LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 7, 2001) - Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske emerged from a bizarre qualifying session Saturday to claim the pole position for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET, live, ABC-TV). In claiming his...
LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 7, 2001) - Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske emerged from a bizarre qualifying session Saturday to claim the pole position for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET, live, ABC-TV).
In claiming his fifth career FedEx Championship Series pole position, Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) put together a lap of 103.343 miles per hour (1 minute, 8.556 seconds) on the 1.968-mile temporary street circuit, earning the right to lead 27 rivals to the green flag for Sunday's second of 21 rounds in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series.
The session, which was split into two one-half hour groups, featured checkered weather. The first group, comprised of drivers in the lower half of the FedEx Championship Series points standings, qualified entirely on rain tires while the second group started on rains and moved gradually to slick tires as the track began to dry.
For all but two minutes of the latter half-hour, it appeared the pole might go to Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez Bettenhausen Ford Lola) of Bettenhausen Motorsports, who led the first group at 101.809 mph and was chasing the first pole position of his six-year FedEx Championship Series career. But with barely two minutes to go, Jourdain Jr. was topped by Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) of Team Rahal, who had claimed his first career pole position at the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season opener in Monterrey, Mexico on March 10.
Over the final 120 seconds, the pole changed hands five times, as first Brack, then defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske, then Castroneves, then Brack and finally Castroneves sat atop the time charts prior to the checkered flag.
Brack ended up on the outside pole following a lap of 102.534 mph (1:09.097). The qualifying performance represents a career best on a street course, topping seventh at Long Beach, Detroit and Toronto last year.
Tony Kanaan (Hollywood Honda Reynard), the 1999 Long Beach pole-sitter who was fastest in Friday practice, qualified third at 102.347 mph (1:09.223). It is his best start on a street course since winning the pole at Long Beach in '99.
FedEx Championship Series leader Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing qualified fourth at 102.216 mph (1:09.312), followed by de Ferran, his closest pursuer, at 102.169 mph (1:09.344). Da Matta holds a 21-16 championship lead over de Ferran entering Sunday's FedEx Championship Series feature.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
HELIO CASTRONEVES, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "This is special because we've been up and down all weekend looking for a good set up. This morning I woke up and I thought we had it all figured out but then I saw it was going to rain and I thought 'Oh my goodness, we'll have to start from zero again.' I still knew that the car had a good set up on the dry and it was also good on the wet. The last car on the track was going to be the fastest and I just tried to be the last one. The strategy was great by Marlboro Team Penske. We had no traffic and it worked out great for us."
KENNY BRACK, Shell Ford Lola: "We were hoping that the first qualifying group would dry out the track and we were a little disappointed when we saw it starting to rain. It came down to who had the last lap and I think I braked a little too late on the last lap and that was it for us. Being on the front row for this race is exciting and it should be fun tomorrow."
TONY KANAAN, Hollywood Honda Reynard: "It was tough out there. It was fun for you guys to watch. When I came into the pits I said we needed to put slicks on, Michael [Andretti] did that already. We still had a lot of push in the car and I was fighting that. We made a couple of changes to correct that and then the track started drying so quickly and I knew the last lap would be the quickest. Going into the race I know that I have a good car. Qualifying just came down to who got the right lap at the right time."
* Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) captured the fifth pole position of his FedEx Championship Series career and his fourth on a road or street course. His previous poles came at Milwaukee in 1999 and Portland, Toronto and Laguna Seca last year.
* Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) earned his second front-row start of the season, after earning the pole for the season opener in Mexico.
* Either Marlboro Team Penske, Team Rahal or Tony Kanaan - Saturday's top three qualifiers - has earned the pole position for every Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach since 1998. Team Rahal captured the 1998 Long Beach pole with driver Bryan Herta, Kanaan won the 1999 pole with the McDonald's Championship Racing Team and Gil de Ferran claimed the 2000 pole with Marlboro Team Penske prior to Castroneves earning Penske's second consecutive pole on Saturday.
* Castroneves' pole was the fifth for Honda in its past six starts at Long Beach. The run also encompasses poles by de Ferran in 1996, '97 and 2000 and Kanaan in '99.
* The Nextel Toyota Reynard driven by Mauricio Gugelmin will be sporting decals on its engine cover advertising the upcoming Franchise Pictures film Driven, starring Sylvester Stallone and directed by Renny Harlin, thanks to an agreement made between PacWest Racing Group owner Bruce McCaw and Warner Brothers. The decal reads, "Driven: Welcome To The Human Race." Driven will premiere at Mann's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles on Monday, April 16, and is scheduled to be released nationwide on Friday, April 27. Portions of Driven were filmed at several venues on the 2000 FedEx Championship Series schedule.
* Team Rahal announced Saturday that it has taken an option with 2000 Toyota Atlantic Champion Buddy Rice for the 2002 racing season. The option allows Rice to compete with another team during the current season, but gives Team Rahal first rights on his services for 2002. "Buddy had a brilliant season in 2000 in winning the Atlantic championship and he has a bright future ahead of him in racing," said team owner Bobby Rahal, a three-time (1986, '87, '92) FedEx Championship Series champion. "He will be around this season as an observer, shadowing our engineers and learning the inner workings of a Champ Car team. If the opportunity arises for Buddy to drive for another team this season, we will support him in those efforts." Said Rice, "While I am obviously disappointed that I am not driving competitively at this point this year, the opportunity to work with Team Rahal and gain insight into the workings of a Champ Car team allows me to stay involved and continue my development as a driver. I am also working with Bobby and the team in an effort to secure sponsorship for next season and to make this opportunity a reality." Rice won five races and made 10 trips to the podium en route to last year's Toyota Atlantic title.
* CART has announced that veteran motorsports broadcaster Chris McClure has will be joining the CART Radio Network for the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season. McClure will serve as color commentor on seven CRN broadcasts, the first of which will be the Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit on June 17. McClure began his broadcasting career in the mid-70s and has been behind the microphone for broadcasts of Michigan State football, basketball and hockey; University of Detroit basketball and the original CART radio network. McClure has also served as the lead announcer for the Dayton Indy Lights series for the past 12 years. His motorsports experience includes stints behind the microphone for CART, Formula 1, Dayton Indy Lights, Toyota Atlantic and Trans-Am events. He has won several regional broadcast awards for play-by-play and was part of a group that received an Edward R. Murrow Award in the early '80s. Michaels joins the current announcing team of Tom Michaels, Scott Pruett, Ned Wicker, Larry Henry and Jim Murphy.
WHAT'S ON TAP
Qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will air 2 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, while ABC-TV's live race broadcast begins 4 p.m. ET. Sunday's race will also air on the Armed Forces Radio Network, the CART Radio Network and CART's official website, at www.cart.com .