MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada (August 23, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...
MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada (August 23, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) warmed up for his first-ever visit to Montreal's Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve by testing the track on a well-known video-game system where he got a feel for the 2.709-mile layout where the Molson Indy Montreal would be contested this weekend.
The CART FedEx Championship Series points leader then went out and turned the track into his own gameboard, pacing the opening practice before salting away another championship point by capturing the provisional pole for Sunday's Champ Car event - held on the same circuit that hosts the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix every season.
Da Matta blistered the field with a best lap of 1:19.465 (122.726 mph/197.507 km/h), cementing a starting spot in the front row for Sunday's race while leading a Toyota-powered sweep of the top six positions on the provisional grid. He also boosted his series lead to 43 points over Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola Bridgestone) and Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) by earning the point for the provisional pole.
The Newman/Haas Racing pilot was chased to the point by a pair of Target-sponsored machines as Scott Dixon (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) and Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) filled the provisional podium. Dixon will be looking to establish a new career best in tomorrow's final qualifying as his second-place run from Friday with a lap of 1:19.755 (122.279 mph/196.789 km/h) would surpass his previous-best starting spot of third, gained in last year's trips to Road America and Laguna Seca.
Brack will also be looking to back up his Friday run and turn around his qualifying fortunes. The Target/Chip Ganassi Racing pilot has not started as high as third since his front-row starting spot in Portland, although he has started in the second row or better in half of the season's first 12 events.
The day was the first test of CART's new qualifying format as the 60-minute session started with 15 minutes of free practice, followed by a 10-minute break, chased by a 35-minute qualifying outing where each car still had 15 laps to post its best time. Da Matta and Brack paced the practice session, then went out and lopped nearly 1.5 seconds off of their practice times during qualifying.
The hometown favorites had a rough day as the leader of the Canadian trio of drivers, Carpentier, ended the day in the ninth spot after a brief meeting with the Turn Nine wall while his Player's teammate Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard Bridgestone) rode shotgun on the field after locking up the brakes in Turn Six and putting his car into the tire barriers. Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) struggled as well, ending the provisional session in the 16th spot.
The day's biggest surprise came from a driver that had already turned a number of laps on the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve from his Formula 1 days, as Walker Racing's Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/Denso Special Toyota/Reynard Bridgestone) was the last of the four drivers that were able to card laps under the 1:20 barrier on a sunny Friday afternoon. Takagi has never started any better than eighth in his Champ Car career, but would easily eclipse that mark if he can back up his Friday effort.
Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top five with his lap of 1:20.125 (121.715 mph/195.881 km/h) while Patrick Racing's Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) completed the six-place Toyota sweep by snapping off a quick lap of 1:20.161 (121.660 mph/195.793 km/h). Another of the CART drivers using their F1 experience on the Montreal island circuit to his advantage was Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) who will look to earn his best-ever CART road-course qualifying effort of seventh tomorrow after running the seventh-best orbit on Friday.
The green flag will wave for Saturday's final qualifying session at 1:45 p.m. Eastern Time tomorrow, and will be preceded by a 75-minute practice at 10:00 a.m. The qualifying will be shown live on SPEED Channel as will Sunday's Molson Indy Montreal, which goes off at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
CHAMP CAR PROVISIONAL TOP-THREE QUALIFIER QUOTES
CRISTIANO DA MATTA (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): (When asked about the effort) "It actually wasn't easy at all, but it's a lot less complicated when the car is working well. We didn't have to do a lot to the car because it was working pretty decent from the start. I'm happy with the car and the performance. There's a lot less pressure knowing you're on the front row Sunday. It's a good start to the weekend, but we have a long way to go." (On the comparison to Formula 1 here) "The lap comparison is the best way to do it I think. But it's hard when one side spends 200 million dollars to do it. I think we are around three seconds off their pace after this session. Our engineers have been very good. We can do three seconds off the time with 10 percent of the budget."
SCOTT DIXON (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): (On the Canadian crowds) "It's just great. This is probably the best Friday turnout we've had so far. It's just what we need." (On the qualifying changes) "It helps balance the track out a lot. It also definitely helps the crowd out as well because they have action for the entire session."
KENNY BRACK (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): (On the qualifying effort) "It's just a matter of getting a lap in. We went out and a Player's car [Alex Tagliani] hit the wall and caused a red flag. So we lost that one. After that, everyone kept backing up to get a good lap. We had a hard time getting a clear lap because of traffic, but we got one." (On the Canadian fans) "I think it's great up here. Canadian fans are very knowledgeable. Canada has a very strong interest in the CART series, not only because of their three driver's here."
* Cristiano da Matta earned a championship point for his provisional polewinning performance on Friday, marking the seventh time that he has paced provisional qualifying this season. When coupled with the points da Matta has earned for leading final qualifying (6) and leading the most race laps (3), he has earned 16 bonus points this season - the equivalent of a second-place finish in Sunday's race.
* Oriol Servia is in line to post his best-ever qualifying result as the diminutive Spaniard locked down the sixth spot in provisional qualifying on Friday. Servia set a season's best grid spot of ninth last weekend at Road America and would top his career high of seventh set at Portland in 2000 if he can back up Friday's run tomorrow.