CHAMPCAR/CART: Laguna Seca Friday Qualifying Report

Laguna Seca (September 11, 1998) - Team KOOL Green driver Dario Franchitti, winner of a series-high four pole positions, made a strong bid for a fifth Friday when he earned the provisional pole for Sunday's Texaco/Havoline 300, feature event of...

Laguna Seca (September 11, 1998) - Team KOOL Green driver Dario Franchitti, winner of a series-high four pole positions, made a strong bid for a fifth Friday when he earned the provisional pole for Sunday's Texaco/Havoline 300, feature event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca Raceway.

Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) averaged 117.793 miles per hour (1 minute, 8.398 seconds) on his fastest lap of the 2.238-mile permanent road course to lead 27 drivers for Sunday's 16th round of the 19-race FedEx Championship Series (3 p.m. ET, live, ESPN). Final qualifying for the Texaco/Havoline 300 is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. ET Saturday.

The pole winner collects the $10,000 Marlboro Pole Award, with the opportunity to add an additional $15,000 in rollover bonus money with a victory Sunday. Franchitti earned a record Marlboro Pole Award jackpot of $340,000, including $330,000 in rollover funds, for becoming the first driver in 22 races to win from the pole at Vancouver last weekend. It was his second consecutive victory, the other coming at Road America.

If he maintains his position, Franchitti would earn his fourth pole in six events, including road/street course poles at Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Vancouver. Franchitti, whose first pole of the season came on the oval at Rio de Janeiro in May, has started on the front row in five of the past seven FedEx Championship Series events.

It was an eventful day for the provisional polesitter as Franchitti spun off course during his qualifying session and hit a wall, causing rear damage to his car. He was uninjured in the single-car incident.

Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) qualified second at 117.566 mph (1:08.530). He seeks his third front-row start of the season after earning a pole at Michigan and an outside pole at Japan.

Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) qualified third at 117.482 mph (1:08.579). He looks to top his season-best start of fourth at Michigan and his best overall start since qualifying third at Portland in 1995, which led to a victory. Franchitti qualified in the first group while Fernandez and Unser Jr. were in the second.

Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) qualified fourth at 117.323 mph (1:08.672). He has made five front-row starts this season, most recently at Detroit, where he earned the pole. Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) qualified fifth at 117.301 mph (1:08.685). His season-best start to date is fourth at Mid-Ohio.

Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda), who clinched the FedEx Championship Series title last week at Vancouver, was excluded from qualifying after making contact with Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) following the checkered flag of the morning practice session.

Zanardi, already on probation as a result of his involvement in separate incidents at the Aug. 9 Miller Lite 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, was cited for unjustifiable risk by CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach as defined in section 8:13 of the CART Rule Book. Zanardi will be permitted to participate in Saturday's morning practice session, which begins at 9 a.m. PT and, barring further incident, in final qualifying Saturday afternoon.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:

DARIO FRANCHITTI, KOOL Reynard Honda: "We tested here two weeks ago, but the track was a little different today. There was no grip this morning at all and we worked all day trying to correct that. [Technical Director and Chief Engineer] Don Halliday worked his magic to get the car almost to where I like it. I'm still not happy with it, but we're getting there. Don is a great engineer. He's not a guy who thinks he knows all the answers. It's incredible the stuff he comes up with, from the car being very bad one minute to making a few adjustments and making it much better. [On the qualifying accident] I came through Turn 6 and I bottomed out a bit. All four wheels were off the ground and I had no place to go. I hit pretty hard and that was the end of the day."

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford: "I have to credit this to my crew. The car that you saw basically destroyed in Vancouver is the car I qualified today. The crew basically spent two days to rebuild it because of a mistake I made and those were two days they were supposed to have off. I told them that if we qualified second, I was going to take the whole team to Cancun, so they're pretty excited about that. This afternoon I changed my driving style a bit to suit the push of the car, and it worked."

AL UNSER JR., Marlboro Penske Mercedes: "Gosh, I don't know what to say. This morning went pretty well for us. We're coming off not such a good test here and the car was acting the same as it did during the test. We're fighting a push ... we've been fighting it all season ... and I decided in the coach before we went out to change what I'm doing in the car by quite a lot, and we were able to make it all the way around. What showed today is the confidence I have in the car. If I can get in and throw it around the way I did in that session, it's a beautiful little race car. I have to keep telling everybody it's a beautiful car because I'm the one driving it. The more we work with it, the more it will come around."

WHAT'S NOTEWORTHY:

Alex Zanardi, who currently is on probation, was excluded from Friday's provisional pole qualifying by CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach for unjustifiable risk during Friday's morning practice session. Zanardi made contact with Bryan Herta in the corkscrew section after the checkered flag was waved to signal the end the session. After reviewing the tapes and interviewing both drivers involved, Dallenbach said that Zanardi's actions represented unjustifiable risk, which is referred to in section 8:13 of the CART Rule Book. The penalty was exclusion from provisional pole qualifying. Zanardi will be permitted to return to competition for Saturday's morning practice at 9 a.m. PT and final qualifying which begins at 12:45 p.m. PT. "After the checkered flag was displayed, the #1 car [Zanardi] attempted to overtake the #8 car [Herta] in the corkscrew and it resulted in contact," Dallenbach said. "It was a risky and unnecessary move by the #1 car and it resulted in damage to both cars." Zanardi, who clinched the FedEx Championship Series crown last week in Vancouver, was placed on probation for unjustifiable risk in two separate race incidents and fined $50,000 following the Aug. 9 Miller Lite 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. "I'm not happy about the decision," Zanardi said, "but I have to accept the opinion of the steward. It's unfortunate, because the situation could have been avoided by both of us. In terms of qualifying, we'll just have to wait and see what we can do tomorrow."

It marked the second time this season that Dallenbach has excluded a driver from a portion of the weekend's competition. Paul Tracy, who also was on probation at the time, was excluded from Saturday's final pole qualifying at Portland after an incident with Michel Jourdain Jr. during the previous day's provisional pole qualifying on June 19. Tracy's earlier discipline marked the first time in CART history that a driver was excluded from competition by the Chief Steward for a rules infraction.

Patrick Racing announced Friday that PJ Jones has been signed to drive the team's Visteon-sponsored Champ Car during the 1999 FedEx Championship Series season. The team also announced that it will campaign a Swift chassis next year while continuing with Ford Cosworth power and Firestone tires. Jones will enter his fourth FedEx Championship Series season next year. He concluded a three-year tenure at All American Racers last weekend in Vancouver after playing a key role in developing the Toyota Champ Car engine since he joined the series in 1996. In 42 career starts with AAR, Jones' best finish is ninth at Detroit in 1996. "We are very pleased to be able to bring PJ on board with Patrick Racing," said. U.E. "Pat" Patrick, Patrick Racing team owner. "We have followed his career closely over the last few years and believe that he is capable of competing for a championship next year and for many years to come." The 29-year-old Jones, eldest son of 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones, will replace Scott Pruett, who announced last month that he will join Arciero-Wells Racing next year.

Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) and wife Daniela became first-time parents Monday afternoon with the birth of son Niccolo in Padova, Italy. Niccolo weighed six pounds and measured 48 centimeters in length. Mother and baby are fine and have been released from the hospital to begin their lives at home.

Danny Sullivan, the 1988 PPG Cup winner and a two-time Champ Car winner at Laguna Seca (1988, '90), returned to the cockpit following Friday morning's practice session for 10 minutes of track time in the secondary Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda driven by Gil de Ferran of Walker Racing. Sullivan is preparing a report on the experience for Sunday's ESPN race telecast.

WHAT'S ON TAP:

Qualifying for the Texaco/Havoline 300, featured event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey, will air Sunday 1:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2.

Source: CART Online

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