CHAMPCAR/CART: Surfers Paradise: PKV Racing Saturday report

PKV Racing's Cristiano da Matta qualified fourth while teammate Jimmy Vasser will line up eighth for tomorrow's Lexmark Indy 300 on the temporary street circuit in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia. Da Matta had a quick lap in qualifying...

PKV Racing's Cristiano da Matta qualified fourth while teammate Jimmy Vasser will line up eighth for tomorrow's Lexmark Indy 300 on the temporary street circuit in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia.

Da Matta had a quick lap in qualifying of 1:32.753 (108.482 mph), which puts the #21 Bell Micro/PKV Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone car on the outside of Row #2. Vasser will slot the #12 Gulfstream/PKV Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone entry on the outside of Row #4 after turning in a fast lap of 1:33.703 (107.382 mph). Today's qualifying effort is the 10th time in 12 events that PKV Racing has qualified both cars in the top-10. It is also the team's best combined qualifying on a street circuit and the second best on a temporary circuit behind a second (da Matta) and an eighth (Vasser) in Cleveland.

Because today's weather conditions where the exact opposite from yesterday's, hot and humid versus rainy, wet and cool, both PKV Racing drivers were in essence taking to the track for the first time today. Da Matta started the day sixth on the grid following yesterday's provisional qualifying with a quick lap of 1:48.492 (92.869 mph). In morning practice the Bell Micro/PKV Racing team made some mechanical changes to the car in an effort to get more speed, but it was difficult to gauge their effectiveness due to the different track conditions. Da Matta had a quick time in the morning session of 1:36.099 (104.705 mph), which placed him 11th on both the individual and combined practice report. After another round of changes da Matta went out for the 15 minute afternoon warm-up prior to qualifying and gave an indication of what was to come as he clocked in with a fast time of 1:34.471 (106.509 mph). The time placed him fourth on individual practice report and moved him to fourth on the combined report. In qualifying da Matta wasted no time as he took to the track at the drop of the green flag, an unusual move on a street circuit where the track gets faster as more rubber is laid down, and began turning laps that consistently had him first or second on the speed charts. By the end of his first stint, a run of seven laps, he was at the top of the grid. With the threat of a red flag hovering over the session, da Matta, who would need approximately 13 minutes to complete his final eight qualifying laps, began his second stint with 16 minutes to go in the session. He ran his fastest lap of the weekend on his final lap, the eighth of the stint and 15th overall.

""I am very happy with today's qualifying session," da Matta said. "The Bell Micro/PKV Racing team had a great two runs. The first stint was good all the way through. On the second stint, the first few laps I had some traffic, but the rest of the way was clear and I one very good lap," he explained. "The PKV Racing team did a lot of work before this race and it has paid off. We also made a change to the car after the morning practice that really helped. The Bell Micro/PKV Racing car is very fast and I think it is also a good race car, so I am very confident heading into tomorrow's race."

Da Matta, who is in his fifth Champ Car season and first with PKV Racing, will be making his 91st career start, 12th with the team and fifth in Surfers Paradise tomorrow. The talented 31-year-old Brazilian has qualified in the top-10 in 11 of the 12 events this year (missing out only in San Jose) with a best starting position of second in Cleveland (he has qualified fourth three times Milwaukee, Las Vegas and Australia). Da Matta has now qualified in the top-10 in all five of his attempts in Surfers Paradise with one pole (2002). He has finished in the top-10 three times in four races and, along with his teammate, is one of 14 past winners of this race (no driver has ever repeated) capturing the victory inn in 2001.

Da Matta, who spent the last two seasons competing in Formula 1, opened the season with three top-10 finishes in the first four races including a win in Portland, the first and only victory in the two plus year history of PKV Racing. He then battled through a series of incidents in the next five events, before rallying with a solid performance in Montreal. The resident of Miami, Florida has finished in the top-10 in five of the 11 races contested this year and is currently 10th in the championship standings with 130 points. Da Matta is 32 points out of ninth place and mathematically can still finish as high fifth in the season ending standings. The 2002 Series Champion is attempting to finish in the top-10 in the standings for the fourth consecutive time and fourth time in five Champ Car seasons (missed out only in 1999, his rookie year).

Vasser was eighth on the provisional grid coming into today's qualifying with a fast lap of 1:48.792 (92.488 mph). In morning practice he, like his teammate, showed improvement in his time based on the improved track conditions recording a fast lap of 1:35.558 (105.297 mph), but unlike his teammate gained a position placing seventh on the speed charts. In the afternoon warm-up Vasser had a little more difficulty turning a quick lap of 1:35.484 (105.379), which put him 10th on both the individual and combined practice reports. In qualifying Vasser used a slightly different strategy than his da Matta beginning both stints well after teammate. However, like his teammate his car was improved. He also ran his fastest lap on his last lap, the seventh of his second stint and the 13th overall.

"I am very happy for Cristiano's effort today in qualifying," Vasser quickly said. "I expected to do better myself, but I just didn't put a whole lap together," he noted. "The morning practice was basically like running on a track for the first time because the conditions were so different from yesterday, but the PKV Racing engineering staff made some changes to the car that worked well for us," explained Vasser. "Overall, I am pleased to have two PKV Racing cars in the top-eight for this race. That is pretty good," he concluded.

Vasser, who is competing in his 14th year of Champ Car competition, will be making his 230th career, Champ Car start tomorrow, which will extend his record of consecutive starts to 209th. The highly respected 39-year-old Californian has now qualified in the top-10 in 11 consecutive races and 11 of the 12 events this year including capturing the first and only pole in PKV Racing's history, at Milwaukee. Vasser, who is making his 14th start in Surfers Paradise, has now qualified in the top-10 a total of 11 times in 14 attempts in Australia with one pole (1996). He has finished in the top-10 five times with a victory in 1996.

Vasser, who is coming off a season high third place performance in Las Vegas, has finished in the top-10 in seven of the 11 races this season with three top-five showings, the third in Vegas, a fourth in Toronto and a fifth in Milwaukee. He has finished 143 of his last 185 races and placed in the top-10 in 130 of his 229 events including 65 top-five showings and 32 podium finishes. The resident of Las Vegas, Nevada is currently sixth in the standings with 173 points, but is just 13 points out of fifth place, 41 out of fourth and 43 out of third. He has as strong shot at finishing in the top-five in the championship standings, which would be his best season since 1998 and establish a new team record by topping his eight place showing in his inaugural season at PKV Racing last year. It will also be the ninth time in the last 11 years that the perennial championship contender, and 1996 Series Champion, has place in the top-10 in the standings.

-pkv-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Cristiano da Matta