Canadian Paul Tracy thrills home crowd at Ontario'S Exhibition Place by pacing Cart Champ Car qualifying for Molson Indy Toronto TORONTO (July 12, 2003) - The 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford has been a season...
Canadian Paul Tracy thrills home crowd at Ontario'S Exhibition Place by pacing Cart Champ Car qualifying for Molson Indy Toronto
TORONTO (July 12, 2003) - The 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford has been a season of firsts for CART Champ Car World Series points leader Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), but few were likely as satisfying as Saturday's accomplishments on the streets of Toronto.
The Canadian Tracy, who has been mobbed by his home-country fans and media since his arrival last week, avoided the rain drops that fell intermittently throughout today's final qualifying session and ran the fastest lap of the weekend to win the pole for Sunday's Molson Indy Toronto. The pole is his third of the year and the 16th of his distinguished career. It came in front of another strong Toronto crowd, as 50,469 fans braved a chilly and rainy day to come out and cheer their hometown hero on to the pole.
His lap of 58.839 seconds (107.378 mph) was four-tenths of a second faster than any other orbit turned over the weekend and gave Tracy not only his first-ever Toronto pole but his first in his home nation. Also helping to commemorate the occasion for Tracy was the fact that the pole award in Toronto is named after the late Greg Moore, who was a close friend of Tracy's before his untimely demise in 1999.
Saturday's session took a different tack than most CART Champ Car World Series qualifying runs as ominous rain clouds covered the Toronto sky for the second consecutive day. The threat of rain sent half of the field sprinting off Pit Lane as soon as the 40-minute session started, looking to hang up some quick times before the rain doused the 1.755-mile street circuit.
That strategy nearly paid off handsomely for some of the drivers as the raindrops did indeed fall 11 minutes into the session. Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) slipped into the second and third spots before the rain hit, and it looked like they had stolen a march on the rest of the field as light rains fell on the track.
But the clouds would abate after 10 minutes and Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would lead a charge off of Pit Lane as the drivers wasted no time heading back out. The track dried quickly and times fell back into the 60-second range less than 20 minutes after the first rains hit the track.
With the moisture out of the way the pilots went back to the task of fighting for tomorrow's pole, and as they have done for much of the year, they ended up firing at a time put up by the series points leader. Tracy hung his 58.8 on just his seventh lap to knock Jourdain back to third and after trying unsuccessfully for one lap to lower that time, he headed back to the pits to wait it out.
As happened in first-round qualifying, he had to wait while his chief rival Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) fired his final bullets at the pole. Junqueira sat on Pit Lane for most of the session - as he had already guaranteed himself a front-row starting spot by leading Friday qualifying - and had a full stint left with a relatively clear track, but would be unable to move up, settling for a best lap of 59.332 seconds (106.486 mph).
"It's frustrating because I thought we had a chance for the pole but we didn't get a chance," Junqueira said. "I hit a lot of traffic when my tires were at their best and then when I did get clear track, I didn't have enough left to catch Tracy."
Despite having the second-best time of the day (59.218 seconds/106.691 mph), Jourdain would settle for the third spot on the grid, meaning that the Team Rahal driver has started in the top three in half of the year's 10 races. His effort knocked Canadian Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) back to fourth for Sunday's race, a position that is the best for the Rocketsports Racing pilot in his four Toronto starts. Tagliani started fifth in 2001 and would go on to place second and has not finished lower than seventh in any of his previous Toronto starts.
Carpentier rounded out the top five with a top lap of 59.364 seconds (106.428 mph), putting him one spot ahead of rookie points leader Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Bourdais carries the momentum of last week's Cleveland win to the Ontario capital this weekend and will start sixth, marking only the second time this season that he has started lower than fifth.
Roberto Moreno (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) earned his best starting spot of the season by claiming the seventh position on the grid while Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will take Sunday's green flag from the eighth spot. Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) was the fastest of the Reynard contingent and will start in the top 10 for the fifth consecutive weekend after a ninth-place run while Fernandez completed the top 10.
Sunday's 112-lap Molson Indy Toronto will get underway at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time and will be shown live on CBS Sports.
TOP THREE QUALIFIER QUOTES:
"We got very lucky today, it was a very mentally challenging session for us. I went on track six minutes in and was on a quick lap and it started to rain. I was in Turn Four, Five and Six and Max (Papis) crashed in front of me. We sat there and waited and the rain started and stopped and there wasn't a lot of grip. But it picked up and I noticed that the grip was improving and we got into the 58s. Right after that it started to rain again and the track got slippery so we timed it right."
"We were waiting for 10 minutes to go in order to go out but right then it started raining again and that meant that we couldn't run two different stints. I could have gone much faster and it's very frustrating because the rain took my chance to go for the pole. This might be a track where sometimes it is better to start third than to start second but I just want to keep the pressure on."
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.:
"At the start it seemed that the track was as dry as it had been all weekend so we went out right away. Even at the end when we went out it was very fast and I think we used the right strategy, but it is very frustrating that we could not get away from the traffic."
Paul Tracy's polewinning effort gives him the 16th pole of his career, moving him into a tie with 2000 and '01 CART champion Gil de Ferran for seventh on the CART career list. The pole puts him 13th on the all-time Champ Car list, which dates back to 1930.
Paul Tracy earned a championship point for winning Saturday's pole, giving him 118 on the season and extending his lead over Bruno Junqueira to eight digits.
Roberto Moreno's seventh-place qualifying position is his best in the CART Champ Car World Series since 2001 when he took the pole in Surfers Paradise, Australia.
Paul Tracy will start in the front row for the seventh time this season. His career-best for front-row starts in a season came in 1994 when he parlayed eight front-row starts into a third-place finish in the championship.
The Molson Indy Toronto has only been won from pole twice in its 17-year history. Michael Andretti claimed one of his seven Toronto wins from the pole position in 1991 while 2002 CART champion Cristiano da Matta led wire-to-wire from pole a year ago.