CHAMPCAR/CART: Miami: Saturday qualifying report

Miami rains help Tony Kanaan maintain grip on Grand Prix Americas pole after Saturday CART qualifying. MIAMI - (October 5, 2002) - Tony Kanaan ( ...

Miami rains help Tony Kanaan maintain grip on Grand Prix Americas pole after Saturday CART qualifying.

MIAMI - (October 5, 2002) - Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) took the slow boat to the third pole of his CART FedEx Championship Series career Saturday, riding the waves caused by heavy showers to take the top spot for Sunday's Grand Prix Americas.

Kanaan, who lives just five minutes from the 1.387-mile temporary street circuit in downtown Miami, was the only driver not to roll off of Pit Lane in Saturday's qualifying as the wet conditions made the track treacherous for those looking to secure a good starting spot. With the wet track keeping lap times well away from his Friday standard of 61.264 seconds (81.503 mph), Kanaan knew that he had his pole position wrapped up and declined to risk damage to his car by participating in Saturday's final qualifying.

The decision by Kanaan to rest on his laurels did not diminish a fiercely-competitive battle on the track however, as the battle to lead Saturday's qualifying was waged throughout the 40-minute session. When the CART Chief Steward determined that the qualifying session would be run under wet weather rules, it meant that the new CART rules limiting qualifiers to just 15 laps were tabled, allowing drivers to run as many laps as they wanted. Saturday's session was of key importance for Sunday's race, as the leader of the final qualifying would be guaranteed a front-row starting spot and a championship point, no matter what the leading time would be.

The lifting of the restrictions meant that the battle could be joined immediately and Scott Dixon (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) made the most of it. Dixon went out and vaulted to the top of the charts, where he, Team Rahal's Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Office Depot Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Dixon's teammate Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) would trade the point back and forth for the next 20 minutes.

The rains made for a very slick track and a session punctuated by red flags, mainly in Turn Six where Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone), Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone), Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) and Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) all had minor troubles during the qualifying run.

Dixon jumped to the top spot with five minutes to go in the session, only to be upended by Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Brack again. But after a final brief flag, the track would go green for a final few minutes, which was just enough time for Dixon to reclaim his place atop the ladder, posting a time of 69.786 seconds (71.550 mph).

Dixon's effort would be rewarded with a second-place starting spot for Sunday's 105-lap event, a grid position that will be the best of his two-year Champ Car career. Dixon had qualified second in Friday's provisional qualifying and was able to hold on to his spot after pacing the Saturday session.

The slow pace of the Saturday session meant that no other grid positions would change from Friday's qualifying, locking Walker Racing's Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer Denso Special Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) into the third rung of the ladder, matching his highest qualifying position of his career. It marks the second consecutive event that Takagi has qualified in the top five, becoming the first Japanese driver to accomplish the feat.

Brack would finish fifth-fastest in the session and claim the fourth spot on the Sunday grid, marking the eighth time that the 2001 CART runner-up will start a race in the top two rows. Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) led the Ford-Cosworth contingent and start fifth in Sunday's event, one spot ahead of series points leader Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone), who will try to clinch his first CART title tomorrow from the sixth position on the grid.

There will be a title contender behind him in each of the next two rows as Franchitti will take the green flag from honorary starter Juan Pablo Montoya from Row Four, with Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) taking up the chase from the fifth row.

Sunday's 105-lap Grand Prix Americas from the streets of downtown Miami will get underway at 1 p.m. Eastern Time and will be carried live on CBS Sports.

CHAMP CAR TOP-THREE QUALIFIER QUOTES

TONY KANAAN (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): "For me, I can't complain. It was an easy day for me. I did five laps this morning in the practice session. We didn't go out in the afternoon, but it was a smart move. It's my hometown, so I can control the weather a little [laughing]. It's going to be dry for tomorrow. Overall, our car was good out of the box and I just worked on scuffing the race tires in the practice this morning. We have a huge advantage starting up front, but it will be a good battle with these guys up front and the guys in the back. Strategy could also play a big part."

SCOTT DIXON (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "It was a big improvement every lap for us, that's the main reason we stayed out there. We tried to stay out and kept turning fast times. The circuit was pretty good overall except for the turn six area. The easiest was to test the section for our race tomorrow will be the ALMS [American LeMans Series] race later today. I think it's three hours long, so it will probably tear it up. But they've [track organizers] done a great job with what they've had so far."

TORA TAKAGI (#5 Pioneer/Denso Special Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone): "Starting from third position tomorrow on this track is very good because it's difficult to overtake somebody here. I can hold my position on the start and hopefully stay in line with the fast group."

NOTEWORTHY:

* With none of the four championship contenders (da Matta, Junqueira, Franchitti and Patrick Carpentier) scoring championship points in the two qualifying sessions, da Matta still needs to outscore Junqueira by 10 points in Sunday's race to clinch the 2002 series title.

* Christian Fittipaldi was second-fastest in Saturday's practice, followed by Mario Dominguez, but the efforts would not help their grid positions. Fittipaldi will start eighth while Dominguez will start shotgun on the 18-car field.

* Tony Kanaan won his first pole of the season with Saturday's final qualifying, becoming the eighth different driver to win a CART pole this season.

* Scott Dixon earned a championship point for leading Saturday qualifying, giving him 83 on the season and moving him into a tie for ninth with Alex Tagliani.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Mario Dominguez , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain