Vasser wins first Cart Fedex Championship Series pole position in 50 races for 28th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 13, 2002) - Team Rahal driver Jimmy Vasser ( ...
Vasser wins first Cart Fedex Championship Series pole position in 50 races for 28th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 13, 2002) - Team Rahal driver Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ended a 50-race drought and scored his eighth career CART FedEx Championship Series pole position in final qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Vasser turned in a best lap of 1:08.585 (104.585 mph/168.309 kph) to secure his first pole since taking the top qualifying spot for the 1999 U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan International Speedway. The native Californian is looking for his second career victory in Long Beach, having won the 1996 rendition en route to the CART FedEx Championship Series title. Vasser earns a championship point for his efforts this afternoon.
Starting second on tomorrow's grid will be Newman/Haas Racing driver Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone). Although the CART FedEx Championship Series points leader was also second quickest in qualifying today at 1:07.745 (104.580 mph/168.301 kph), da Matta starts on the outside of the front row for tomorrow's race based on his performance from yesterday's first round of qualifying (a 1:09.092/102.542 mph effort) thanks to CART's new road and street course qualifying rules.
Da Matta equaled his career best showing in qualifying, having started from the second position at Toronto in 2000 and Monterrey, Mexico; Portland, Ore.; and Fontana, Calif. last year. The Brazilian is looking to join two-time CART FedEx Championship Series champions Al Unser Jr. (the 1990 and '94 champion) and Alex Zanardi (the 1997 and '98 titleist) as the only drivers in CART history to win four consecutive Champ Car races. Unser won four-in-a-row during the 1990 season and Zanardi won four straight in 1998.
Starting third on tomorrow's grid will be Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone), who turned a best lap of 1:08.097 (104.040 mph/167.431 kph). The qualifying performance is Junqueira's best since he qualified second for the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston last year. The Brazilian's showing represents the third time in the past four Long Beach events that a Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver has qualified inside the top five. The team won four straight races in Long Beach from 1996 through 1999 with drivers Vasser (1996), Zanardi (1997 and '98), and Juan Montoya (1999).
Starting fourth tomorrow will be Junqueira's Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) with a best lap of 1:08.126 (103.996 mph/167.360). Brack has won four times previously on ovals in CART FedEx Championship Series competition, but the Swede is still looking for his first win on a road or street circuit.
Turning in an impressive performance in qualifying fifth today was Patrick Racing rookie driver Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) at 1:08.267 (103.781 mph/167.014 kph). In the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship event at Long Beach last year, Bell scored the first of six wins en route to the Lights title. The Californian is looking to join Montoya as the only rookies to win the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in the event's 18-race history.
The top 11 cars qualified within one second of each other and the entire field is covered by slightly more than two seconds. The CART FedEx Championship Series makes its FOX network television debut in tomorrow's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which is scheduled to hit the airwaves at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Quotes from the top three drivers on the starting grid follow below:
JIMMY VASSER (#8 Shell/Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "The most significant thing that happened was the fact that we lost an oil line in the morning session, which sidelined our primary car. We rolled out the backup car, which caused us to lose the qualifying times we set in yesterday's session. Fortunately for us, the back up car was quick out of the gate. It takes a little luck to get a pole position. We're happy to get a championship point out of the deal." (On the new rule that eliminates fuel-mileage runs) "There won't be those cars making it to the front on some kind of strange fuel strategies. We will be able to run flat out and that is encouraging."
CRISTIANO DA MATTA (#6 Chevron/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "Of course I've never been on pole before, so I would have liked to finally do it here this weekend. I'm happy overall though. My car is running well in any condition the track has provided. It has been consistent throughout. I guess our times are pretty close, but you have to remember that the race is 90 laps. There are a number of opportunities to work on position and strategy. There will be a lot of time to get to the front. I feel that along with myself, Jimmy [Vasser], Bruno [Junqueira] and a handful of other drivers are capable of winning the championship. But ovals are going to play a major part in the championship. They will determine a lot."
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#4 Target/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "Yesterday I had an okay day. We made some changes last night to the car. We were fastest this morning in practice, so I am confident in the car's ability for the race tomorrow."
Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) gained the most positions from Friday's first round to Saturday's second round of qualifying, moving from 12th to fifth for a total of seven positions. Likewise, Player's/Forsythe Racing driver Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) lost the most positions between days, dropping nine spots from 11th on Friday to 20th as a result of an incident during the final round of qualifying today.
While polesitter Jimmy Vasser's (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) margin over second place qualifier Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) was a scant three-thousandths of a second, it was the third-closest gap from first to second in CART history. On two previous occasions, the top two qualifiers actually tied each other. Paul Tracy tied then-Marlboro Team Penske teammate Emerson Fittipaldi for the pole at Road America in 1992, and Juan Montoya and Dario Franchitti tied for the top spot in qualifying for the 2000 Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit.