CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Friday qualifying report

da Matta extends CART FedEx Championship Series points lead with provisional pole in Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach qualifying. LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 12, 2002) - Newman/Haas Racing driver Cristiano da Matta ( ...

da Matta extends CART FedEx Championship Series points lead with provisional pole in Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach qualifying.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 12, 2002) - Newman/Haas Racing driver Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) got off to a good start in his quest to join two-time CART FedEx Championship Series champions Al Unser Jr. (the 1990 and '94 series champ) and Alex Zanardi (the 1997 and '98 titleist) as the only drivers in CART history to win four consecutive races by taking the provisional pole for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (FOX, 3:30 p.m. ET) in qualifying today.

Da Matta clocked a best lap of 1:09.092 (102.542 mph/165.020 kph) and earned a championship point for claiming the provisional pole position. Under new CART rules established at the beginning of the 2002 season, da Matta is guaranteed a front row starting position. The Brazilian has started second on four previous occasions (at Toronto in 2000 and Monterrey, Mexico; Portland, Ore.; and Fontana, Calif. last year), but he has never started from the pole in a Champ Car event.

Joining da Matta on the provisional front row was his Newman/Haas Racing teammate Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Eli Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone), who turned in a best lap of 109.220 (102.352 mph/164.715 kph). Fittipaldi goes into tomorrow's final round of qualifying looking to secure the second pole position of his career and his first pole since the event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1999.

If da Matta and Fittipaldi are able to maintain their front row starting positions after Saturday's final qualifying session, it would be the first time that Newman/Haas Racing teammates occupied the front row since Michael Andretti took the pole and Paul Tracy started second in the 1995 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Qualifying third on the provisional grid was Team Rahal's Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) with a best lap of 1:09.373 (102.126 mph/164.352 mph). Vasser has a long record of success in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, having finished inside the top ten in seven of ten career starts, highlighted by a victory in his CART FedEx Championship Series championship-winning season of 1996. The native Californian has also qualified inside the top ten in five of his past seven starts in Long Beach.

Vasser's Team Rahal teammate Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was fourth quickest in provisional qualifying after posting a best lap of 1:09.548 (101.869 mph/163.938 kph). Jourdain got off to a strong start to the 2002 season-his first with Team Rahal-with a fourth place finish in the season-opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix, and appears to have carried that momentum with him to Round Two in Long Beach.

Rounding out the top five on the provisional grid was second-year Target Chip Ganassi Racing competitor Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone). Junqueira managed a best qualifying lap of 1:09.549 (101.868 mph/163.936 kph) and is looking for his first pole position since taking the top qualifying spot at Nazareth, Pa. in 2001.

The top 13 cars in provisional qualifying turned laps within one second of each other, and the entire field was covered by slightly more than two seconds. Final qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach gets underway at 4:45 p.m. ET on Saturday with live television coverage provided by SPEED Channel. The CART FedEx Championship Series makes its debut on the FOX television network with Sunday's live broadcast of the 28th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach scheduled to air at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Quotes from the day's top three qualifiers follow below:

CRISTIANO da MATTA (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I'm not looking to tie the win streak record this weekend. If it happens, then it happens. I've never been on pole before in my career, but I'm confident that if I start on the front row, I will be able to battle all day. Our car is much better than Mexico. Traction control is beginning to come along and make a slight difference. I think it will help our lap times a little, but we are all good drivers and it can't make a tremendous difference in times."

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (#11 Eli Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "Actually, we had a pretty trouble free day today. We left Mexico and tested in Sebring, which seemed to help. The car wasn't exactly to my liking in the afternoon session, but we didn't have any major problems. I had a lot of push this afternoon. Overall, I'm really happy with our performance this afternoon. This format is much better than last year's format. There are still some problems that we need to work out, but I think they will work themselves out as the drivers familiarize themselves with the new procedure."

JIMMY VASSER (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "It's a little bit crazy with this new system in place and the rule changes. It creates drama, yes, but I think the first 20 minutes we needed some fire eaters or jugglers to entertain the fans behind me because they were yelling at me to get into my car. The car, however, was working quite well. The secret to our success is a matter of putting everything together and overcoming those small glitches in the race. But it's only Friday and my teammate, Michel (Jourdain Jr.) and I have been running well. Testing has gone well this season and I think Jourdain has to be the surprise of the season thus far. Team Rahal has high expectations and I know we can go far."


* Bevan Edwards of Costa Mesa, Calif. won the right to spend a day with the Simple Green CART Safety Team in a promotion at an Ace Hardware store in Huntington Beach, Calif. on Thursday. FOX Sports Radio AM 1150 was broadcasting live from the location and Patrick Racing rookie driver Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) was on hand to sign autographs as well as members of the Simple Green CART Safety Team and the Simple Green girls. "Thanks to Simple Green for the promotion," said Edwards. "I am very excited to be a part of the Simple Green CART Safety Team for my first race."

* This afternoon's SPEED Channel telecast of the opening round of qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach featured the debut of a unique and breathtaking new camera. The "Eye-View" Driver Cam mounted inside the helmet of driver Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) provided viewers with the same view Tracy saw through the visor of his helmet. It was the first opportunity for many viewers to really see the buffeting the driver's head takes on the circuit, and brings an entirely new dimension to the concept of the on-board camera. "When I saw Tracy close the visor and the camera was shooting through the visor, I just said, 'wow!'" said FOX Sports Coordinating Producer Doug Sellars. "This will bring our viewers as close as they possibly can get to being in the car."

* The deadline media room in the Dan Gurney Media Center was dedicated today to Howard Handy who passed away earlier this year. Handy, a former sports writer and newspaper editor, was a fixture at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for the last several years running the deadline room in the media center. Los Angeles Times motorsports reporter Shav Glick, former Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach publicist Hank Ives, and freelance motorsports journalist Lewis Franck each remembered Handy before the room was christened "The Howard Handy Deadline Press Room." Members of Handy's family were also on-hand for the ceremony.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Townsend Bell , Dan Gurney , Chip Ganassi , Michel Jourdain
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing