CHAMPCAR/CART: Franchitti is on track at Road America

Dario Franchitti got back on track today at Elkhart Lake, as he topped the timesheets in the final qualifying session for tomorrow's Motorola 220. With a time of 1:39.866, he was the only driver in the 1:39s, and 0.288 seconds ahead of...

Dario Franchitti got back on track today at Elkhart Lake, as he topped the timesheets in the final qualifying session for tomorrow's Motorola 220. With a time of 1:39.866, he was the only driver in the 1:39s, and 0.288 seconds ahead of second-place Gil de Ferran.

Team KOOL Green had been working on the setup for Franchitti's Reynard-Honda in the practice session earlier today in order to find improve on his provisional 3rd position from Friday, but the settings had not worked out, as the Scot fell back two places into 5th in morning practice.

"We were just looking for that little bit that we were talking about yesterday, and we tried to improve on what we had," recalled Franchitti. "We didn't. In fact, the car got worse, so we went back to what we had yesterday for qualifying and improved throughout the session."

It took ten laps, though, to clinch the pole over de Ferran, but on that lap he pulled everything together to lap the Road America circuit at the speed of 145.924 mph and eclipse Michael Andretti's 1996 track record of 1:39.988.

"I wanted to get in both sets of tires early and not get caught in a situation where there was a red flag with two minutes to go and not be able to get enough heat in the tires. The strategy worked perfectly today," explained Franchitti. "Now we've just got to concentrate on the race tomorrow."

And with Team Penske's Gil de Ferran beside him, it is an all-Reynard, all-Honda front row. de Ferran, who held the overnight provisional pole, chopped a quarter of a second off his Friday time, but it was not enough to counter Franchitti, who improved by some 0.6 seconds. But de Ferran had missed out on the all-important final qualifying lap:

"I was happy with the car in the morning and I'm pretty happy with the car in qualifying," de Ferran explained. "I made a mistake going into Turn 3 and went off. That's what happens when you're going for it. I'm just glad we were able to get back out there and get a good lap in. Dario just beat us today."

In a happy third grid position tomorrow will be Alexandre Tagliani, driving a Reynard-Ford. Despite only running four qualifying laps, the Canadian rookie driver improved his Friday time by over two tenths of a second, and moved past Michael Andretti to claim third on the grid -- his best qualifying performance yet on a street or road course.

"We had our struggles during qualifying but the team never gave up and worked very hard," said Tagliani. "We struggled quite a lot earlier in the year on the road and street courses. We showed up at Elkhart Lake and we had a very fast car and we were able to fight for the first two rows in qualifying, so it's a big achievement for us."

While Franchitti's and de Ferran's teammates also qualified well (Paul Tracy, fifth, and Helio Castroneves, fourth, respectively), Tagliani's Player's Racing teammate, Patrick Carpentier, had a day to forget. Struggling to find the speed on the long circuit, he finally spun off the circuit near the end of the first session, causing the session to be red-flagged.

"Something happened - the engine locked up and the rear wheels locked and I went off the racetrack," the Canadian explained. "It's too bad because the engine was going real well before that. I was hoping to be in the 40's (top 10) on the second set of tires."

Mauricio Gugelmin also spun off, hitting the wall in turn 4 hard enough to completely write off the suspension and the tub on his race car. CART rules, though, allow him to switch to the spare car for tomorrow's race since the primary car is not repairable, without losing his 10th qualifying position."

"The car was really good," Gugelmin recounted. "I turned into the corner and the car bit real good. I got on the gas too hard, too early, and it spat me across the track. It is obviously disappointing because I think we had the car to put us a few places higher on the grid."

With qualifying over, the focus is now on the start of tomorrow's 220-mile race. When the green flag flies at 1 PM on Sunday, it will be a chance for the drivers to shine or to shame. A good grid position helps, but Road America has more passing opportunities than most CART road circuits, so we can expect some intense action on track.

"It's really hard to predict what's going to happen tomorrow," de Ferran said. "It's definitely possible to pass here. It's always been a race that's been tight on fuel, and there's no reason to expect that it won't be the case again tomorrow."

"We've just got to concentrate on the race tomorrow," said Franchitti. "I think we've got a pretty good car, we just need some luck."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Mauricio Gugelmin
Teams Team Penske