By Clayton Bradford - Motorsport.com "In a last lap dash, Roberto Moreno took provisional pole from championship leader, Gil De Ferran. De Ferran, Moreno and Cristiano Da Matta swapped times time for most of the session before Gil settled...
By Clayton Bradford - Motorsport.com
"In a last lap dash, Roberto Moreno took provisional pole from championship leader, Gil De Ferran.
De Ferran, Moreno and Cristiano Da Matta swapped times time for most of the session before Gil settled on a 1 min 32.406 (108.889mph) in his spare car before returning to the pits after a red flag in the session. Gil didn't return to the track for the last 10 minutes of the session because of a time penalty for stopping a previous session. Moreno, in the Reynard Toyota, threatened for most of the session, and on return after a Max Papis induced red flag ran a 1.32.095 (109.257mph) in front of De Ferran and Cristiano Da Matta (1.32.552 sec at 108.717mph).
A jubilant Moreno returned to the pits fist pumping on entry and jumping onto his pit crew after being told by Jim McGee as he crossed the line on his last lap. "Back to the old days, last lap, last minute" Roberto commented, mentioning his previous Grand Prix experience in Australia. "Australia has been good to me before and again today."
Championship contender, Kenny Brack, had a dismal day after clipping a wall on his warm up lap, causing damage to the left side of the car. The best Brack could manage for the rest of the session was 13th with 1min 33.753 (107.325mph). The rest of his session was spent missing various opportunities with red flags breaking up his run. Given his previous poor form on temporary circuits, his championship hopes have been surely dented, given the impressive form of de Ferran in his spare car.
After a wet and drizzly day on Friday which saw few Champ Cars on track, Saturday brought out the sunshine, drying the track and allowing the drivers to firstly set up in the morning practice before an action packed qualifying session for the slower half.
The drivers faced 30 degrees Celsius ambient temp and a track temp of 51.5 Celsius. Jimmy Vasser, still in the slower group, took the quickest time for the session at 1min 33.447 ( 107.676mph) which was good enough to put him on tenth spot for tomorrows race. Vasser's team has a fair amount of work to do after spinning late in the session at Fosters Chicane ( Turn 7) and broadsiding the concrete wall. Vasser indicated that he was trying hard on the lap but took too much of the raised ripple strips upsetting the car.
Two quick red flag incidents interrupted the sessions with Tora Takagi and Mauricio Gugelmin both putting their cars into the tyre barrier on turn 8 at the end of the back straight. Gugelmin is in doubt for tomorrow's race after x-rays at a local hospital revealed a chipped bone in his right hand.
The next quick green session was interrupted after a spectacular crash involving Alex Barron. Barron took over in the Arcerio Brook Ford from the recently deposed Max Wilson, didn't help his chances for a full time drive next year when he belted his car into the wall at the exit of Fosters Chicane ( Turn 7 ). Barron apexed the third ripple strip and then came out of the chicane, oversteering and correcting. The front of his car hit the bump on the exit, which has been lifting the front wheels of all the cars as they come out of turn 7, turning Barron's car right. The rear wheels bit and spat the front of his car into the unforgiving concrete wall at a 45-degree angle. A small oil fire ensued and debris covered the track bringing out the red flag for a time. Barron was uninjured in the accident and the car had serious damage to the right side.
Once Barron's mess was tidied up, the session got stopped again after Vasser's altercation with the wall.
The faster qualifying group got under way with both Penske cars first on track. Gil de Ferran, driving his spare car after breaking the gearbox on his primary yesterday, took a few laps to get up to speed, sliding wide on corners until his second set of tyres gave him the speed he wanted.
Cristiano Da Matta impressed with third on the grid with 1min 32.522 (108.717mph) although he admitted a mistake when they pitted after Papis brought out the red flag, believing that was the end of the qualifying session. "I didn't get out quick enough to get my tyres up to temperature again, but I think I have a good car for tomorrow."
Paul Tracy pushed himself into fourth place with a respectable 1min 32.605 (108.655) in front of teammate Dario Franchitti who posted 1 min 32.760 (108.473mph). Franchitti suffered gearbox problems in his primary car in the morning practice and changed to his spare getting better results in the qualifying session.
Andretti had a better afternoon, improving from 23rd in the morning practice to 6th on the grid with 1min 32.971 sec (108.227 mph) after Eddie JONES (Chief Engineer) "came up with some tricks for my style" commented Michael.
With all three Team Green cars in the top six, and all three previous winners, making a menacing trio within striking distance of Moreno and de Ferran.
The surprise of the day was that both Ganassi Toyota cars failed to break into the top twenty. Bruno Junquera, who is on his first visit to the surfers Paradise track, admitted to a difficult day after missing a lot of valuable track time because of the rain on Thursday. The best he could do was 1min 34.476 (106.503mph) to Memo Gidley in 23rd with 1 min 34.754 (106.191mph). Memo complained of missed opportunities but is still confident of a strong finish for the race.
Last years winner, Adrian Fernandez struggled to find a clean lap with all of the red flag periods ruining his run, leaving him in 17th on the grid. Teammate Nakano had similar problems, however both were confident of strong cars for the race.
With de Ferran's 2nd spot a good start for the weekend, he needs to break his hoodoo at the Surfers Paradise track to ensure his Championship. Not completing more than one lap in the last two races in Australia is not a great record to have, but Gil's recent form on road courses can only add to his confidence and make Brack's chances for the championship look bleak.
Moreno, meantime is trying to break into the top ten for the championship and needs a good finish to cement to add to his chances of a full time drive next year.