CHAMPCAR/CART: Denver: Saturday qualifying report

Bruno Junqueira uses first-strike approach to claim inaugural pole for Shell Grand Prix Of Denver. DENVER (August 31, 2002) - The qualifying rules for the CART FedEx Championship Series have been modified in recent weeks in order to give its ...

Bruno Junqueira uses first-strike approach to claim inaugural pole for Shell Grand Prix Of Denver.

DENVER (August 31, 2002) - The qualifying rules for the CART FedEx Championship Series have been modified in recent weeks in order to give its multitudes of fans more on-track action, but Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) used the rules to not only give the fans more action - but to better his chances of victory in Sunday's Shell Grand Prix of Denver.

Junqueira went out early in the 40-minute qualifying session to take advantage of a clear track and completed his allotment of 15 qualifying laps with nearly 10 minutes remaining. While the remainder of the field took their shots at the pole, in the end Junqueira earned his third pole of the season, snapping off a best lap of 1:01.703 (96.093mph) to earn the top spot on the grid for Sunday's 100-lap event. The pole was the fourth in Junqueira's Champ Car career and was the second in the last three weeks for the Target Chip Ganassi Racing pilot.

The Brazilian sophomore believed that he had been hampered by traffic in recent qualifying sessions, but erased that problem by going out early when he would have the 1.647-mile temporary circuit mainly to himself. The gambit paid off in spades however, as he watched the final 10 minutes from the comfort of his pit wagon as the rest of the field tried in vain to upend him.

The pole was about the only thing that Fernandez Racing didn't end up with on a 90-degree day in downtown Denver as the two-car team had the best qualifying effort of its two-year existence. Team founder and co-owner Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) would end up on the outside of the front row for Sunday's race by virtue of his provisional pole from Friday, while his teammate Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) earned the best starting spot of his CART career by taking third.

Fernandez led Friday's qualifying with an effort of 1:02.073 (95.520mph) and would take the second spot on the grid despite the fact that he was 11th in the Saturday session. Fernandez was stronger than the stat sheets show however, as he had carded the fourth-best time of the day with 10 minutes to run, but had to give up that lap when he brought out a red flag with a Turn Five spin.

The session restarted with five minutes remaining, but by that time, only nine of the 18 cars in the field were able to take to the track, having used up their cache of laps. Nakano was standing in the third spot after the crimson banner flew with a best lap of 1:01.808 (95.929mph), and would hold on to the spot as time expired in the qualifying run.

The drivers showed that they had learned from the previous practice and qualifying outings, mastering the tricky surface as Fernandez brought out the only red flag of the 40-minute qualifying. Scott Dixon (#44 Coors Light Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) gave his car's hometown sponsor something to be excited about for Sunday's event as he matched his best starting spot of the season, knocking down the fourth spot with a time of 1:01.992 (95.645mph) in the Coors Light machine, while Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) would land in the top five for the seventh time this season.

Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) made it three Ganassi cars in the top six with a top orbit of 1:02.049 (95.557mph), while CART FedEx Championship Series points leader Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) would settle for the seventh rung of the ladder - his worst starting spot in the last 10 races.

Mid-Ohio winner Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) would lead the Ford-Cosworth contingent by taking the eighth spot while Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola Bridgestone) would drop back to ninth after running the third best time in Friday's qualifying. Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would round out the top 10 as he looks to keep his streak alive of scoring points-paying finishes in every race this season.

The inaugural Shell Grand Prix of Denver will take the green flag at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday and will be televised live on SPEED Channel.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP-THREE QUALIFIERS

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "It wasn't easy, but I had to wait a half hour. Yesterday, I thought I had a good car to be for sure top three. Today I decided to do what Adrian did yesterday and that was to go a little bit earlier, and I think that strategy paid off. My car was really good, it was just a question of getting a clear lap. I think this is going to be the toughest race of the year. It's going to be tough on the engines, the brakes, and-because of the altitude-it's going to be tough on the drivers. It's going to be a tough race for everybody."

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): (On spinning in Turn 5 late in the session) "I was trying too hard at the end and the grip wasn't there. That was the first mistake I did all weekend. I had a lap that was faster than Bruno's, and then I made a mistake. I'm happy for Shinji and the team, and I think this is a good start for us. Today I was passing somebody on the inside going into Turn 5, and I hit a bump and the wheels came up off the ground. If you try too hard, you're going to be in the wall. You're going to need to be more caution or nobody is going to finish."

SHINJI NAKANO (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): "I'm very happy with the result today. We've been having a good car at the street courses, at Toronto, Vancouver, and Long Beach. We've had a good car but we just couldn't put everything together. This weekend the team gave me a good car and I was able to put it all together. I'm very happy. Adrian helped me a lot. This morning I followed Adrian and he showed me a line, and I went from there. We are pretty close together."

NOTEWORTHY

* Michel Jourdain Jr. has scored points in every CART race this season but has not started as high as 10th since Long Beach in Round 2.

* Shinji Nakano matched the best-ever starting position by a Japanese driver in the history of the CART FedEx Championship Series by taking the third position, matching Tora Takagi's third-place run from Michigan last year. It is however, the best on-track qualifying effort by a Japanese driver as Takagi's position came by virtue of practice times after final qualifying was rained out at Michigan.

* Bruno Junqueira broke a tie for third place in the CART point standings by taking Saturday's pole, giving him 102 points for the season and allowing him to move one digit ahead of Patrick Carpentier for the third and moving him to within four points of Dario Franchitti for second place in the standings.

* The effort that gave Fernandez Racing teammates Adrian Fernandez and Shinji Nakano the second and third spots on the grid was the best combined effort of the team's existence, eclipsing its previous best earned at Milwaukee when Fernandez took the pole while Nakano started sixth.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing