FONTANA, Calif. (October 28, 2000) - Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske added another glittering accomplishment to a FedEx Championship Series season already bursting with them when he established a new world closed-course speed record while ...
FONTANA, Calif. (October 28, 2000) - Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske added another glittering accomplishment to a FedEx Championship Series season already bursting with them when he established a new world closed-course speed record while claiming the pole position for Sunday's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, live, ESPN) at California Speedway.
De Ferran's lap of 241.428 miles per hour (30.255 seconds) on the two-mile superspeedway crumbled the previous world closed-course mark of 240.942 miles per hour (30.316 seconds) established by Mauricio Gugelmin of PacWest Racing while winning the 1997 pole position here. Equally as important, de Ferran added a point to his championship lead, which now stands at six (154-148) over Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing heading into Sunday's 20th and final round of the FedEx Championship Series season.
A $1 million prize awaits the winner of Sunday's race, and any of the four remaining championship contenders - de Ferran, Fernandez, Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green or Kenny Brack of Team Rahal - could claim an another $1 million from the FedEx Championship Series point fund for winning the title.
Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) qualified 14th at 233.659 mph (31.261 seconds); Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) was 9th at 236.213 mph (30.923 seconds) and Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) was eighth at 236.297 mph (30.912 seconds).
Tracy and Brack enter Sunday's event tied at 234 points. A maximum of 21 points is available Sunday, including 20 for the race victory and one for leading the most laps.
De Ferran's pole position was his fifth of the season and the 11th of his career. It is also his 10th front-row start of the season and his 16th top-five qualifying performance in 20 events.
Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing qualified second at 239.097 mph (30.550 seconds). His effort matches a season-best qualifying performance previously established at Michigan Speedway.
Andretti's teammate, Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola), starts third on the grid after an effort of 239.073 mph (30.553 seconds). Like Andretti, Fittipaldi has enjoyed outstanding qualifying success on superspeedways this season, having qualified third at Michigan in July.
Rounding out the top five qualifiers were Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske, fourth at 239.011 mph (30.561 seconds) and defending FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, fifth at 237.688 mph (30.731 seconds).
The top 13 qualifiers were separated by less than one second.
GIL de FERRAN, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "I am very pleased to be in the position I'm in now. The most important thing to me is the extra point that we earned. You never know if you're going to need it or not, but it gives us a little bit of a cushion for tomorrow. The [record-setting] lap was not that difficult, really. The car wasn't sliding around much at all and there was no understeer. I felt the car was very solid underneath me and thought there was no way it was going to lift...as soon as I crossed the line Roger came over the radio and said "OK, we're done." (On qualifying in reverse order of point standings) "I think it was a great move. I think some drivers were taking some chances in practice to improve their qualifying order and I, and some other drivers, thought it was getting a little out of hand, especially in Michigan. This move eliminates the need to get a good tow in practice."
MICHAEL ANDRETTI, Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola: "It would've been nice to have the pole here. I haven't had a [superspeedway] pole I think since '92. I thought we had a good shot at it at Michigan [this year] but we just lost it on the last car qualifying, and the same thing happened here. Normally, it's pretty hot here. This weekend it's been cool and not a lot of wind. It's a dream. It really helps the downforce and that's why I think we saw the record fall."
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola: "I learned in Michigan that you don't learn anything if you're in practice, getting a big tow. The car was almost as good as our car was in Michigan, it was a little more neutral. We just came up a little bit short. We have one more race to go to try and get a win in 2000...it's a long race and we'll just have to see what happens."
Gil de Ferran's (Marlboro Honda Reynard) pole position was the 11th of his five-year FedEx Championship Series career, five of which have come this year, at Homestead, Long Beach, Mid-Ohio, Houston and California Speedway. The 11 poles move him into sole position of 10th place in CART history, breaking a tie with Teo Fabi, Nigel Mansell, Alex Zanardi and Dario Franchitti. This is his first career pole position on a superspeedway.
Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) has qualified sixth or better for his past five FedEx Championship Series starts on superspeedways. The run encompasses starts of second this year at California and Michigan Speedways; sixth at California and fourth at Michigan in '99; and third at California in '98.
Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) has qualified among the top 10 drivers for 16 of 19 FedEx Championship Series starts this season and for seven of the past eight. Saturday's third-place performance was his second best of the season, just one off his outside-pole winning performance at Nazareth.
Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) qualified fifth in his bid to become only the second Champ Car driver in history, and the first since 1998, to win three 500-mile events in the same season. He recorded earlier victories at Indianapolis and Michigan and would join Al Unser, winner at Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario in 1978.
By not winning the pole position Saturday, Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing was eliminated from contention for the FedEx Championship Series championship. Moreno needed a maximum 22-point performance this weekend to have any hope of catching series leader Gil de Ferran and that hope evaporated when de Ferran claimed the pole. Moreno qualified 19th Saturday at 231.672 mph (31.529 seconds). Even so, Moreno will cap off a career-best campaign Sunday, which was highlighted by his first career FedEx Championship Series pole position and victory at Cleveland.
Longtime FedEx Championship Series competitor Forsythe Racing announced Saturday that it had formed a partnership with German-based Zakspeed Motorsport to campaign a two-car entry in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series. The new team, known as Zakspeed Forsythe Racing, will compete in Ford-powered Reynards, one of which will be driven by Bryan Herta, a seven-year FedEx Championship Series veteran who owns two victories and seven pole positions in his CART career. The team hopes to fill its other seat with a German driver. Zakspeed Motorsport is a former Formula One competitor and has won several championships in national and international competition. "Participation in the CART series means not only coming back to the United States, but taking part in the most sportive and economically interesting racing series in the world, with races in Mexico, Japan, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Great Britain and especially Germany [where CART debuts in 2001]," said Peter Zakowski, Zakspeed team owner. "This is motorsport on the highest level and in Forsythe Racing, we have got the best partner to be found." Forsythe Racing is owned by Gerald Forsythe and has been a regular competitor in the FedEx Championship Series since 1994, with six race victories and nine pole positions in that span. The team currently campaigns Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) and Alex Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) in the FedEx Championship Series.
Casey Mears (WorldCom Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal qualified a creditable 15th for his Champ Car debut, at 233.382 mph (31.298 seconds). He is attempting to become the first driver to compete in Dayton Indy Lights and FedEx Championship Series events in the same day. Mears, nephew of three-time FedEx Championship Series champion Rick Mears, is currently third in the FedEx Championship Series with 129 points, five behind Scott Dixon, who leads the series with 134. "It is unbelievable to drive these cars," said Mears following his initial Champ Car qualifying effort. "I feel very comfortable with the Team Rahal guys. We have a veteran team led by guys like Jim Prescott, John Miller and Ray Leto. I bet my crew has more racing experience than anybody's this weekend. It's awesome to be in this show. I was flat all the way around and that's the fastest I've ever gone. I'm excited about Sunday. It's a dream come true for me."
Qualifying for the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota will air 1:30 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 2 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, one-half hour prior to ESPN's live race broadcast. The race will also air live on the CART Radio Network, the Armed Forces Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com . It will be broadcast locally on KIEV (870 AM).