Qualifying: Penske one-two

Team Penske once again asserted its street course dominance over the Champ Car field on Saturday afternoon at Toronto's Exhibition Place. The defending CART champion lapped the 1.755-mile temporary track in 57.703 seconds, for an average of 109.492 mph to earn his first pole of the 2001 season

Qualifying: Penske one-two

Helio Castroneves had two chances to beat his Penske team mate, but he came up just short. Helio uncorked a 57.767-second effort with six minutes remaining to take over at the top, but in the dying minutes of the session, the best he could produce was laps of 58.281 and 58.095 seconds. In the meantime, de Ferran turned in his pole-winning lap with just under five minutes to go.

Tony Kanaan paced the first qualifying group with a lap of 57.923 seconds in his Mo Nunn Racing Reynard-Honda, ahead of Canadian favourite Alex Tagliani and Oriol Servia. But it took de Ferran just minutes to leap to the top of the chart with a 57.889-second smoker once the second group was released to qualify.

No one else in the second group was in the same league as the Penskes. Kenny Brack came closest, making a massive late improvement to 57.886 seconds to run third. Kanaan's time held up for fourth, ahead of Tagliani and Dario Franchitti.

"Qualifying was very good for us ­ in fact, it's been a very smooth weekend, with no trouble to speak of," said de Ferran, who also took the Toronto pole in 1999. "That allowed me to work on the car little by little and get into a rhythm. I pushed the car quite hard, but we usually run very well on this type of race track."

De Ferran lies fourth in the championship, 27 points behind series leader Brack. He was especially pleased to have two trouble-free days after losing out to the weather at Detroit and Cleveland and suffering mechanical gremlins at Long Beach.

"I think we would have had a good race at Cleveland, but obviously there was the situation with the weather," he remarked. "This weekend, the car and the engine ran very well and all I had to do was navigate."

Castroneves tried his hardest to beat his team mate's time, but he just failed in his final two laps.

"(Tim) Cindric came on the radio to tell me it was the last lap and I went in to Turn 1 too deep and locked up the brakes," he explained. "That cost me two-tenths, but I didn't give up. I kept going really strong and tried as hard as I could to make it up. I got about a tenth of it back, but it wasn't enough.

"Both cars look very strong and very fast," Helio added. "It shows the effort Marlboro Team Penske puts into both cars. But I'm sure Roger (Penske) will talk to us to make sure we don't get too close in the first turn. We need to make it through the first turn and the last turn."

"I'm only gonna brake when you brake," joked de Ferran to Castroneves. "Actually, the last time I said that in a race was a few years ago and the guy who qualified fifth won!"

Brack made the biggest jump in qualifying, turning in the third fastest lap (57.896 seconds) with just under four minutes remaining in the half-hour session.

"We had all sorts of problems yesterday and today," Brack noted. "Yesterday we had technical problems and today I hit the tyre wall in the morning. So I was very happy to finish third, but very disappointed to see two Penskes ahead of us. But it's a hell of a lot better than starting 10th or 15th, which can be very difficult here."

Kanaan was very happy that his time from the first group held up for fourth at a track that traditionally gets faster by the lap throughout the race weekend. His Mo Nunn Racing team mate Alex Zanardi continued to struggle mightily, however. The two-time CART champion's miserable campaign was extended by a 24th place run, 1.02 second slower than Kanaan.

Tagliani did the home crowd proud by earning his best starting position of the year with fifth, edging '99 Toronto winner Franchitti.

"Traffic was a nightmare, but it's the same for everyone," lamented the Scot. "We went the wrong way on the set-up and by trying to cure one problem we created another. We didn't take advantage of the track when it was at its best."

Six-time Toronto winner Michael Andretti was 13th, but that was better than Newman-Haas, the team Andretti was driving for to earn five of those wins, managed. Christian Fittipaldi was 14th and Cristiano da Matta 17th.

"Yesterday I was 9th and I said it felt like a 15th place car. Today it actually is a 17th place car," admitted a candid da Matta.

For full qualifying results, click here.

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