the case this time.

So, what happened to da Matta? Even though he was one of the first cars out, he was also one of the first to come back in. His car slowed on the track and he pulled right back into the pits. Eventually, he would return in the spare car. He tried to put fast times and moved up the time sheet for a while. Then the improvements stopped and he slipped back down the order, ending the day, as previously noted in sixteenth position. The cause of the problems with his primary car could not be determined.

da Matta was not the only driver to have car problems. Tony Kanaan ran his spare car in qualifying.

The Molson Indy Vancouver is held on a 1.781 mile temporary street circuit near downtown Vancouver. The temperature was around 70F with light winds under broken clouds that cleared as the session went on. The attendance for the day was 44,723, the second largest for a Friday session in the event's 12-year history. This year the event was moved from its traditional Labor Day weekend.