Montoya takes CART pole

Today's predicted rain stayed away and this morning's final Champ car practice and the afternoon's qualifying session at Motegi took place as scheduled. An expected three-way duel for the pole dissipated when Adrian Fernandez and Kenny Brack ran into trouble during their qualifying runs, allowing Juan Pablo Montoya to take a largely uncontested pole, his second of the year.

Montoya takes CART pole

Montoya has qualified in the top three for every race so far this year and took his first pole at Nazareth last month. Thus far however, the defending CART champion has yet to finish a race and currently lanquishes near the bottom of the championship with just two points. "Yeah, I doubled my points today," joked Montoya after qualifying in Japan. "I'm just looking forward to getting to my first pit-stop of the year tomorrow!"

The 24-year old Colombian has been very confident about his chances of winning in Japan. "The car has been really good," Montoya said. "I'm very confident for the race. I'm very happy the car failed yesterday and we were able to get on top of it. Maybe we can have a race without any trouble for the first time this year."

Montoya said he could have gone a little quicker in qualifying. "There was a bit more in the car," he commented. "I didn't carry enough speed into turn three on my quick lap. There was a bit too much push in the car and that scrubs off speed. But like I say, the car has been good all weekend and I'm ready for the race."

Kenny Brack turned the fastest lap in the morning practice session and seemed likely to challenge Montoya only to blow an engine as he started his qualifying run. Brack had to jump into his spare car and was allowed only one, rather than two flying qualifying laps because his engine failure occurred during his original qualifying run. Despite being permitted only one lap, the 34-year old Swede was able to qualify second to Montoya, beating Jimmy Vasser and Roberto Moreno by less than a second.

"It's Friday isn't it?" joked Brack. "Friday just isn't our day. But the team did a fantastic job to get the spare car out and ready to go. I kind of expected something was wrong with the engine this morning. The straightline speed wasn't there and I wondered if this engine was about to expire."

Brack had a small moment exiting the last turn on his one flying lap in his spare car, but was able to hang onto the wiggle. "The only thing that was missing was a new set of tyres," he said. "The back-up car had about fifteen laps on the tyres, but the rest was perfect."

Montoya's team-mate Jimmy Vasser ran a little too much downforce in his car, preventing him from challenging Montoya or Brack. "I'm a little disappointed," Vasser said. "I tried to trim out the car this morning, but I couldn't get it balanced with less downforce so we put downforce back on for qualifying. The car wouldn't pull off the corners. I wasn't downshifting for either end of the track all weekend, but I started downshifting during my run to try to get more revs and speed off the corners."

Nevertheless, Vasser is confident about Saturday's race and is hoping to score his first win of the year after finishing fourth, third and second in the year's first three races. "I think we're looking strong for the race," Vasser said. "This is our longest race of the year other than the 500-mile races, and you have to take care of the car and make sure you're there at the end."

Roberto Moreno was an impressive fourth fastest, only a few hundredths of a second slower than Vasser. "I think we have a very good car for the race," Moreno said. "This is going to be a strategy race and the Patrick team has a lot of experience in that area and has won this race the past two years with Adrian (Fernandez), so I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

Team-mate Adrian Fernandez was fourth in the morning practice session and hoped to qualify on the front row only to hit trouble with a loose turbo inlet scoop. The scoop partially masked the turbo inlet, robbing his engine of power so that Fernandez qualified a disappointing 15th.

"I have no idea what happened," Fernandez said. "The car was perfectly balanced. I just had no speed. The car was working really well through the corners, but I had no straightaway speed. The battle is not over and I'm still very confident for tomorrow."

Fernandez is the only man to win at Motegi, winning both Champ car races run at the track. He also won the last Champ car race in Brazil two weeks ago.

Fastest Honda-powered qualifier at Motegi was Gil de Ferran who will start fifth in Saturday's race. "I'm happy with the handling of my car," de Ferran said. "It feels good, but we're just a little slow on the straight. But the car is consistent and I think we should be able to run with the leaders tomorrow."

The top ten at Motegi were completed by Christian Fittipaldi, Mauricio Gugelmin, Michael Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Alex Tagliani. All five of these drivers believe they have a chance of winning tomorrow and Gugelmin was particularly pleased to produce his best qualifying performance of the year. Also impressing today was Shinji Nakano who qualified 11th in his return to action after missing the last three races because of a head injury incurred in testing at the end of March.

Among those to struggle in qualifying were Team Green team-mates Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy. Franchitti qualified 17th, while championship leader Tracy qualified 20th. Franchitti said he was happy with his car's handling, but made a mistake on gearing which cost him straightline speed. Tracy on the other hand, has been unhappy all weekend fighting understeer on turn-in and oversteer on the corner exits.

"We're not giving up," Tracy said. "That's not what this team is all about. We came from a long way back at Homestead and Long Beach. It's been hit or miss for us in qualifying this year, but we always come up with a pretty good car for the race."

Norberto Fontana will not start in Japan following an accident in this morning's final practice session. Fontana crashed backwards into the wall in turn two and briefly lost consciousness after climbing out of the car under his own power. Fontana was flown to hospital in nearby Tochigi for precautionary X-rays and a CAT scan and was awake and alert and appeared to have suffered no injuries when he was loaded aboard the medical helicopter. CART does not permit any driver who has lost consciousness to compete in the remainder of that weekend's activities.

Motegi Qualifying Results
1 Juan Montoya 26.237s
2 Kenny Brack 26.393s
3 Jimmy Vasser 26.455s
4 Roberto Moreno 26.486s
5 Gil de Ferran 26.512s
6 Christian Fittipaldi 26.536s
7 Mauricio Gugelmin 26.633s
8 Michael Andretti 26.657s
9 Tony Kanaan 26.667s
10 Alex Tagliani 26.715s
11 Shinji Nakano 26.732s
12 Max Papis 26.771s
13 Oriol Servia 26.811s
14 Helio Castro-Neves 26.832s
15 Adrian Fernandez 26. 26.832s
16 Memo Gidley 26.845s
17 Dario Franchitti 26.910s
18 Michel Jourdain Jr 26.915s
19 Cristiano da Matta 26.920s
20 Paul Tracy 26.982s
21 Tarso Marques 27.118s
22 Mark Blundell 27.412s
23 Takuya Kurosawa 27.556s
24 Luiz Garcia Jr 27.684s

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