CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana Saturday qualifying and notes

By Ken Plotkin - Motorsport.com Fontana, Calif. (October 28, 2000) - Gil de Ferran earned the pole position for tomorrow's Marlboro 500, padding his championship lead by a point. De Ferran's speed of 241.428 mph, 30.255 seconds, is a ...

By Ken Plotkin - Motorsport.com

Fontana, Calif. (October 28, 2000) - Gil de Ferran earned the pole position for tomorrow's Marlboro 500, padding his championship lead by a point. De Ferran's speed of 241.428 mph, 30.255 seconds, is a new qualifying record at the 2 mile superspeedway.

"Obviously, we're very happy to be in this position," De Ferran said. "The most important thing is to have the extra point because you never know when you'll need it." On his fast time, "I don't know how we could improve that lap very much. I had hardly any understeer. If anything, the car was slightly on the loose side, which is typically the fastest way around here. It was great!"

"Most of the credit goes to Marlboro Team Penske.  A lot of work went into
developing the car for this track.  Honda brought a fantastic engine and
they always surpass my expectations.  The car was spot on."

Newman-Haas teammates Michael Andretti and Christian Fittipaldi will start from the second and third positions on the grid.

Andretti, disappointed with his speed with his speed of 239.037 mph, 30.550 seconds, said, "The car was just okay. I was hoping to be a little bit quicker but I had too much understeer. I said after I qualified that if anyone else hits it right they would beat us, and I think Gil did. The pole would have been nice. I haven't had a pole on an oval since 1992 (Nazareth)."

Andretti is looking forward to tomorrow's race, his 173rd and final with the team. "The car feels really good. We have had bad luck in some races and we just want to end on a high note. If the car runs all day I think we'll have a shot at it."

Fittipaldi was relaxed and satisfied after his run of 239.073 mph, 30.553 seconds. "No big problems. The car was very, very good. I think we're going to wind up in the top four. I told my guys that I thought pole was going to be between 38 and 39. That's what I knew I could run if everything was perfect."

"This morning I was slow because I tried to run in clean air all the time. I'd get out of the drafts. Sometimes I had turn 1 and 2 good, then I got traffic in 3 and 4 and had to go through big lifts. But I knew the car was good, and that I could put it all together in qualifying."

Fourth place on the grid will be De Ferran's teammate Helio Castroneves, at 239.011 mph, 30.561 mph. "The car was working very well. If I went a little lower on the line, maybe I can get a little more time. For the line I'm doing for the race it's just great. I'm very excited for tomorrow. 500 miles - anything can happen, and I hope can happen to me."

Yesterday's practice speed king, Juan Montoya, could only muster fifth fastest time, 237.688 mph, 30.731 seconds. "That was pretty good. Very minimal push. You know how these things are - you try to run and see what happens. The engine didn't seem to build its speed like the engine we had yesterday. That was it."

Missing his top speed did not, however, dampen his confidence for tomorrow's race. "It doesn't really matter. We have good race car. It's been handling very well."

Montoya is joined on the third row by his Target Chip Ganassi teammate Jimmy Vasser, qualified at 237.217 mph, 30.792 mph.

Casey Mears, son of former Indianapolis and off-road racer Roger Mears and nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears, put in a solid qualifying run of 233.382 mph, 31.298 seconds, for a 15th place start in his Champ car debut. "It's awesome to be in this show. I was flat out all the way around and that's the fastest I've ever gone. We had a little push in the car and we probably could have trimmed out the car some more. But the team is being conservative with me. I'm learning as I go. I'll try to relax and go racing."

This morning's practice session was interrupted by an extended yellow when Max Papis spun in turn 2, making hard contact with the wall. Roberto Moreno was caught up in the incident. Papis was dazed, but not unconscious. Papis sat out the remainder of the practice session. After an examination by CART medical director Dr. Steve Olvey, Papis was cleared to drive. Moreno suffered no injuries, and was released to drive.

Papis' primary car was extensively damaged. He qualified his backup car thirteenth fastest at 234.521 mph, 31.146 mph. "I'm all right," he said. "I was comfortable in the car. My left knee and ankle are pretty sore, but I don't use my left leg much anyway - just for the clutch. I'll have some ice on it and I'll rest this afternoon."

The driver of the Team Rahal Miller Lite entry expects good results in tomorrow's race. "We worked all day Friday on our race setup and I feel good about our car for the race. It's a long race and we can get the car even better through pit stops."

Patrick Racing repaired Moreno's car, which suffered suspension damage in the incident. He qualified 19th fastest, at 231.672 mph, 31.529 seconds. "Unfortunately, we had to give up our dreams of a championship because we had to have the pole, which we didn't get, to stay in the hunt. We were under a bit of a handicap because of the accident this morning. The Visteon/Patrick crew did a great job to fix the car, but we lost a lot of time. I think the Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth is a very good race car. That is nothing new for the team on ovals. We also have a good strategy in these races, so I am looking forward to tomorrow."

***

Notes from the Marlboro 500 presented by Toyota at the California Speedway

CART continued its international growth with the announcement of two more foreign teams.

Adrian Fernandez and Tom Anderson announced the formation of Fernandez Racing, which will enter the CART series for the 2001 season. The two-car team will use Honda power, Reynard chassis, and Firestone tires. Joining Fernandez on the two car team is Shinji Nakano. The team will help bring new Mexican talent into the CART series.

"This is the great step forward in my career, a way for me to extend my career beyond my years as a driver," said Fernandez. "But it was not a simple decision, by any means. I had the best seasons so far, as a driver, with Patrick Racing, and I will always be grateful for their hard work and support. There is no doubt that starting my own team from scratch is a rare opportunity, and one I welcome. It took a great deal of planning and preparation just to get to this point. But now the real work begins."

Sponsorship will include Tecate, Quaker State, and Telmex, with sponsors for the second team to be announced soon. The team will be based in Indianapolis.

Zakspeed Motorsport (Germany) and Forsythe Racing (USA) announced the formation of "Team Zakspeed Forsythe Racing", an equal partnership. The team will enter the 2001 CART FedEx Championship season. It is the first German/European team to ever enter the series. The team will enter two cars driven by Bryan Herta and a yet to be named German driver. This will be the first time that a German driver in a German team will participate in CART.

"The participation in the CART series means for Zakspeed not only to come back to the USA, but to take part in the most sportive and economically interesting racing series in the world," said Zakspeed owner Peter Zakowski.

***

Formation of German-American and Mexican-American teams in 2001 is timely, with CART's new races in Monterrey, Mexico and Lausitz, Germany.

***

NetZero announced today a NASCAR marketing and primary sponsorship program with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Jack Sprague and Hendrick Motorsports. The announcement was made the same day as the final truck race of the season, held at California Speedway in conjunction with the CART Marlboro 500. Sprague, a two-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, will carry the red, white and blue NetZero colors on his No. 24 Chevrolet Silverado beginning with the truck series opener at Daytona International Speedway February 13, 2001.

"This is a big day for everyone associated with NetZero," said Brian Woods, chief marketing officer of NetZero. "We are impressed with NASCAR racing as a marketing vehicle and feel like it is a perfect fit to add even more power to the already rapid growth we've experienced since introducing NetZero in October 1998. To be associated with a championship driver like Jack Sprague and a platinum quality organization like Hendrick Motorsports in our first NASCAR program is more than we had hoped for."

***

The CART Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota will take the green flag tomorrow morning at 11:30 PST. It will be telecast live on ESPN.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Casey Mears , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Christian Fittipaldi , Bryan Herta , Shinji Nakano , Jack Sprague , Rick Mears , Tom Anderson , Chip Ganassi , Roger Mears
Teams Team Penske , Hendrick Motorsports , Team Zakspeed