MONTEREY, Calif. (October 12, 2001) - Defending race champion Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske continued his successful run on the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca Friday when he set a torrid pace during testing for the Shell 300, featured ...
MONTEREY, Calif. (October 12, 2001) - Defending race champion Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske continued his successful run on the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca Friday when he set a torrid pace during testing for the Shell 300, featured event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey (4 p.m. ET Sunday, live, ESPN).
Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard), the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, put together a lap of 117.040 miles per hour (1 minute, 8.838 seconds) on the 2.238-mile permanent road course, placing him over one-half second clear of all of his adversaries on the time sheet. He will be seeking the eighth pole of his career and his fourth of the season when qualifying begins 4:45 p.m. ET Saturday.
Castroneves claimed victory from the pole at Laguna Seca last season, while teammate Gil de Ferran took runner-up honors in a dominant Marlboro Team Penske performance. The script seemed very much the same Friday, as de Ferran, the defending FedEx Championship Series champion, was second fastest in the field at 116.184 mph (1:09.345).
De Ferran is seeking his fifth pole of the season and has started among the top four drivers in each of the past six events. He enters the weekend as the FedEx Championship Series championship leader with 163 points, and comes to Monterey off a victory from the pole at Houston last Sunday.
Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Toyota) of the PacWest Racing Group posted the third-fastest testing speed of 115.902 miles per hour (1:09.514). He will seek his second pole of the season and the fifth of his career on Saturday afternoon.
Rounding out the top five drivers were Gugelmin's teammate, rookie Scott Dixon (Nextel Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota), fourth at 115.765 mph (1:09.596) and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing, fifth at 115.755 mph (1:09.602).
Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) of Team Rahal, who stands second to de Ferran with 153 championship points, was 19th fastest at 114.265 mph (1:10.510).
HELIO CASTRONEVES, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "I'm pushing really hard. I don't know about these guys or if they're sandbagging, but I'm not sandbagging. I'm pushing really hard to find the limit. Our car's running really good, let's just keep going.
"I see no secrets inside our truck, that's why we've been having so much success. What's going to benefit me also is going to benefit my teammate, who we're fighting for the championship. I just need to keep going as fast as I can and kick this guy's butt."
GIL de FERRAN, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "I think basically since Helio and I joined the team in the winter of '99, we've been quite successful in developing this kind of setup. Let's just say we've made very few steps backward, mostly forward. What you're seeing is an accumulation of that effort. The track is just beautiful. They did the runoff areas, there are a lot of tires everywhere, and there's always more we can do, but I think I should give credit where credit is due. They did a great job with the track this weekend."
MAURICIO GUGELMIN, Nextel PacWest Toyota: "I don't think we found anything special for here. The last two races we've found setups that have worked on my car. We've always run pretty well here, but we haven't had good results. At this place, it's important to find a good balance. You probably have noticed there are a lot more tires around the track. There's also a nice fence from Turn 6 all the way up to The Corkscrew that wasn't there before. It's a pretty decent track, and they've responded well to our requests. We're very happy with the way the track is right now."
* Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) is seeking his fourth pole position of the season, the others having come at Long Beach, Japan and Detroit. He has started sixth or better in each of the past seven events and 13 of the past 15, dating to a fifth-place qualifying performance at Nazareth.
* Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) owns four pole positions this season, including three in the past six events, at Mid-Ohio, Germany and Houston. His other pole position came at Toronto. De Ferran has started among the top four drivers in each of the past six events, dating to his pole at Mid-Ohio.
* Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Toyota) is seeking his second pole of the season, following a pole-winning performance at Cleveland.
* Team Rahal announced Friday that it had signed 1996 FedEx Championship Series champion Jimmy Vasser to drive the team's Shell Ford Lola during the 2002 FedEx Championship Series season. Vasser will step into the seat vacated by Kenny Brack, who has announced plans to drive for Target Chip Ganassi Racing next season. Vasser is in his 10th Champ Car season and owns nine race victories and seven pole positions in 164 career starts. He won the 1996 CART title for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, starting the team on an unprecedented run of four consecutive FedEx Championship Series crowns. Vasser currently competes for Patrick Racing as driver of the No. 40 Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard. "I have been impressed with Jimmy's driving for many years as we competed wheel-to-wheel on numerous occasions," said team owner Bobby Rahal. "In fact, I talked to Jimmy several years ago about joining Team Rahal, but the timing wasn't right back then. Now, everything has worked out, and David [Letterman, entertainer and team co-owner] and I are extremely happy to bring this top American driver on board." Said Vasser: "Bobby and I have talked about this for many years, and now it has finally come together. I am very happy to join the Shell team which has proven it is a championship caliber that enjoys great sponsorship. I think we can be right in the battle for next year's championship."
WHAT'S ON TAP
Qualifying for the Shell 300, featured event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey, will air 2 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2.