CLEVELAND (July 13, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...
CLEVELAND (July 13, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) went Saturday where no driver has gone before in his quest of a record-setting fifth consecutive CART victory, moving into uncharted territory by winning the pole for Sunday's Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank.
The pole position is not all that surprising for the Newman/Haas Racing driver as he has claimed the pole in each of the last four road courses on the CART FedEx Championship Series schedule, but Saturday's pole gave him a leg up on the drivers he's chasing for sole possession of the CART consecutive victory record. Da Matta is the third driver to line up with a chance to win a fifth-straight CART event but is the first to do it from the pole position. Al Unser Jr. gridded third in his drive for five at Mid-Ohio in 1990 while Alex Zanardi started seventh in his attempt at Michigan in 1998. Both drivers would finish third in their respective races.
Da Matta maintained his status as the man to beat this weekend, besting the field by 0.430 seconds in taking the pole with a best lap of 57.040 seconds (132.917mph) around the 2.106-mile Burke Lakefront Airport road course. The diminutive Brazilian has held similar margins over the field in each of the practice and qualifying sessions this weekend, and followed up his provisional polewinning effort from Friday with a run that would earn him another championship point. The point gives da Matta a 50-point lead (120-70) over his closest competitor Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone).
Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) posted his best qualifying effort of the 2002 season with a run to the second spot on the grid. Carpentier led the Ford-Cosworth lineup with a best lap of 57.470 seconds (131.923mph) to claim a grid spot on the outside of the front row. It is the best starting spot for Carpentier since he went off from the number two position last season at Vancouver and also marks the second time in the last three weeks that a Player's driver has started second (Alex Tagliani was second at Chicago).
Carpentier got his top lap on the board just in time, putting up his time one trip before an off-course excursion slowed his progress. Carpentier raised a cloud of dirt and slowed drastically on his next lap after posting his best time of the day, but was able to keep the car running through a course shortcut and avoided causing a red flag that would have cost the Canadian driver his best time of the session.
Defending Cleveland race winner Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) took the third position on the starting grid, putting each of CART's three engine manufacturers on the qualifying podium for the second time in the last three events. Franchitti paced the Honda drivers with a time of 57.482 seconds (131.895mph), giving him the inside spot in the second row, his best road-course starting spot since he gridded second at the season opener in Monterrey, Mexico.
Franchitti held the pole in the early stages of the final hour of qualifying, eclipsing da Matta's provisional time early in his run. He would be joined briefly at the top by Team Green stablemate Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone), but would settle for the third spot.
Da Matta's Newman/Haas teammate Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) scored the fourth spot in the qualifying session with a lap of 57.499 seconds (131.856mph), equaling a season high for the two-time CART racewinner and marking his best starting position since he placed fourth at the season opener at Monterrey. His run dropped Andretti back to the fifth spot, a spot that was welcome relief for the all-time CART victory leader. Andretti scored the fifth position with an orbit of 57.645 seconds (131.522mph), a grid spot that is his highest of the 2002 season and just his second inside the top 12 all season. The fifth spot is the best on a road course for Andretti since the 2001 season opener in Monterrey.
Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) tied his personal Cleveland best with a sixth-place starting position, following up his second-place run from Friday's provisional qualifying by taking a grid spot on the outside of the third row. Two-time Cleveland polesitter Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would claim the seventh position on the grid with a time of 57.731 seconds (131.326mph), marking his best starting position since he claimed the pole at Long Beach earlier this season in a race where he would finish second to Andretti.
Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) had his worst qualifying session of the 2002 season and still took the eighth spot on the grid, a testament to his success in qualifying this season. Junqueira has started in the top eight of every race this season, making him the first driver since Mauricio Gugelmin in 1997 to begin the season with nine consecutive top-eight starting spots.
Junqueira's Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) was ninth on the day with a lap of 57.797 seconds (131.176mph) while Walker Racing's Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer Denso Special Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) earned his fifth top-10 starting position of the season, ending the day in the 10th spot after posting a best lap that was a microscopic 0.001 seconds slower than that carded by Brack.
Sunday's Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank will take the green flag Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time with the entire 115-lap Road by the Shore broadcast live on CBS Sports.
CHAMP CAR TOP-THREE QUALIFIER QUOTES
CRISTIANO DA MATTA (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): (On qualifying in the latter portion of the session) "It's getting quite busy because every week everyone is waiting longer and longer to go out there. I was able to get everything out of the car. We didn't do anything crazy to the car because it ran so well this morning. I have only good things to say at this point. I can't complain." (On his lead in every session this weekend) "Four tenths on the track now is a very big difference compared to four tenths in the race. It's a comfort zone, yes. More than anything, I think whoever can stay up there at the end has a good chance of winning it."
PATRICK CARPENTIER (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone): "The team did a fantastic job every time we came in to change something. It's one of my engineer's birthdays today so I'm really glad it worked out for him. We made some changes with traction control and it seemed to have paid off. We're looking forward to moving up tomorrow as well. But as far as the race distance goes, this is a long one at 115 laps. Fifteen laps would be enough for me."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): "The car was good today, as it's been all weekend since we took it off the transporter. After going off earlier today and with the fire yesterday, we're pretty happy with the result. I was just a bit too conservative in some of the corners, but it's a long race tomorrow." (On Turn 1 in last year's race) "I'm sure there will be endless discussions about it at the driver's meeting. Everyone will walk out of the meeting and completely forget what we just talked about. We just need to get through Turn 1 and go from there."
* Cristiano da Matta earned his 13th bonus point of the season for claiming the pole for Sunday's race, marking the 13th bonus point that he has earned this year. The 13 points alone would tie him for 18th among the 20 drivers that have scored championship points this season.
* If da Matta leads the most laps and wins the race on Sunday, it will be the third time that he has swept all 23 available championship points on a road-course weekend. He became the first to turn the trick earlier this season in Portland, then followed it up with another 23-point outing last weekend at the Molson Indy Toronto.
* Da Matta will need to score a fourth-place finish on Sunday in order to stay ahead of the record-setting pace of Alex Zanardi, who set the CART record for most points scored in a season (285) in 1998. Zanardi left the ninth-round event in 1998 with 131 points to his credit and would go on to win Rounds 10 and 11. Da Matta will start Sunday's race with 120 markers on his ledger.
* Tora Takagi earned his fifth top-10 starting spot with a 10th-place run on Saturday. He has five top 10s in the first nine races of the season after earning just three such starting spots in the entire 2002 season.