CHAMPCAR/CART: Motegi: Qualifying report

Junqueira takes second career pole position in qualifying for Bridgestone Potenza 500 at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi. MOTEGI, Japan (April 26, 2002) - For the second consecutive day, Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Bruno Junqueira ( ...

Junqueira takes second career pole position in qualifying for Bridgestone Potenza 500 at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi.

MOTEGI, Japan (April 26, 2002) - For the second consecutive day, Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) topped the time sheets at Twin Ring Motegi.

On this day, however, the second-year pilot earned a championship point as he secured the pole position for tomorrow's fifth Bridgestone Potenza 500 after turning in a best lap of 25.907 seconds (215.108 mph/346.173 kph). The performance was Junqueira's second career CART FedEx Championship Series pole position and his first since taking the pole for the Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Presented by Toyota nearly one year ago at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway.

Junqueira has already become the third different pole winner in three 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series races, and he will be looking to become the third different winner in as many races in tomorrow's race. If the Brazilian is able to get the victory, it would be the second of his career and the first since he won the Motorola 220 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. last year.

Today's pole position by Junqueira is the second in five races at Twin Ring Motegi for Toyota, as 1999 CART FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya took the first Motegi pole for Toyota in 2000. The other three cars that started from the pole here were powered by Honda (Jimmy Vasser in 1998, Gil de Ferran in 1999, and Helio Castroneves last year), but Ford-Cosworth-powered cars have gone four-for-four on race day (Adrian Fernandez won at Motegi in 1998 and '99, Michael Andretti took the victory in 2000, and Kenny Brack won the event last year).

Starting second on tomorrow's grid will be Brazilian Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) of Mo Nunn Racing. Kanaan turned a best lap of 26.051 seconds (213.919 mph/344.260 kph) to secure his best starting position since qualifying on the pole position for the race at Chicago Motor Speedway in 2001.

Twin Ring Motegi is also the site of Kanaan's most recent podium finish, as he claimed a third place result here last year. His 2001 showing was his first podium finish since he earned a victory in the 1999 U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan International Speedway, and Kanaan enters tomorrow's event looking for the second victory of his Champ Car career.

Qualifying third on the grid was Team KOOL Green pilot Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) who clocked a best lap of 26.059 seconds (213.853 mph/344.154 kph). Tracy was the final driver to take to the 1.548-mile oval by virtue of the fact that he turned the fastest time in combined practice sessions over the course of the past two days.

However, unlike the three drivers to precede him onto the circuit (Brack, Kanaan, and Junqueira), the Canadian was unable to take the top spot on the time chart. Nevertheless, his performance today was his best in an oval qualifying session since he qualified third for the 2000 event at Gateway International Raceway and he is in good position to take his 19th career Champ Car victory tomorrow.

Starting fourth tomorrow will be Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone), who logged a best lap of 26.133 seconds (213.248 mph/343.179 kph). The Swede enters tomorrow's race looking to become the first repeat winner at Twin Ring Motegi since Fernandez took back-to-back titles in 1998 and '99.

Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) filled out the top five positions on the grid after posting a best lap of 26.173 seconds (212.922 mph/342.655 kph). Franchitti missed his opportunity to win the pole position on an oval for the first time since Rio de Janeiro in 1998, but he enters tomorrow's race hoping to score his first victory on an oval in Champ Car competition after scoring seven previous wins on street and road circuits.

Tomorrow's starting grid features 19 of 20 drivers within one second of one another, with the 20th driver, Oriol Servia (#17 PWR Championship Racing Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) just .044 seconds outside of one second behind Junqueira's pole speed.

SPEED Channel is providing television coverage of qualifying for the Bridgestone Potenza 500 in the United States at 2:00 p.m. ET on Friday, which will be followed later by CART Friday Night, airing at 9:30 p.m. ET. Race day coverage airs Saturday, April 27 on SPEED Channel beginning with a half-hour pre-race show at 12:00 NOON ET, followed immediately by the two-and-a-half hour broadcast of the Bridgestone Potenza 500.

Quotes from the top three qualifiers for the Bridgestone Potenza 500 follow below:

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "Qualifying was really good and I am very pleased. We had a good engine from Toyota and, with good balance, we are on the pole. I look forward to the warm up session tomorrow because we have a good race car. It's important to finish the race because we didn't finish at Long Beach. This year I have more oval experience and it will be important for me to get out in the first few laps. It will be difficult with most drivers doing the same lap times early on, so I need to break away early. This is a high-speed track. It's not flat out all the way around like other tracks. You have to work - shifting, braking and driving. So the fans will get a good race."

TONY KANAAN (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone): "We worked hard all weekend. We did the best we could with a lot of pressure from Honda and our team to get the pole for this event. But, my fellow Brazilian [Junqueira] got the pole. We haven't finished a race yet this season. So to win, you must finish, and that's my goal here this weekend. I think you will see a close race. Twenty cars are within a second of each other. It all comes down to the balance of the car when you have a pack of cars this close together. With the wing package here, it's different this year. Before, it was exciting for the fans. But now, it's exciting for the fans and for us as drivers."

PAUL TRACY (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): "It was good to go out last and know what time we had to do. I was a bit conservative on my first lap. It's so critical to have those few tenths of a second here. We've only begun to scratch the surface here and we're looking forward to the race. The engines are so equal now it comes down to driving style and how you drive the car. I got in the Lola for the first time and within five laps I was comfortable with the car. I felt I could have qualified a bit better though. But with so little experience and working with the engineers - I'm happy to qualify third. The wing package here allows us to run closer for side-by-side racing. So I think it will be a good race. My car has been feeling more comfortable than it has in years past."

NOTEWORTHY

* Mario Andretti's biography Mario Andretti: A Driving Passion by long-time motorsports journalist Gordon Kirby has won the Independent Book Publishers Award for best book of the year in the sports and recreation division. More than 1,100 books were submitted for the contest. The awards will be presented at a reception at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City on Friday, May 3. The book was published by David Bull Publishing in Phoenix. Bull specializes in motor racing books.

* Attendance at Twin Ring Motegi saw an increase for the second straight day as 21,200 fans visited the facility today, up from 21,000 last year. A total of 29,400 fans have passed through the turnstiles over the past two days.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Kenny Brack , Mario Andretti , Mo Nunn
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing