Sunday, June 09, 2002

Da Matta gets first pole at Monterey

But leaves oil, perturbed drivers in wake

AP Sports Writer

        MONTEREY, Calif. — Cristiano da Matta finally won a spot on the pole, but left a trail of oily smoke and perturbed drivers in his wake.

        Da Matta, a 29-year-old Brazilian and the dominant road course driver on the CART circuit this year, edged Kenny Brack for the pole for Sunday's Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

        It was da Matta's first CART pole after qualifying second five times, and the first for Newman-Haas Racing since 1999 — a drought of 56 races.

        Brack's Chip Ganassi teammate Bruno Junqueira was third. All three, and seven of the top eight drive Toyota-Lolas.

        About five minutes before Saturday's qualifying session ended, da Matta blew an engine and sped around the track, trailing a thick cloud of smoke. Race officials did not wave a red flag to stop the competition, deciding there was no oil on the track.

        But there turned out to be plenty of oil, and that ruined anyone's chance for a big late run.

        “When something like that happens, I think that first of all he should be courteous to try to get off line as soon as possible,” Brack said. “I know it's difficult but at least make an effort to do it.”

        Instead of pulling off the racing line, da Matta drove around the 2.238-mile, 11-turn track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as fast as he could.

        If da Matta pulled his car to a stop, he would have triggered a red flag. That would have cost him his fastest lap, and his spot on the pole.

        “I know some guys are pretty mad at me right now because I threw some oil on the track,” da Matta said, “but it was just a situation where there was not much I could have done. I knew my engine was just about to stop any time. If I stop on the race track I might cause a wreck, I might lose my lap time, so I was just trying to get back to the pits as quick as I can.”

        Because the track was oily, Brack said there was no way he could get in a late run to challenge da Matta.

        “We were actually up on our fastest lap,” he said. “But then we hit the oil, and you can't go any faster when it's slick like that.”

        Patrick Carpentier said da Matta should be penalized for intentionally staying on the race line.

        “At this level, you know he should have moved aside, and you have to do something,” Carpentier said. “It's ridiculous.”

        Da Matta said he couldn't get off line “because there were so many things going on.”

        “First I have to think about me, not my opponents, right?” he said. CART officials were looking at the situation for a possible penalty, but said da Matta would not lose his spot on the pole.

        Da Matta's engineer, Rocky Rocquelin, suggested a change to CART rules to solve the problem.

        “Something to look out in the future is for CART to designate safe parking spots on tracks where a driver can stop and not bring out the red flag or subsequent penalty,” Rocquelin said.

        Brack edged da Matta for the provisional pole on Friday, and was guaranteed a front-row spot regardless of how he did Saturday. Da Matta, who completed only six laps, was fastest on his fourth at 115.970 mph. Brack had the second-fastest time Saturday, bettering his Friday effort with a speed of 115.800. Junqueira's best was 115.495.

        Da Matta won the season-opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix in Mexico, then was second on the starting grid at Long Beach.

        At Laguna Seca, he had the fastest time in four preview sessions in February, then again in practice rounds on Friday and Saturday.

        Da Matta earned a championship point, giving him 30 for the series. Twenty-eight have come on road courses.

        “I'm really happy being on the pole, but of course it's not the way I wanted it,” he said. “I wanted to fight all the way to the end with Kenny and Bruno.”

        Except for the oil, there were few problems mechanical or otherwise in the one-hour qualifying session under a gorgeous blue sky.

        Some of the biggest names on the circuit had serious trouble in the one-hour qualifying session under a gorgeous blue sky.

        Paul Tracy, winner of last week's oval race in Milwaukee and still trying to prove that he was the true winner of the Indianapolis 500, qualified 16th out of 19 cars. His Team Kool Green teammate Dario Franchitti was 14th.

        Worst of all was Michael Andretti, whose Team Motorola car will start last in Sunday's race.


Sports Stories
Born to be rivals, they fought for keeps too late
Lewis knocks out Tyson
Marion Jones wins 100 easily into tough wind
Saturday's NCAA Super Regionals
Croatia stuns Italy
U.S. team to enter red cauldron against South Korea
World Cup TV schedule
Attendance, handle records smashed at Belmont Stakes
War Emblem falls short in Triple Crown bid
Defense making the difference for Lakers
Nets hope familiar surroundings help Martin, Van Horn
Nets shooting woes have to end
- Da Matta gets first pole at Monterey
GROESCHEN: Cup drivers to highlight Busch race
Marlin shows speed at drying Pocono
Montoya beats Schumacher in record qualifying
Ward wins Boomtown 500
Daniel on verge of major victory
Golf scores
Hiring Trottier a gutsy move
Lidstrom, Hedican win ironman awards
Red Wings 3, Hurricanes 2, 3 OT
Ferrero, Costa meet in all-Spanish final
Serena 'one-hit wonder' no more
At home on the high seas
Coming up this week
Enquirer Page Two power rankings

Reds 4, Angels 3
Reds box, runs
Reds Q & A
Encarnacion fitting right in with Reds
Encarnacion hit by ball in practice
Griffey's hamstring injury not too serious
Reds chatter
Cinergy Moment No. 24. - July 22, 1986
Down on the farm
Louisville 9, Pawtucket 0
Ramirez closer to returning to Red Sox
Saturday roundup
John Fay's MLB rankings
Notes from Saturday's games
Milford makes statement
Time for football in June
7 athletes strong, Middies win title
Area runners come close, fall short
CovCath exploits LexCath errors
Richards finishes run to the top
Sycamore stopped 1 step from title
Norwood star signs with UC
Prep schedules
McDuffie sues Dolphins doctors