CLEVELAND -- Chip Ganassi's boys do love to run wide. The team, with three Cleveland GP wins to its name between 1997-99, comes to the Burke Lakefront Airport this weekend with one of last year's race leaders, Kenny Brack, and Bruno Junqueira, who...
CLEVELAND -- Chip Ganassi's boys do love to run wide. The team, with three Cleveland GP wins to its name between 1997-99, comes to the Burke Lakefront Airport this weekend with one of last year's race leaders, Kenny Brack, and Bruno Junqueira, who also happens to sit second in the championship behind runaway points leader Cristiano da Matta of Newman/Haas Racing.
The airport runway-turned-racetrack produces some exciting racing, and allows driver's to run, theoretically at least, as many as 10 wide. In the first round of qualifying yesterday, Junquiera finished eighth, nearly a second off da Matta, who took provisional pole with a time of 57.641 seconds, the only driver to break the 58-second mark. With da Matta now 49 points ahead of him, Junquiera came into the weekend knowing what he needed to do.
"I think that it's time to win again," said Junquiera. "We need to start scoring points again to stay in the championship race.
"I'm looking forward to getting back out on the track this weekend after what happened to us in Toronto," added the Brazilian, who was taken out of that race by Townsend Bell.
Last year, both members of Ganassi's 2001 lineup lead the field in Cleveland, with Memo Gidley leading the most laps and nearly winning the race. A late-race pit stop cost Gidley the win, though a hard push to the front while running full rich allowed him to finish a half-second behind race-winner Dario Franchitti.
This year the team, in addition to Junquiera, includes Kenny Brack and Scott Dixon, who finished third on Friday with a lap time of 58.094 seconds. "We stayed out on the first set of tires in the first stint as many others did," said Dixon. "We were up a few 10ths on our last lap until we hit traffic, but we waited until the end of the session, as everyone else usually does, and it paid off today."
Brack, currently seventh in the points table, said he is looking forward to racing in Cleveland.
"Team Target has had good results in Cleveland and so have I, so it should be a good weekend for us," said Brack, who was 11th after Friday qualifying. "It's a very exciting track, both for the fans and for the drivers. It has a lot of good places for overtaking, so it should be a great race." But while the team may have two past race-leaders in its camp, everyone will be chasing da Matta once again. The winner of the last four races, the Brazilian was almost a half-second clear of the second-fastest car on Friday, driven by Tony Kanaan of Mo Nunn Racing. Kanaan had a lap time of 58.092 seconds.
Da Matta, who also lead the morning practice session, admitted he had some difficulty in his first run. "I had a lot of traffic in my first run and actually made a mistake," he said. "The tires went off slightly but I was able to improve because my car was so well balanced."
Though he has once again lead on the first day, da Matta admitted Cleveland's track conditions often changes as the weekend progresses. "The track changes here all the time with the airport sections and the amount of rubber in different areas, so it will be interesting to see what the conditions are like tomorrow in qualifying," he said. Kanaan, though second, remained frustrated with the chassis switch from Reynard to Lola, which he said has been a struggle.
"Some would call it bad luck this season but I wouldn't call it that," he said. "I wasn't happy with the way our whole team was working. I'm not able to drive my car right now. My car is driving me -- and it's frustrating. I'm not confident with it.
"But we'll keep working on it, keep up the pace and hopefully we won't get lost."
Other's running well include, Michael Andretti of Team Motorola, who set a time of 58.111 seconds, good enough for fourth, and Newman/Haas Racing driver Christian Fittipaldi, who was fifth with a time of 58.211 seconds. The top 10 was rounded out by Team Rahal driver Jimmy Vasser, sixth with a lap time of 58.477 seconds, Franchitti of Team KOOL Green who was seventh with a time of 58.515 seconds, fellow Team KOOL Green driver Paul Tracy, ninth after posting a 58.648 seconds lap time, and Player's/Forsythe Racing driver Patrick Carpentier, 10th, with a lap of 58.688 seconds.
First on the track in the first qualifying session Friday afternoon was Mario Dominguez of Herdez Competition, who finished the day in 17th with a time of 59.376 seconds. As has been the case often this season, no drivers took to the track for much of the first half-hour of the hour-long session. Dominguez spun on his first outing, as did Franchitti. Qualifying continues Saturday at 1:45 p.m. ET.