Cristiano da Matta took the weekend's first championship point and a guaranteed front-row start in Sunday's CART race at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport with a best lap of 57.641 seconds (131.531 mph) in today's opening qualifying session. Da...
Cristiano da Matta took the weekend's first championship point and a guaranteed front-row start in Sunday's CART race at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport with a best lap of 57.641 seconds (131.531 mph) in today's opening qualifying session. Da Matta's fast lap was nearly one and one-half seconds quicker than anyone else could manage around the 2.106-mile temporary course.
As has been the custom under this year's road course qualifying format, most drivers wait until late in the session to try for a time. As the CART drivers only get 15 laps during the session to set their time, they prefer to go for it later in the session, when (hopefully) more rubber has been laid down to make the track stickier and faster. In this case, Herdez Motorsports driver Mario Dominguez, who was eager to test the repairs made to his car after he backed it into a tire wall late in the earlier practice session, was the first to hit the track, nearly 30 minutes into the one-hour session. He had the track to himself for the first five minutes, until Alex Tagliani and Tony Kanaan joined him on course. A few minutes later, most of the other drivers ventured out. In this early part of the session, Paul Tracy topped the time sheets, ripping off a lap of 58.670 at 129.269 mph on his fifth lap.
After Michael Andretti, Christian Fittipaldi and Jimmy Vasser had all posted times beating Tracy's early mark, CART current "fastest man", da Matta, ran a blistering lap of 57.763 (131.254) to set the new standard. He then backed it up with his provisional pole-winning time on his second set of tires. About his fast lap, da Matta said: "On my second set, I had a pretty good run, clear laps and everything. That's when I was able to improve my time. First run, I think I hit the tires a little too late so I had a little too much understeer by the time I put my lap together. On the second set I was able to do it earlier so the car was a little bit better balanced. I'm still fighting a little bit of understeer, but I'm pretty happy, of course, with the way my car is going right now."
Kanaan, driver for Mo Nunn Racing, was second fastest in the session. He was pleased at this result, as he has struggled mightily this season, running very fast at some tracks, but has been unable to put together good finishes. He attributed much of the problems to the team's change to a Lola chassis from the Reynard after the first two races of the season. He said: "We did all the winter testing with the Reynard. I've seen people have a lot of problems dialing the car (Lola) in during winter testing. I wouldn't say it's a Lola problem, but it's just a new car thing. And for us, we had to start all over again, with the downside that we are not testing."
Scott Dixon was third fastest, for his best qualifying session since switching to Chip Ganassi Racing prior to Milwaukeem the fourth race of the CART season. "It's different this time, we waited until the end to go out with everyone else and I think it definitely helps."
Team Green's Andretti, who won the CART series last temporary-circuit race at Long Beach, was fourth with da Matta's teammate Fittipaldi in fifth. The remainder of the top ten positions were held by: Vasser, Dario Franchitti, Bruno Junqueira, Tracy and Patrick Carpentier.
Second round qualifying will be tomorrow at 1:45 pm. With more rubber on the track from today's sessions and no rain expected before then, the drivers expect tomorrow's times to be better than today's. Da Matta, though, has clearly the best setup at the moment, and is surely the favorite to keep the pole.