CHAMPCAR/CART: Monterey: Saturday qualifying report

Cristiano da Matta earns first career Champ Car pole Saturday at Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey featuring the Shell 300. MONTEREY, Calif. (June 8, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...

Cristiano da Matta earns first career Champ Car pole Saturday at Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey featuring the Shell 300.

MONTEREY, Calif. (June 8, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) erased the zero from his career pole column on another sun-drenched California afternoon as the Brazilian captured his first career CART pole position by claiming the top spot for Sunday's CART FedEx Championship Series Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300.

Da Matta negotiated his Newman-Haas machine around the 2.238-mile Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca layout in 1:09.473 (115.970mph/186.631km/h) to earn his first Champ Car pole, leading a Toyota/Lola sweep of the top three spots on Sunday's grid. The winner of the 2002 season opener in Monterrey, Mexico, da Matta broke a three-year dry spell for Newman-Haas which took its first CART pole since 1999, with its last pole award coming courtesy of Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) at Road America.

Da Matta also earned a championship point for the pole win giving him 30 on the season, moving him to within 12 points of series points leader Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), and just two points out of third place. The starting effort marks the sixth time that the Brazilian has started in the front row, and second time this season that he makes a front row start as he earned the second spot on the grid at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

His fastest lap came with 23 minutes to go in the qualifying session and came just in time as his engine expired a few minutes later in a huge cloud of smoke. Da Matta drove back to pit lane instead of pulling off course, incurring a fine of $10,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct relating to the incident. CART officials ruled on the fine after da Matta's car remained on track after the engine blew and he proceeded to drive into pit lane. The ruling does not affect da Matta's pole or his championship point earned for the pole position.

Provisional polesitter Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) had a front-row starting spot sewn up by virtue of his Friday-leading qualifying time, but decided that he would rather earn the spot Saturday instead of resting on his laurels. The third-year Champ Car driver took his first-ever Laguna Seca front-row starting spot with a time of 1:09.575 (115.800mph/186.357 km/h), bettering his time from Friday by a full half-second and taking the second spot on the grid for Sunday's 87-lap race.

Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) completed the Toyota/Lola sweep by taking the third spot with a lap of 1:09.759 (115.495mph/185.866km/h) with less than 10 minutes to run in the session. Junqueira earned his third top-three starting position of the 2002 season and improved his Laguna grid position nine spots from his rookie visit when he started 12th and finished seventh.

As it happened in Friday's provisional qualifying, Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) and Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top five, with Kanaan filling the second row after taking 1:10.043 (115.026mph/185.112km/h) to complete his best lap. Fittipaldi was the last driver on track with a shot at the pole and made a strong run, but would come up a bit short, using a top lap of 1:10.184 (114.795mph/184.740km/h) to take the fifth spot while putting both Newman-Haas Racing cars in the top five.

Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and teammate Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) showed their skills as they qualified sixth and seventh respectively, just one day after both drivers damaged their machines in separate incidents. The effort was the third consecutive top-six qualifying run for Carpentier while Tagliani earned his best Laguna Seca starting berth in his three trips to the picturesque layout.

Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/Denso Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) will start eighth in Sunday's race after posting a best time of 1:10.288 (114.626mph/184.467km/h), earning not only his best starting spot of the 2002 season, but equaling his best-ever road course effort. The second-year CART driver started eighth after a rain-soaked session at the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Firstar last season.

The Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300 airs live on SPEED Channel Sunday afternoon beginning at 4:30 p.m. E.T. Live audio coverage, as well as live Timing & Scoring data, will also be available on the official web site of the CART FedEx Championship Series, www.cart.com.

Quotes from the top three finishers in Saturday's qualifying session follow below:

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I was able to go out and turn a fast lap as early as three laps in. Our car has been coming up to speed quite quickly. We're happy to be on pole, but we're not happy about finishing the qualifying session short. I would have liked to have fought it out to the end." (On having his motor expire late in the session) "I know some guys are pretty mad at me right now for staying out on the track and putting some oil down. When you have everything happening so quickly you think about getting back to the pits and not what your opponents are doing." (On starting from pole for the first time) "The field we have here in CART is never an easy one to work through with all the competition, especially with guys like Kenny [Brack] and Bruno [Junqueira]. But we have a good car and the team and I are confident."

KENNY BRACK: (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I think our car was pretty good in the end of the session today until we hit some oil back there on the track. We have every chance to do well here tomorrow though. Starting out front here is almost a necessity and is obviously very important." (On da Matta's engine expiring) "Maybe he could have gotten off line or done something a little different, but it's hard to say in that situation."

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I thought that we could improve a little on our time from Friday's qualifying. When we qualified today I got a good lap in, but I thought we could have made some positive changes in the car setup. In the end we played it safe because it's consistency that is important to the team in order to win the championship."

NOTEWORTHY:

* TORA TAKAGI claimed the eighth position in qualifying for Sunday's Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300, making him the only driver during the first five races of the season to have improved his starting position every week. The Walker Racing driver has started 15th, 12th, 11th and 10th in the first four races before taking the eighth spot Saturday.

* TOYOTA'S sweep of the top-three spots in Saturday's qualifying marked the first time in the 2002 season that a single manufacturer has done so. It also is the first time that any manufacturer has swept the first three grid positions since Honda's trio of TONY KANAAN, HELIO CASTRONEVES and ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola) did it last year at Chicago.

* MICHAEL ANDRETTI was fined $2,500 for a pit-speed violation. Andretti was clocked at 60mph in the 50mph zone on his final qualifying in-lap entering pit lane.

--CART--

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain