PORTLAND, Ore. (June 15, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) has been the man to beat all weekend, leading CART FedEx Championship Series provisional qualifying on Friday and backing that effort up with a Saturday run that was good enough to give him the final pole for Sunday's G.I. Joe's 200 (CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET).
As has been the case in each of the last four road course qualifying sessions on the Champ Car schedule, da Matta and Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) waged a personal war ahead of the rest of the field, both running the only sub 59-second laps of the day at Portland International Raceway, with da Matta emerging on top with a best effort of 58.679 seconds (120.800mph/194.408km/h).
The pole was the second consecutive top-qualifying spot for the series points leader, allowing him to double his career total of Champ Car poles after the diminutive Brazilian won his first-ever pole last weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The pole also gave da Matta another championship point, widening his series lead over Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to seven points, equaling the largest lead that any driver has had in the 2002 championship chase.
Brack would hold on to the second spot on the day again after a top lap of 58.963 seconds (120.218mph/193.471km/h), giving him his second straight front-row starting spot. Brack earned his 10th front-row start in the last two seasons and matched his season's best grid position with the run. He actually held the pole for less than a minute after posting a lap of 59.023 seconds only to have da Matta roll across the start/finish line with the day's best time just seconds after Brack's time had flashed onto the scoreboard. The session would continue for another 10 minutes but the day-long cloud cover relented to the bright sunshine, heating up the track and preventing anyone from making a serious run at the pole.
Brack's Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) would complete the second consecutive Toyota sweep of the top three spots as the morning practice leader turned a best lap of 59.026 seconds (120.089mph/193.265km/h) to take the third spot. Junqueira's starting spot marks the fourth time the Brazilian will start third or better this season and it's his third consecutive third-place spot on a road course.
Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) broke up the Toyota romp by claiming the outside spot in the second row with a time of 59.185 seconds (119.767mph/192.746km/h), giving the third-year driver his best starting position since a third-place grid placing at the season opener in Monterrey - a race in which he would go on to finish fifth.
Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) snared his third top-five qualifying position of the season and second in as many races, but had to rely on his time of 59.215 seconds (119.706mph/192.643km/h) from yesterday's provisional qualifying to do it as he could not find any more speed on Saturday.
Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) dropped one spot from Friday but still garnered his second-best grid position of his career with a sixth-place run, making him the highest-placing rookie in the field after his lap of 59.226 seconds (119.684mph/192.612km/h). Bell will look to use that starting spot to post his best-ever CART finish, just one week after he set his personal standard with a seventh-place run at Laguna Seca.
Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) was the highest placing of the Honda contingent, bringing his newly-liveried Team KOOL Green machine home in the seventh spot, running one spot ahead of Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/Denso Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) who again equaled his career-best starting position of eighth, just as he did last weekend.
Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) used a lap of 59.454 seconds (119.225mph/191.873km/h) to snare the ninth spot ahead of Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) who posted his fourth top-10 qualifying run of the season despite spinning into a gravel trap in the last three minutes of the session. Vasser spun and came to a rest off course, but was not in the way of the other qualifiers and was allowed to remain in the trap over the last minutes, as CART stewards decided not to throw the red flag that would have cost Vasser his best time of the day.
The G.I. Joe's 200 will take the green flag at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday with CBS handling broadcast duties for Sunday's race, which is the network's second Champ Car broadcast of the season.
Champ Car Top-Three Qualifier Quotes:
Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone):"I'm very pleased with how everything has come together this weekend. Everything has gone smooth up to this point. I was worried about qualifying because I didn't think we were gaining a lot with newer tires each session. I think we have control over the car right now but the Ganassi cars are going to be following closely for sure, along with [teammate] Christian [Fittipaldi]. It is a very hard track physically and also one of the longest we run all year. It should be a pretty interesting race."
Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "The Target car is a very good car of course so far. It's not a good enough car to overtake da Matta up to this point, but you can be sure we'll keep working on it." (On the race tomorrow) "It's going to be the type of race it's always been here- a sprint race. But I think three to four stops might get it done, depending on how cautions play out. Some guys might be able to come from the back and win here as was the case in Long Beach."
Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) (On having a third entry from the Ganassi stable this season) "The biggest difference for us is that our transporter is crowded. Sometimes you want to go over and talk with the Toyota engineers, but you can't because there are already so many people in there. But Kenny [Brack] and I haven't changed anything in our racing strategy at all. Team Target is more than prepared to handle three cars and I think we've been successful."
- Cristiano da Matta and Kenny Brack have finished 1-2 in the last four road-course qualifying sessions, Brack taking the top spot ahead of da Matta in Friday's provisional qualifying at Laguna before da Matta would come back to lead the last three outings, including a sweep this weekend at Portland.
- Bruno Junqueira has been the most consistent qualifier in the series this season as his third-place run today means that he is the only driver to have qualified in the top seven in each of the season's six events.
- Defending race winner Max Papis (#22 Sigma Autosport Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was unable to qualify after his team withdrew his car due to financial concerns.