Blundell Leads Mercedes-Benz After Day One Downunder Red Flags Interrupt Provisional Qualifying

Crashes and a lack of testing on the largely resurfaced Surfers Paradise street circuit made for a difficult provisional qualifying session at the IndyCarnival Australia Friday. Mark Blundell was fastest among the eight-driver Mercedes-Benz contingent, but the Motorola Reynard/Mercedes pilot had to settle for 12th on the provisional starting grid when fellow Mercedes driver Al Unser Jr. crashed, ending the second half of the session more than two minutes early. Alex Zanardi took the provisional pole.

Unser was uninjured, but the damaged suspension of his Marlboro Penske/Mercedes pierced the carbon fiber tub, rendering his primary car useless for the remainder of the weekend. He'll forfeit his 20th place time from today to run his backup car during final qualifying tomorrow.

Player's/Forsythe Racing's Greg Moore, who scored his fourth pole of the season during the last CART race on the streets of Houston and was consequently running in the first half of today's qualifying, ended the day 13th. A crash by Adrian Fernandez interrupted the session for several minutes, but Moore's biggest problem occured when the top of the brake fluid reservoir came loose, spilling slippery brake fluid all over the footwell, his shoes and the pedals.

Team Alumax rookie Helio Castro-Neves, Player's/Forsythe's Patrick Carpentier and Hogan Racing rookie JJ Lehto, all running in the second half of the session, had their qualifying efforts foiled when the session ended early for Unser's incident. The three finished 16th, 17th and 18th, respectively. Marlboro driver Andre Ribeiro was 25th, and Hollywood pilot Mauricio Gugelmin was 26th.

Mercedes Quotes

Mark Blundell, No. 18 Motorola Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 12th - 93.820 sec.

"We had a pretty productive qualifying. Unfortunately, I think our best run was lost because of the red flag. We struggled a bit to get our tires up to working temperature, but overall it was pretty good. I'm just a bit disappointed that we didn't have the whole 30 minutes to show our stuff."

Greg Moore, No. 99, Player's/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 13th - 93.859 sec.

"The brake fluid cap came off. After that, there was just no chance of going fast because my feet were sliding all around in the cockpit. Obviously, we haven't found the setup as well as we thought we did, so we'll have to go back and work on it."

Helio Castro-Neves, No. 16 Alumax Reynard/Mercedes/Goodyear: 16th - 94.012 sec.

"We were going pretty good in the beginning, but we didn't have any chance to use our second set of tires. We had a throttle problem and lost a lot of time in the pits. We just had time to scuff in our second set before the session ended. I'm just praying to get into the top 10 tomorrow."

Patrick Carpentier, No. 33, Player's/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 17th - 94.041 sec.

"I have a really bad cold, so that's not helping things. The session really was not so good. On the first set of tires, the car had a lot more understeer than it did this morning, so I had to wait a lot longer before going back to power in the corners. We went faster because the track was better, but we should've gone much faster. We made a change for the second set, but we got stuck behind traffic. Then the red flag came out, and that was it."

JJ Lehto, No. 9 Hogan Racing Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 18th - 94.170 sec.

"That was much better, much more promising than this morning. In the morning, we were really struggling with the bumps and over the curbs. It was a big improvement. We still have a lot of work to do, but it's getting better."

Al Unser Jr., No. 2, Marlboro Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear: 20th - 94.801 sec.

"We had just put a fresh set of tires on the Marlboro Penske/Mercedes, and we were looking for a clear lap for a quick time. Turn 12 is off-camber from the crown of the road, and when I got in hot under braking, the car just darted right -- like what happened to Andre in practice. It's a real shame because the wishbone pierced the tub, so tomorrow we'll have to start all over again with the backup car."

Andre Ribeiro, No. 3, Marlboro Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear: 25th - 95.293 sec.

"We got behind this morning when we tagged the wall after the car jumped out under braking going over a bump. We went to our backup car for the second half of the session, and we were able to make good progress with our setup. In qualifying, we had just put on our second set of tires and were ready to go for a time when we ran out of fuel. We've got a lot of work to do on the Marlboro Penske/Mercedes, but we know what direction we need to go in."

Mauricio Gugelmin, No. 17 Hollywood Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 26th - 95.640 sec.

"It was a pretty bad session. On the first set of tires, I only got one lap after aborting twice and spinning once. I basically didn't have a car to do better than a 1 minute 35 (second lap). We made one major aerodynamic change for the second set of tires but never got a clear lap before the red flag came out."