Archive for Sunday, July 28, 2002

CART: Da Matta rights qualifying wrongs

Driver storms back to grab pole at Vancouver Molson-Indy

July 28, 2002

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— Cristiano da Matta wasn't down for long.

After struggling with fuel pressure problems that left him near the back of the grid in the opening round of qualifying, the runaway CART series leader stormed back Saturday to win the pole for the Vancouver Molson-Indy.

Until Saturday, the one-hour qualifying sessions this season had been 40 minutes of waiting followed by a 20-minute, highspeed traffic jam. Da Matta couldn't wait.

"We decided to go a little early because traffic was horrible yesterday," the diminutive Brazilian explained. "Maybe we didn't have the best track, but I had a couple of clear laps with a clear track.

"Everything that went wrong yesterday went right today," da Matta added.

He turned his quick lap of 1 minute, 0.339 seconds and 106.260 mph on his fifth lap around the twisting 1.781-mile temporary street circuit, just nine minutes into the session. That earned da Matta his fifth pole of both the season and his career all on road or street courses.

The speed also broke the track record of 1:00.872, 105.239, set last year by Alex Tagliani.

The effort added one more championship point to da Matta's impressive series lead, putting him 51 ahead of runner-up and fellow Brazilian Bruno Junqueira, who will start 12th in the 18-car field Sunday.

Paul Tracy, who won the provisional pole Friday with a lap of 1:01.888, 103.600, knew going into Saturday he would start on the front row, regardless of his second-round performance.

That didn't keep the hard-charging Canadian, a local favorite and the 2000 race winner, from making a banzai run at da Matta in the final minutes of Saturday's session.

Tracy, who didn't even get to drive onto the track until 30 minutes remained, fell just short at 1:00.502, 105.973.

"I'm a little disappointed in myself," Tracy said. "I was trying too hard, clobbering the curbs out there. I didn't get the best out of myself and I wasn't as good as the car."

All three Team Kool Green cars qualified in the top five, with Tracy's teammates Dario Franchitti third at 105.874 and three-time Vancouver winner Michael Andretti fifth at 105.542, just behind Scott Dixon at 105.715. Dixon, second fastest on Friday, slipped to fourth, while Kenny Brack, third in the opening round, fell to 10th.

After Sunday's 100-lap race, the series will get one week off before racing on consecutive weeks on the road courses at Mid-Ohio, Road America and Montreal and the new street circuit in Denver.

It's a pivotal stretch, according to Tracy.

"If he has two bad races, like an engine problem, you're back in it," said Tracy, who is 11th in the standings, trailing da Matta by 70 points as the drivers head into the 10th of 19 races.

"There's a lot of guys packed in from third to 11th that can win races, bang, bang, bang, like he's done," he added. "You get into a stretch of races like we have coming up four races in a row and you get going, you can rack up a lot of points real quick."

The leader, who has won five races and seven of his last 11, did not finish two weeks ago in Cleveland because of engine failure. But his closest pursuers, Junqueira and Franchitti also failed to finish.

"Da Matta has built up a points cushion that means right now he's not stressing over having problems," Tracy said.

Franchitti, who is 57 points behind, said, "It's going to be very difficult to catch Cristiano, but I know I'm pushing 100 percent and my teammates are pushing 100 percent."

Da Matta grinned when asked if he expects a battle for the championship.

"I really hope there's not a championship battle, but we have half the season to race," he said. "It's too early to make predictions."

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