CHAMPCAR/CART: Chicago: Saturday qualifying summary

Dario Franchitti captures 11th career Champ Car pole after leading CART Grand Prix of Chicago qualifying. CICERO, Ill - (June 29, 2002) Dario Franchitti ( ...

Dario Franchitti captures 11th career Champ Car pole after leading CART Grand Prix of Chicago qualifying.

CICERO, Ill - (June 29, 2002) Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) had to sweat it out for a few minutes longer than he normally would to capture his 11th Champ Car pole, but in the end he got to wave the polewinner's flag after snaring the top spot for the CART Grand Prix of Chicago Saturday afternoon with a top lap of 23.428 seconds (158.118mph).

Franchitti moved into sole possession of 11th place on the all-time CART FedEx Championship Series polewinner's list with his 11th pole, breaking a four-way tie with former Champ Car stars Teo Fabi, Nigel Mansell and Alex Zanardi. The Team Green pilot won his first pole since taking back-to-back top spots at Road America and Vancouver in the 2000 season and also claimed his first oval-track pole since leading qualifying at Rio de Janeiro in 1998.

The Scot had to wait longer than normal to celebrate after seemingly winning the pole, watching as Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) and Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) both withdrew their primary cars after making disappointing qualifying runs, and re-qualifying with their backup machines. The moves extended the session and helped Fernandez climb to sixth on the grid, but neither driver was able to challenge the leader, giving Franchitti the pole. The pole win also earned Franchitti a vital championship point, giving him 50 on the season and moving him to within four points of second-place drivers Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) and Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

Second place on the grid went to Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) as the Canadian driver would post his best qualifying effort of the season, falling just .006 seconds shy of the time posted by Franchitti. The margin between the front-row qualifiers was the second closest of the season (Jimmy Vasser won the Long Beach pole by .003 over Cristiano da Matta) and gave Tagliani his best starting spot since he closed the 2001 campaign with a pole at California Speedway. The qualifying effort was made sweeter by the fact that Tagliani's machine blew an engine in the morning practice session, but the Player's team came out with the backup car and clamped down a front-row spot.

The tight qualifying order continued through the third spot as series points leader Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) finished a scant .009 seconds behind Tagliani with a run of 23.443 seconds (158.017mph). The run gave da Matta his best oval-track starting spot of the season and put all three of CART's engine manufacturers in the top three of qualifying for the first time all year.

The #10 Mo Nunn Racing Honda/Lola/Bridgestone of Tony Kanaan was next on the grid with an orbit of the 1.029-mile Chicago Motor Speedway oval in 23.526 seconds (157.460mph). Kanaan, who led the morning practice, took the fourth spot in the order one year after winning his first-ever Champ Car pole for the 2001 Chicago race, starting as high as fourth for the third time this season.

Junqueira rounded out the top five with a circuit in 23.545 seconds (157.333mph) marking his sixth consecutive top-five starting spot. The Target Chip Ganassi Racing sophomore has qualified seventh or higher in every race this season and is the first since Gil de Ferran strung eight consecutive top-five starting spots together last season.

Fernandez benefited greatly from the call to pull his original machine, which had qualified 14th, and roll out the backup car for another qualifying attempt. Fernandez only got to run one qualifying lap as a result of his move, but he only needed one to move up eight spots on the grid, climbing to the sixth position.

Tagliani's teammate Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) would take the seventh spot in qualifying ahead of Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/Denso Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone). Takagi tied his career-best qualifying effort of eighth for the third straight week, getting bumped from the seventh position when Fernandez re-qualified.

Scott Dixon (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) brought his Ganassi-owned machine home in the ninth spot while Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top 10 in the car that Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) carried to the victory a year ago. Brack will start 12th in Sunday's 250-lap event which will be carried live by CBS (3:30 p.m. ET).

CHAMP CAR TOP-THREE QUALIFIER QUOTES:

DARIO FRANCHITTI (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): (On the qualifying effort) "It was definitely a good run for us. It's fun when you're quick in any session of course, but it's special to be on pole position. As Tag [Alex Tagliani] said, the track was slower today in the afternoon session and we had to make changes." (On Adrian Fernandez and Michael Andretti re-qualifying) "It was nerve racking in the end with the other guys out there a second time. It just goes to show how competitive we are and what a competitive series this is. Whether you start from the back or the front you always have a chance at winning. But it's always easier to do it when you start up front and I'm happy that we'll be doing that tomorrow."

ALEX TAGLIANI (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone): (After mechanical difficulties in practice) "I was definitely worried because we didn't put a time on the sheet after blowing the engine this morning. The car was a little bit on the conservative side, but good enough to get us on the front row for tomorrow. My team turned this car around and cleaned it up when all they had was about two hours. They did a great job for us."

CRISTIANO DA MATTA (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I'm really happy considering the luck we've had on the two previous oval events. Here, we are improving on what we took from and what we learned at Twin Ring Motegi and Milwaukee. This is more about being happy with our effort and the progression we have made on the ovals as opposed to the results. We are learning and we are getting better. We need more points and we have to get some of those points on the ovals."

NOTEWORTHY:

* Dario Franchitti's polewinning effort breaks a streak of 31 races without a pole for the veteran, a streak that was the longest of his six-year CART career. He won his first pole in Toronto of his rookie year (1997) in just his 11th start. This also marks the fifth season that Franchitti has won at least one pole position.

* Defending race winner Kenny Brack qualified 12th for Sunday's event, marking a string of disappointment in qualifying for drivers that are looking to defend their race titles from 2001. Through seven events in 2002, the defending race winner has yet to qualify in the top three at the race they won the previous season. Brack does have the highest starting spot of any defending race winner this year as he qualified fourth at Motegi while trying to defend his 2001 win at the 1.5-mile oval.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Kenny Brack , Nigel Mansell , Chip Ganassi , Teo Fabi , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain , Mo Nunn
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing