By Kristian Steenstrup - Motorsport.com Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia - Juan Montoya captured pole in his last ever CART race today at Surfers Paradise in Australia. He left it to the very last moment but did enough to snatch pole from...
By Kristian Steenstrup - Motorsport.com
Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia - Juan Montoya captured pole in his last ever CART race today at Surfers Paradise in Australia. He left it to the very last moment but did enough to snatch pole from Gil DeFerran in the dying moments of qualifying.
Saturday had developed into a much drier afternoon than was first expected with the rain this morning and the sunshine and a strong wind dried the track and pushed the clouds away. So by the time the air display had finished and the obligatory Air Force fly overs were done there was a dry track and a stiff breeze to greet the drivers.
First out in the 'slow group' was Jason Bright who needed as much track time as possible. As the local hero he was also a focus of attention of much of the crowd and local media. It was not long before Alex Barron made the first big mistake of the day sliding wide into the unforgiving walls of the Surfers Paradise street circuit. After a delay of less than three minutes to retrieve Alex Barron's car the action resumed with the 13 runners of this slower group getting progressively faster. A small delay for Adrian Fernandez and an error by Mark Blundell (short cutting at turn1) were the only distractions as steady work netted Helio Castroneves a time that put him among the top ten overall. Problems yesterday meant that it was crucial for him to get a time in this session and a 1:33.708 meant that he was getting back towards where he should be.
With less than two minutes to go it was getting desperate for Adrian Fernandez and he rotated to a stop on the track which meant he would not improve beyond his 15th overall in the combined times. Helio Castroneves continued to improve in the Penske Reynard Honda getting himself to seventh overall with a time of 1:33.474 with the second fastest from the session, Alex Tagliani only 13th on the combined times. Everyone else essentially remained in the back half of the grid and even those fastest two had to await the faster group to maybe push them further back.
The scheduled 15-minute break between sessions gave the opportunity for the leaders to settle their nerves. The weather continued to be fine and if anything was a little warmer and sunnier, with a stiff breeze that was gentler at first than the tree bending wind of the first session. Gil deFerran was first out and then a gap to Juan Montoya who also had a clear track for his opening account. There was a pack of four in close circulation with Montoya's teammate Jimmy Vasser right behind. Christian Fittipaldi looked very committed in the early laps with the tail of the Newman-Haas car stepping out in some corners and the occasional locked brake. His first lap only brought a time of 1:40.466 and he immediately set about keeping the rhythm going on his next lap.
Dario Franchitti was trying hard early and had a slow rotation in a left-hand corner from which he was able to recover. The aforementioned wind started picking up again at this point (8 minutes into the session) and it caused an advertising banner to be blown on to the rack temporarily stopping the session. When the session resumed Vasser started his quick lap really attacking the circuit and looking to get to the front of the times with some spectacular locking of wheels.
Few fast laps could be completed before the session was interrupted yet again when Christian Fittipaldi heavily brushed the wall with considerable damage but no injury. An unusual sight was not only a detached wheel (they are tethered to the chassis but will break off) but a detached wheel on fire. Small flames emerging from the orphaned wheel before the CART safety team extinguished it.
With Fittipaldi done for the day it was up to Michael Andretti to uphold Newman-Haas honour, and his own championship chances. When the session was restarted with barely 10 minutes to go he started to attack the circuit vigorously until he mysteriously slowed to a halt out on the track brining out yet another red flag in the session. With less than 5 minutes to go they restarted the session and so some desperate laps were in evidence as deFerran blocked the progress of Juan Montoya to protect his pole from yesterday. Said deFerran later "I knew he was behind me, but I was just taking my normal lines. It was normal procedure". Intelligently rather than fight out position on the track in qualifying Montoya slowed to give himself a gap and put in a quick lap. DeFerran himself then committed to a fast lap and took off into the distance but his lap was no improvement on yesterday's.
Tracy improved to third with his final lap but that was immediately overshadowed by Montoya putting in a skilled and precise display to post a 1: 31.722 snatching pole from deFerran. The message was passed to Gil and so his last lap was ragged and untidy as he tried to squeeze everything out of the car but it was just not enough to get pole and missed by 1/10 of a second. Said Gil, "I knew I had lost pole because I was told on the radio, but I did not know by how much. So the next lap I was trying as hard as I could, but I had too much oversteer, I even got into a 'tank slapper'. I got a 31.8 and I had to hope that it was enough". Owner Roger Penske thought he had it for a moment as well, but a new fastest lap from Montoya in the 'extra time' allocated by CART meant the Colombian kept pole and Ganassi gesticulated at Penske with joy at the result. Third was Dario Franchitti on 1:32.059 and Paul Tracy was fourth on 1:32.328. Dario pointing out that "Juan and I could act as spoilers for the championship now. I would like to have a second win here and I am sure that Juan would like to win his last CART road course race. So we have nothing to lose whereas Gil and Paul have to win a championship".
Gil deFerran was possibly hampered by the blustery conditions and commented "I had a little more oversteer than yesterday, which could have been caused by the wind". He will rue the missed opportunity for pole but he has his 9th front row start of the year for the most important race of his career tomorrow. With a good result he can clinch the championship.