PORTLAND, Ore. (June 14, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...
PORTLAND, Ore. (June 14, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) took the CART FedEx Championship Series lead last week with a dominant win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and took the first opportunity to widen that lead Friday afternoon at Portland International Raceway, taking the provisional pole for Sunday's G.I. Joe's 200 (CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET).
Da Matta emerged from a tight back-and-forth battle with Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) in the late minutes of Friday's qualifying to pace the session, earning a championship point for topping the provisional charts and guaranteeing the Newman/Haas Racing driver a starting spot in the front row for Sunday's 110-lap event. Fresh off winning his first career pole last weekend, da Matta took provisional honors today with a best lap of 59.083 seconds (119.974mph/193.074km/h)
The effort allowed da Matta to extend his 2002 championship points lead to six points over Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) giving him his largest cushion of the season. The front-row starting spot will be the second straight at Portland for da Matta, coming off a second-place starting spot last year in a race where he finished 10th.
Brack would hold on to the second spot on the day after setting the best time of the session on consecutive laps with 10 minutes remaining, only to see that lead erased 60 seconds after the Chip Ganassi Racing driver had put up a best effort of 59.168 seconds (119.801mph/192.796km/h). The Swede will be looking to capture his second consecutive front-row starting position after taking the second spot last weekend at Laguna Seca in what was his best starting position of the 2002 season.
Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) continued his strong recent run by following up his morning practice-leading effort with a third-place run on a temperate Friday afternoon in Portland. Fittipaldi made the best of his final flying lap by vaulting into the third spot with a trip around the 1.969-mile circuit in 59.215 seconds (119.706mph/192.643km/h). He will be looking for his third top-five starting spot of the season in Saturday qualifying and a repeat of today's placing would give him his best starting spot of the year, bettering his fourth-place grid position from the season opener at Monterrey, Mexico.
Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) showed that he is ready to get back in the scoring column after failing to finish the last two races by running the fourth-best time of the day, moving up the ladder with his last two laps, ending in a best lap of 59.403 seconds (119.327mph/192.033km/h). Franchitti's misfortune in the last two events has dropped him from the points lead to fifth place, a string that included a first-turn crash last weekend at Laguna Seca.
Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) scored the first points of his rookie season last weekend and assumed the lead in the Jim Trueman Rookie-of-the-Year standings, and he kept the momentum rolling with a fifth-place run Friday. Bell is hoping to widen his rookie lead on a track where he has had success in the past, having won from the pole during his Indy Lights career at Portland. A former track record holder at Portland from his Lights days, Bell took the fifth spot with a lap of 59.426 seconds (119.281mph/191.959km/h).
Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/Denso Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) had a strong day with the sixth-best qualifying effort as the Japanese driver looks to extend one of the more interesting current streaks in all of Champ Car racing. A final qualifying spot of seventh or better would mean that the Walker Racing pilot would have improved his grid position for each of the season's six events. Takagi started eighth at Laguna Seca last weekend, equaling a career high.
The Target/Ganassi duo of Scott Dixon (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) and Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) held down the next two spots with times that were just .027 seconds apart while Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) used a lap of 59.581 seconds (118.971mph/191.460km/h) to snare the ninth spot ahead of Alex Tagliani (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone), who rounded out the top 10.
Saturday will see another practice with final qualifying slated for 4:30 p.m. Eastern, and the G.I. Joe's 200 set to take the green flag at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. The final qualifying session will be shown live on SPEED Channel, while CBS will take over broadcast duties for Sunday's race, which is the network's second Champ Car broadcast of the season.
CHAMP CAR PROVISIONAL TOP-THREE QUALIFIER QUOTES
CRISTIANO DA MATTA (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I was actually surprised with our qualifying effort. Everyone was improving on their times from the first set of tires to the second set. When I went out the second time I found the track to be much better than expected. It was at least three to four tenths faster that round. Overall, my team seems to have a good understanding of what I want out of the car and that showed today."
KENNY BRACK (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): (On trading the top spot with da Matta late in the session) "I didn't get to see all the action going on out there because I was trying to concentrate on my run. As Christian [Fittipaldi] said, we are all running within about a tenth of each other which is a result of the road course work our team has done. For now, we're happy to be sitting where we are sitting in second."
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "Unfortunately, it didn't go the way we would have liked in the end. But I was 13th or so and shot up to third which isn't bad. I think the first set of tires hurt us and we were really loose. The second set was much better. I felt we had a shot at it because we were only about a tenth off the pole. I guess it was kind of wide open for any of the three of us here to get it. This is a very competitive series and things usually go this way."
* Cristiano da Matta and Kenny Brack have finished 1-2 in the last three road-course qualifying sessions, Brack taking the top spot ahead of da Matta in Friday's provisional qualifying at Laguna while da Matta pipped Brack for the top spot in Saturday's final grid.
* Toyota-powered cars took seven of the top eight spots on the provisional grid, with Dario Franchitti's Honda/Lola/Bridgestone breaking the string with a fourth-place effort. The run for Toyota keeps the momentum going from last weekend when six of the top seven cars in the finishing order were carrying Toyota powerplants on board.
* Defending race winner Max Papis (#22 Sigma Autosport Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) decided not to participate in the first day of qualifying due to cost concerns related to a full day of on track activity. The team reports that it may be able to run in Saturday's final session.