Montoya grabs Surfers pole

Juan Montoya will start from pole position for Sunday's penultimate round of the CART Championship, but series leader Gil de Ferran lines up second, and his two main rivals are fourth and sixth

Montoya grabs Surfers pole

A tremendous duel for the pole in Surfers Paradise saw Montoya and de Ferran trade fastest lap back and forth a couple of times with the Colombian finally shading the Brazilian by a tenth of a second as both drivers produced their best laps on the last lap of the qualifying session. Montoya crossed the line just a second or two behind de Ferran, snatching back the pole as the checkered flag waved.

"I knew I had lost the pole the lap before to Juan because Roger (Penske) told me on the radio," de Ferran said. "I was trying to really put a lap together. I had a little too much oversteer and I had a couple of tank-slappers, but nothing too outrageous. I crossed the line and saw a 31.8, and I thought that should be good enough. There was silence on the radio from Roger as he waited for Juan to cross the line behind me, and then he told me Juan had beaten me."

Montoya therefore took his seventh pole of the year, and second in the last three races. The extra point he earns, means he trails de Ferran by 30 points going into Sunday's race, keeping his longshort championship hopes alive.

"The car has been really good since we started practice here," Montoya related. "My second lap today was as fast as yesterday, so I knew we had a chance at the pole. I was pushing as hard as I could. This is my last road course pole in CART and it's very good to be on the pole."

Juan Pablo said he didn't find the time at any particular corner. "It was just a little everywhere," he said. "You're always trying a to go a bit further."

De Ferran said he wasn't too bothered at losing the extra point for pole. "It's important," he said. "Every point is important. I would have been 20 points ahead instead of 19, so it was important. But it didn't happen. It's OK."

The championship leader said he hasn't changed his approach in any way. "I still feel like I have to race hard," de Ferran commented. "I've said that since Houston. I've got to get a good finish and maybe win the race. I don't think playing the percentage is going to help me very much.

"For sure, it's not going to be an easy race," he added. "Montoya still has an outside chance of winning the championship. I'm sure he hasn't lost it in his mind. It's a completely different scenario than the Formula 1 championship. There it's one man against the other, but there are so many guys who can win here. Paul is the closest pursuer, but there are many others. That's why we've got to focus on winning this race."

Dario Franchitti jumped from sixth on Friday to third while team-mate Paul Tracy made even more progress, leaping from eighth to fourth. The Scotsman improved by over a second and came within a third of a second of Montoya while Tracy was another quarter of a second behind, but in good position to fight for the championship.

"I was at the limit of the car," Franchitti said. "I was on a better lap than I'd done, and then I made a mistake. But the car is good. We're certainly looking better than yesterday."

Franchitti is still looking for his first win this year of course. "Juan and I were discussing the cat among the pigeons theory," Dario grinned. "I've got nothing to lose, and neither does he. But I've got a lot of work ahead of me, if that's going to happen."

Tracy was equally pleased to qualify so well. "The car was pretty good although I think we could have done a better time," Tracy said. "But to be fourth, sitting right behind Gil, is exactly where we need to be to put pressure on him. I'm going to race my own race and run every lap as hard as I can.

"Obviously," he added, "Dario's not in the championship, so he's in a little different position. He's going to do what he can to help us by running hard and pushing Gil. There's a lot of pressure on Gil tomorrow. There are a lot of guys who don't have anything to lose, and he's got a lot to lose. I don't feel any pressure and I've got everything to gain tomorrow."

Houston winner Jimmy Vasser qualified sixth ahead of championship contender Michael Andretti, both failing to improve on their Friday best. Andretti didn't finish the session, in fact, stopping on the track with a broken transmission.

Nor did the day go well for outside champonship contenders Adrian Fernandez and Roberto Moreno. The Patrick team-mates fared even worse than on Friday falling to 17th and 20th on the grid.

For the starting grid from Surfers Paradise, click HERE.

First qualifying: Gil rides the wave at Surfers
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