CHAMPCAR/CART: Wet, dry, wet, dry at Long Beach qualifying

The single qualifying session for the CART FedEx champ cars at the Toyota Grand Prix began under wet conditions, changing to dry, then back to wet, and finally to dry again. As a result, the times were scrambled in both groups, and drivers' ...

The single qualifying session for the CART FedEx champ cars at the Toyota Grand Prix began under wet conditions, changing to dry, then back to wet, and finally to dry again.

As a result, the times were scrambled in both groups, and drivers' final times were dictated by who managed to get clean qualifying lap while the track was only damp, and not soaking wet.

The first group had ended its qualifying with Michel Jourdain, Jr. on the pole, with a time of 1:09.589. The session was stopped several times as cars and drivers fought for control in the changing conditions, with varying degrees of success.

All told, the first group was red-flagged an extraordinary four times, as several drivers discovered just how difficult Long Beach can be under wet conditions.

First to find this out was Bruno Junqueira, who has no experience with a Champ car under wet race conditions, and ended up with a only two laps and a best time of over 1:39, some 20s off the pole.

This excuse wasn't available to the next two offenders; both Roberto Moreno and Adrian Fernandez know all about racing in the damp, but both spun off the track, and Fernandez, too, finished qualifying outside the 110% threshold that CART requires to qualify for a race.

As the fast group took to the track, the conditions worsened, as the skies opened again, and lap times remained in the 1:15 range. As a result, a number of top drivers waited until midway through the session to take their first laps.

Once the rain stopped, the track began to dry, and the appearance of the sun also hastened the process. Once the lap times began to drop, the activity on the track grew more furious.

The final two minutes saw a Formula One-like frenzy on the track, and there were three different leaders in that span. Kenny Brack first claimed the pole, then Gil de Ferran, then Brack again, and finally Helio Castroneves squeezed in a final fast lap to claim the top spot with a lap of 1:08.556, still nearly a second off the top times on Friday.

"I knew the last cars on the track would be the fastest," said Castroneves after the session. "Fortunately, I was one of the last ones out. The strategy was great from Marlboro Team Penske: I had no traffic at all."

Brack finished at 1:09.097, having completed only 15 laps, with Tony Kanaan close behind at 1:09.223. Kanaan, the fastest man on Friday, took a flyer on his final lap in the dying seconds of the session, jumping from 11th to third place on the grid.

Cristiano da Matta, fourth, Gil de Ferran and Dario Franchitti also all managed fastest laps within a second of Castroneves' time at the end of the session.

The happiest man on the day, theough, was Jourdain, who held on to seventh place on the grid, thanks to the well-timed lap in the first group. He will start alongside former CART champion Jimmy Vasser, who qualified eighth with a time of 1:09.807.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams Team Penske