FRANCHITTI CLOSES MORE GROUND ON MONTOYA BY WINNING POLE FOR HONDA INDY 300 SURFERS PARADISE, Queensland, Australia (October 16, 1999) - Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green set a track record Saturday while trimming a crucial point from his ...
FRANCHITTI CLOSES MORE GROUND ON MONTOYA BY WINNING POLE FOR HONDA INDY 300
SURFERS PARADISE, Queensland, Australia (October 16, 1999) - Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green set a track record Saturday while trimming a crucial point from his deficit to FedEx Championship Series leader Juan Montoya as he earned the pole for the Honda Indy 300 before a crowd of 69,081 on Australia's Gold Coast (midnight ET Saturday, live, ESPN).
Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) topped his own track record established last season with a lap of 109.724 mph (1 minute, 31.703 seconds) on the 2.794-mile temporary street circuit. He was nearly a second faster than the closest of the remaining 26 qualifiers while earning his second pole position of the season and eighth of his career.
The effort brought Franchitti a PPG Cup point, which closed his deficit to Montoya to 12 (200-188) entering Sunday's 19th of 20 rounds in the championship. Montoya, who qualified sixth at 108.173 mph (1:33.018) needs to outscore Franchitti by 10 points and exit Sunday's event with a 22-point advantage in order to become the first rookie to win the FedEx Championship Series championship since Nigel Mansell in 1993.
Franchitti became the second driver to win back-to-back poles in the Honda Indy's nine-year history. Mansell captured consecutive poles at Surfers Paradise in 1993 and '94.
Bryan Herta (Shell Ford Reynard) qualified on the outside pole at 108.667 mph (1:32.595). It is his third consecutive front-row start of the season, following a pole at Laguna Seca and an outside pole at Houston, as well as a career-best starting position at this event.
Scott Pruett (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) rounded out the top three qualifiers with a lap of 108.642 mph (1:32.616). The effort stands as a season best for Pruett, but is also the best qualifying performance for a Toyota-powered driver in the engine manufacturer's four years of FedEx Championship Series competition.
Provisional polesitter Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) qualified fourth at 108.544 mph (1:32.700). Tracy sat out the entire half-hour qualifying session after sustaining front-end damage to his primary car in a practice accident Saturday morning. Rather than qualifying his secondary car in the final qualifying session, which under CART rules would have required him to forfeit Friday's time, Tracy opted to sit out the session and dropped from the provisional pole to the outside of Row 2.
Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) qualified fifth at 108.311 mph (1:32.899). He has started fifth or better in six of his eight career appearances at Australia.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
DARIO FRANCHITTI, KOOL Honda Reynard: "I think every [championship] point counts at the moment. It's so difficult to pass here, it's very important to start on the first two rows. I got in a good lap at the start, not too good, and we came in, changed tires and then I went out and experimented, shall we say? I went out and threw everything at it and it seemed to work out. I was surprised at the margin, but I'll take it."
BRYAN HERTA, Shell Ford Reynard: "It was a very interesting qualifying session, as it always is. I got a good lap in on the first set of tires, so I thought I could take some chances on the second set. I caught the cone in the Foster's Chicane and clipped the wing on the front suspension, so I didn't get a chance to go after Dario at the end. The timing [of a strong finish to the season] is good. I think all the people who need to know, know I'm available [next year]. I'm working on some things, and I'd like to put that to rest sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I'll just concentrate on getting the best results I can on the racetrack."
SCOTT PRUETT, Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard: "It was a great effort. I've got to thank the [Arciero-Wells Racing] team, Toyota, MCI, Pioneer ... They've worked really hard, and I've reaped the benefits of all their efforts. This is going to be my last street race in CART, so this is a great way to go out. We made quite a few changes to the car, all of them positive. If anybody noticed, we jumped back and forth between our primary and our backup car in the practice sessions, and our qualifying setup was kind of a blend between the two, so it worked out very well."
* Of pole-winner Dario Franchitti's (KOOL Honda Reynard) eight career pole positions, seven have come on road or street courses. The group consists of Toronto in 1997; Toronto, Mid-Ohio, Vancouver and Australia in 1998, and Mid-Ohio and Australia this year. He has started fourth or better in 11 of his last 12 starts on temporary street circuits.
* Bryan Herta (Shell Ford Reynard) has qualified on the front row for four of his past six FedEx Championship Series starts, and four of his past five on road or street courses. Included is a pole at Laguna Seca and outside poles at Mid-Ohio, Houston and Australia.
* Scott Pruett (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) will make his best start of the season and best overall since winning the pole for last year's FedEx Championship Series season finale at California Speedway.
* Franchitti's pole was the 13th of the season for Honda and the 17th for Firestone.
* The qualifying podium of Franchitti, Herta and Pruett marked the first time three different engine manufacturers have been represented among the top three qualifiers in a road or street course event since last year at Detroit. In that event, Greg Moore won the pole powered by a Mercedes and was followed by Alex Zanardi (Honda) and Adrian Fernandez (Ford). Sunday's Honda Indy 300 will mark the 16th road or street course event contested in that span.
WHAT'S ON TAP
The Honda Indy 300 will be broadcast live Saturday night on ESPN, beginning at midnight ET.