Qualifying 2: Da Matta into the 18s

CART's warm welcome at Montreal continued today (Saturday) and the Champ Car drivers rewarded a packed house with a thrilling qualifying session. Dario Franchitti, Bruno Junqueira and Cristiano da Matta traded the top time five times in the last three minutes, with da Matta breaking the 1m 19sec barrier on his final lap. That was enough to secure the Brazilian his sixth pole of the year as his dream season with Newman/Haas Racing continues.

Qualifying 2: Da Matta into the 18s

The session was interrupted by a lengthy red flag triggered when Michael Andretti's Lola-Honda stalled on the course, but extended when Oriol Servia's Toyota engine blew up and oiled down the track. When action resumed, 9 1/2 minutes remained and the field left the pits en masse.

At that point, Junqueira held the pole after a 1m19.446s lap. He said he had a faster lap going until an odd thing happened.

"I'm not making an excuse, but a squirrel ran across the track in front of me and I lost concentration for a second," he explained. "I ran off the road at Turn 8, and I don't think I damaged the car, but I lost the tow I was getting from Cristiano."

After a 20-minute delay, qualifying resumed. Franchitti was first to strike, running a 1m19.396s with three minutes remaining. His tenure at the top lasted all of 30 seconds before Junqueira responded with a 1m19.347s. Then with 1m35s to go, Franchitti found a few more hundredths and improved to 1m19.334s.

Again, however, da Matta was the next man across the line, and his 1m19.139s was good enough for the pole. He had time for two more laps and made the most of them, with a 1m19.117s and finally a 1m18.959s.

"When I did the first 19.1s, I didn't know who was behind me on the track," da Matta remarked. "So I kept pushing. Also, the clock on my dash that counts down the time in the session stopped, so I figured I had better push to the chequered flag. Luckily, I had no traffic and my only concern was to push it."

Franchitti was delighted with his front row starting berth after a troubled first day and a half at Montreal. He was 14th on the Friday provisional grid.

"After the weekend we've had, this is a pretty good result," he said. "We struggled with the car in the morning, but we made some big gains. I banked a lap early and then tried to improve by experimenting with the chicanes. But it wasn't there. We have some work to do if we're going to challenge Cristiano on Sunday."

Junqueira overcame his squirrel scare and some dodgy brakes to jump from eighth to third.

"We changed a lot of things in the brake system between session," he noted. "That was a big gamble, but the car was a lot better."

Patrick Carpentier made the locals happy by qualifying his Reynard-Ford fourth ahead of Scott Dixon, who was one of a handful of drivers who failed to improve on their Friday time. However, Jimmy Vasser and Team Rahal made big gains to pull up to sixth on the grid ahead of Alex Tagliani and Shinji Nakano.

Paul Tracy was unable to convert the promise he showed by leading the Saturday morning practice session. But his ninth place was far better than his Team Green colleague Andretti, who got back out after the red flag in his spare car, only to spin and stall at the hairpin. The American star will start last on the grid for the third time this year.

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