CHAMPCAR/CART: Elkhart Lake: Friday qualifying summary

Cristiano da Matta takes provisional pole at Road America, lenghtens Cart Fedex Championship Series lead to 28 points. ELKHART LAKE, Wisc., (August 16, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...

Cristiano da Matta takes provisional pole at Road America, lenghtens Cart Fedex Championship Series lead to 28 points.

ELKHART LAKE, Wisc., (August 16, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) found himself in the unfamiliar position of having to come from behind as the minutes ticked by in Friday's provisional qualifying for the Grand Prix at Road America Featuring the Motorola 220, but showed that the strange scenery was not enough to slow him down.

Da Matta used his last flying lap of the day to vault his way to the top of the provisional ladder, after spending the entire 60-minute session seeing someone else's car on the top of the scoring pylon. The series points leader put together a best lap of 1:42.620 (141.980 mph) around the 4.048-mile Road America layout to knock Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) back to the second rung of the day's ladder.

Da Matta, who had not won a Champ Car pole in his previous three seasons of competition, is now in position to win his sixth of the season in Saturday's final qualifying. The provisional pole gives the Newman/Haas driver 123 points on the season, extending his lead to 28 markers over Mid-Ohio winner Patrick Carpentier (#32 Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone).

Junqueira would settle for the second spot in provisional qualifying - a spot that is made more important with the weather forecast calling for a slight chance of rain on Saturday. Junqueira had been one of the best qualifiers on the circuit in the first eight races of the season, gridding seventh or better in each of the first eight events, but has not been in the top five in any of the last three races. The defending Road America champion, Junqueira will be looking for his second front-row start of the season in final qualifying after posting a top lap of 1:42.744 (141.836 mph) on Friday.

The large Road America crowd had a reason to cheer early as Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola Bridgestone) roared off of pit lane just 10 minutes into the session and led a chase that saw most of the drivers turning laps under sunny skies. Nine of the 18 drivers in the field held the pole at one point during the session, topped finally by da Matta unseating Junqueira with less than a minute of green-flag time remaining.

Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) returned to the site of his first CART victory (1998) and ended the day on the provisional podium, taking the third spot with a time of 1:42.990 (141.497 mph). Franchitti, who is one of three active drivers (Paul Tracy, Michael Andretti) to have won a race and a pole at Road America, will be looking to earn his fourth top-three grid position in the last six events in Saturday's final qualifying.

Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) showed his grit Friday, climbing into his machine and turning the fourth-best time of the day despite still experiencing pain from the injuries suffered in Vancouver. The Fernandez Racing team entered the weekend unsure if Fernandez was going to be able to drive the car, and had Max Papis on standby, but Fernandez was able to overcome the discomfort and make the run.

Scott Dixon (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) put himself in line to earn his best starting position of the season after taking the fifth spot on Friday. The sophomore driver has a pair of fourth-place starting spots this season but established a career-best third-place starting spot at Road America in his rookie campaign of a year ago.

As anticipated, a Player's/Forsythe driver led the Reynard brigade on Friday, but it was Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) setting the pace ahead of his Mid-Ohio-winning teammate Carpentier, earning the sixth spot on the provisional grid with a time of 1:43.184 (141.231 mph). Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone), three-time Road America polesitter Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone), Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Andretti would round out the top 10.

The final grid will be set after tomorrow's final qualifying, which is set to get underway at 2:45 p.m. Eastern Time. The Grand Prix at Road America Featuring the Motorola 220 will take the green flag at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday and will be broadcast live by SPEED Channel.

CHAMP CAR PROVISIONAL TOP-THREE QUALIFIER QUOTES

CRISTIANO DA MATTA (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "My two runs were actually pretty smooth, without getting into traffic. I was pretty impressed with Bruno's [Junqueira] time, so we came in and made some changes before our second outing. Everything just went really well. It's good to score a point and hopefully we can get some more this weekend." (On reversing his recent string of bad luck) "It was never a situation when we were slow or we were starting in the back of the grid. This is a long championship with 20 races. You're going to have engine difficulties and driver mistakes. That's normal. But we had that happen three weekends in a row. The speed and performance have always been there, it's just a matter of getting back into control."

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "It was really a little bit frustrating because Team Target gave me such a good car. I though that I could have gone faster. I just really like to driver here, not because I got my first race win here, but it is a really fun track with high-speed corners. This track has everything - high, medium and low-speed corners with long straightaways. It is perfect."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): "We felt we had a good car this morning. We found some discrepancies, shall we say, and we put the car back the way it should have been. We went out on our second lap and caught #51 [Adrian Fernandez], who, in Turn 1 thought he could turn his quick lap coming out of the pits - an interesting tactic. We have a little bit of work to catch the two guys in front of us tomorrow so we'll give it a go."

NOTEWORTHY:

* Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) escaped injury in Friday morning practice when he suffered a rear-wing failure that sent him spinning into the Turn 1 gravel trap. Kanaan was unhurt and ran his backup Mo Nunn Racing machine in the qualifying session but was last in the 18-car field.

* Cristiano da Matta earned another point for provisional qualifying, giving him 15 bonus points earned during the 2002 season. If da Matta can win the pole in final qualifying on Saturday, his season total of bonus points would equate to those awarded for a second-place race finish (16).

* Oriol Servia would post his best qualifying effort of the season on Friday, ending his day in the ninth spot on the provisional grid for Patrick Racing. Servia held the pole briefly during the session and will be looking to better his season-best grid spot of 11th during Saturday's final qualifying.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Cristiano da Matta , Mo Nunn
Teams HART