Castroneves on pole

Helio Castroneves took his second Champ car pole of the season in Toronto on Saturday. Castroneves was able to turn three individual laps faster than anyone else and beat Cristiano da Matta to the pole by a full, third of a second, a comparatively large margin by CART standards.

Castroneves on pole

The Team Penske has been quick all weekend, although he had a series of minor mechanical problems in this morning's practice session which kept him down to sixth place.

"I had a lot of trouble this morning," Castroneves said. "I was changing back and forth from the spare car to the primary car and we did not know what we had. But I knew from yesterday that we had a very good car and when I went out this afternoon I was basically in the zone.

"I didn't have any traffic at all which is very important on a circuit like this. I was really pleased with the way everything went."

Castroneves scored the first win of his career last month in Detroit but has only one other top five finish this year so that he's only 12th in points going into Sunday's race.

Like the rest of the field, Castroneves knows it's important to achieve consistent results, something no Champ car driver has been able to do so far this year. He led from the pole in Portland last month for example, but ran into trouble late in the race with his gearbox and fuel mileage.

"You have to be patient and take care of the equipment," Castroneves remarked. "That's what happened to me at Portland. Tomorrow's race will be very long. It's more than a hundred laps and you have to get to the finish. It's as simple as that."

An impressive second fastest today was 1998 Indy Lights champion Cristiano da Matta who produced the best qualifying performance of his year and a half in Champ cars.

The 26-year old da Matta in beginning to emerge as one of CART's top talents and made another all-Brazilian front row with Saturday's excellent qualifying run in Toronto. Da Matta drives a Reynard-Toyota for Cal Wells's PPI team.

"The car wasn't that good yesterday," da Matta said. "But I'm happy we were able to react overnight and make the car better. We just had to do a little bit of fine-tuning today. I think I got the tyres at the right time for my quick laps. Everything came together. It was a good run."

The Brazilian's only problem was a soft brake pedal. "The brake pedal was fading a bit at the end of the session," da Matta commented. "The brakes were doing way down. That's something we're going to have to work over for tomorrow."

Da Matta said he believes he will win a race before the end of this year. "I'm happy to see the team and me progressing," he said. "We've qualified in the top ten the last four races, and the top five the last two.

"I think we've got to keep working the way we have been. We've just got to keep doing the same thing and not think about the win and it will come naturally."

Third fastest was Michael Andretti who produced his best qualifying performance of the year to date. Andretti was the only driver among the top six in points to qualify among the top six in Toronto and has won this race a record five times in the past.

"I'm pretty happy with the car," Andretti said. "I was able to put in a good lap early in the session. Then we made some changes and the car was better but I never got the optimum out of it. I was blocked by Montoya. He didn't do it on purpose. He was slowing down to get a clear lap. It happens to everybody. I've done it myself."

Michael says he's not worried about the Lola being competitive at any upcoming races be they street circuits, road courses, or ovals.

"I'm not really concerned about the Lola," he said. "It's just a question of getting the right set-up. We're learning about the car and what it likes. We've been through quite a few changes in the past few years and it always take about mid-year to get it right. I'm in a good position for the championship and hopefully, we can make a good run."

This year's race in Toronto has been extended by 17 laps from 95 to 112 which could result in different pit strategies. "It's going to be a long race and anything can happen," Andretti said.

"It's going to be tough on equipment and you could make it on two stops but now I think a three-stopper could win the race."

Juan Montoya qualified fourth, just over seven-tenths of a second slower than Castroneves after setting the pace in the morning. Montoya said his only problem was with traffic or slower cars which got in his way on every fast lap.

"We messed up a little on the set-up for our first run," Montoya reported. "The car was too low at the front but they fixed that for the second run and the car was good. I really didn't have a problem. The car wasn't as good as it was this morning. We lost grip as the day went on. It wasn't bad, but we just weren't as quick. The only problem I had was traffic. Everytime I was ready for a quick lap I ran into traffic. But I think we'll be OK for tomorrow."

Dario Franchitti appeared to be ready to defend his provisional pole from yesterday only to run wide and hit the barrier fairly early in the session. Franchitti was third fastest at the time

"I basically went into the corner too quick," Dario said. "We made a good change to the car and I was going a lot quicker up to that point. Unfortunately, I went into turn eight a little too quickly.

"The car bottomed out and I made a mistake. It's unfortunate because we had a car that was good enough for the pole. I think I was up as much as two or three tenths on that lap. We'll make the best of our starting position and look to move up through the field."

The top 10 were completed by Christian Fittipaldi, Kenny Brack, Gil de Ferran, Adrian Fernandez and Mauricio Gugelmin. Local hero Paul Tracy qualified a disappointing 12th as did the Player's cars of Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani which will start 17th and 19th respectively.

Championship leader and Cleveland winner Roberto Moreno was an even more disappointing 16th, one and a quarter seconds off Castroneves's pole lap. This was Moreno's worst qualifying performance of the year, and only the second time this season he's qualified out of the top ten.

"The car was loose and I spun at the end because I was trying very hard and overdid it," Moreno admitted. "We tried a different set-up for today and it didn't work out, but we know what we need to do. We will go over tomorrow's strategy and I am sure the team will give me a good car for the race."

Moreno is encouraged by his result here last year when he finished fourth after qualifying 17th, and said he has not allowed himself to be distracted by his first Champ car victory two weeks ago in Cleveland and his emergence as the championship leader.

"I am very realistic about how competitive this championship race is going to be," Moreno commented. "The media has given me a lot of attention the last two or three weeks, but I think I have kept both my feet on the ground. You have to treat each race as a new challenge. You have to take it one race at a time."

With Moreno so far back, Sunday could be a chance for some of the pre-season favourites to make up ground on Patrick Racing's shock points leader. Andretti, Montoya and Franchitti will be particularly keen, but Castroneves and da Matta are two of the most exciting up-and-coming talents in the series and their battle could well overshadow the big names behind them.

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