CHAMPCAR/CART: Surfers Paradise: Final qualifying report

Cristiano da Matta shows no letup after clinching CART FedEx Championship series title as he takes Honda Indy 300 Pole. SURFERS PARADISE, Queensland, Australia - (October 26, 2002) - Putting the No. 1 on your race car in the middle of the season...

Cristiano da Matta shows no letup after clinching CART FedEx Championship series title as he takes Honda Indy 300 Pole.

SURFERS PARADISE, Queensland, Australia - (October 26, 2002) - Putting the No. 1 on your race car in the middle of the season is akin to wrapping a red flag around your head in a bullring, but Cristiano da Matta (#1 Caltex/Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) handled it without much trouble in Saturday's final qualifying for the Honda Indy 300 CART FedEx Championship Series event.

Da Matta affixed the top digit onto his car this weekend after clinching the 2002 series title two weeks ago in Miami, and then put his car into the top spot on the grid for Sunday's 70-lap battle through the streets of Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast of Australia as a massive crowd of 81,048 watched the 2002 series champion set a new track record to pace qualifying.

Da Matta eclipsed the one-day-old track standard by hustling around the 2.795-mile street course in 1:30.204 (111.547 mph/179.517 km/h), quick enough to beat Friday leader Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) by .01 seconds. Junqueira took a final shot at upending da Matta in the final minute as the series champion eschewed his final flying lap, but the Friday polesitter would settle for the second spot on the day with a time of 1:30.214 (111.535 mph/179.497 km/h).

The pole is the seventh of the season for the Newman/Haas driver, marking the 11th time that a CART driver has won seven or more poles in a year. The top starting spot on the grid for tomorrow's race also puts da Matta in prime position to win his eighth race of the year - a win that would tie the CART record for wins in a season (Al Unser Jr, 1994, Michael Andretti, 1991).

The session saw Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) roll his Mo Nunn Racing machine out early and jump on the pole in the first 10 minutes of qualifying, while da Matta and Junqueira decided to wait before heading out. Once the two point leaders hit the track, the pole time became their own private plaything, as the top spot was bandied between them for most of the 40-minute session before da Matta locked it up.

Kanaan would continue his recent qualifying successes, earning the third spot on the grid with a quick orbit of 1:30.427 (111.272 mph/179.075 km/h). Kanaan has qualified in the top three just three times this year, but has done it in each of the last two events, including his pole at the Grand Prix Americas two weeks ago in Miami.

Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) used one of his final laps of the day to vault into the fourth spot on the grid, making a big move after a Friday qualifying session that left him 13th. Brack has been one of the best qualifiers of the year despite the on-track maladies that have his Target Chip Ganassi Racing machine in the 12th spot in the points. Brack has qualified in the first two rows for nine of the 17 races this year, but has only finished in the top four in three of those races.

Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) earned his first top-five starting spot since Elkhart Lake as he carried his Team KOOL Green car around the circuit in 1:30.731 (110.899 mph/178.475 km/h) to round out the top five. The day was brightened for the TKG guys as Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) climbed nine spots from his Friday result, putting his KOOL-sponsored car into the eighth spot after running 17th on Friday.

Scott Dixon (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) made it three cars in the top six for the TCGR crew as the New Zealander thrilled the home crowd with a sixth-place run in qualifying. The starting spot will be the best for Dixon in his two visits to the Gold Coast, moving up two spots from the grid position he earned in his maiden visit a year ago.

Fernandez Racing's Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) snared the seventh spot on the grid to mark his fifth top-10 qualifying effort of the season, putting him ahead of Franchitti, Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) and his boss Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) who rounded out the top 10.

Tomorrow's Round 17 of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series will get underway at 2 p.m. local time and will be carried live in the United States by SPEED Channel, beginning at 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time Sunday morning.

CHAMP CAR TOP-THREE QUALIFIER QUOTES

CRISTIANO DA MATTA (#1 Caltex/Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone):  "I really felt that I got everything out of the car yesterday. The team and the whole crew did a lot to the car last night. I was a little concerned with the new tires though. I felt confident with the laps and everything just went smooth. I even felt I left a tenth here or there on the table. The important thing is that my car is very competitive for the race tomorrow."

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone):  "It was a very frustrating qualifying for me today. I lost the pole by a hundredth of a second. We were very good with the car yesterday. I thought I could go faster on the second set of tires, but the right front tire had a lot of vibration. But I was trying, maybe too much. It's very frustrating to lose the pole. This year is Cristiano's year. It just seems that everything is going his way."

TONY KANAAN (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone):  "The car has been really consistent. Yesterday we didn't get the right lap with all the incidents. In the beginning today we tried to go out early in order to avoid some of the traffic. I really have to say thank you to all of my engineers. We made a lot of changes and it worked out for us today."

NOTEWORTHY

* After coming into the 2002 CART campaign without ever having won a pole, Cristiano da Matta has earned seven this season, tying him for 16th on the all-time series list with former series champions Al Unser Jr. and Johnny Rutherford as well as Kenny Brack, Bryan Herta and Helio Castroneves.

* Da Matta became the ninth different driver to win a pole in Surfers Paradise in the 12 yearsa that CART has been racing on the Gold Coast. No driver has ever won the event twice.

* The active drivers that have a Gold Coast win on their resume will be sprinkled throughout the grid Sunday. Last year's winner Cristiano da Matta leads the way from the pole while Paul Tracy (1995) will start fifth, Dario Franchitti ('99) starts eighth, Adrian Fernandez (2000) is 10th on the grid, Jimmy Vasser ('96) is one spot back in 11th and Michael Andretti ('94) starts 16th.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Bryan Herta , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Al Unser Sr. , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta , Johnny Rutherford , Mo Nunn
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing