CHAMPCAR/CART: Miami qualifying report

>From CART Media Relations Grand Prix of Miami, presented by Toyota Zanardi Makes It A Record Saturday Miami (March 1) -- Alex Zanardi made the official opening of the 1997 PPG CART World Series historic Saturday by setting one record and...

>From CART Media Relations

Grand Prix of Miami, presented by Toyota Zanardi Makes It A Record Saturday

Miami (March 1) -- Alex Zanardi made the official opening of the 1997 PPG CART World Series historic Saturday by setting one record and tying another while driving to the pole position for the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota at the Metro-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex.

Zanardi pushed his Target Racing Reynard Honda to an average speed of 195.043 miles per hour to secure his fifth consecutive pole position, tying a PPG CART World Series record previously shared by Mario Andretti (1984) and Danny Sullivan (1988). Zanardi captured the final four poles of the 1996 season to put himself in a position to tie Sullivan's standard Saturday.

Zanardi also claimed his own place in CART history by securing his ninth consecutive front-row start, breaking a record he had previously shared with Bobby Unser (1979-80) and Bobby Rahal (1985). It was the seventh career pole position for the 1996 CART Rookie of the Year, who led the series with six poles last season.

Zanardi earned the $10,000 Marlboro Pole Award for his effort and stands to pick up an additional $15,000 with a victory Sunday. He'll be seeking his fourth career victory when the green flag drops at 1:30 p.m. ET (live, ABC-TV) for the inaugural event of the 17-race PPG CART World Series season.

"My crew was fantastic today, they did an amazing job," Zanardi said. "Morris [Nunn, team engineer] had an idea right before qualifying and we changed things just a little bit and the car was fantastic.

"At the start of my run, the popoff valve light came on, and I ran my first lap with one hand on the wheel and the other on the [popoff] adjuster knob. Then, on the second lap I was able to concentrate fully on my line and, well, we had a great result."

Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes), who paced Friday's practice sessions with an average speed of 194.045 mph, will start alongside Zanardi after averaging 194.869 mph on Saturday. By starting second, Gugelmin equaled a career-best first established in Miami in 1995.

The front-row starters were separated by 25/1000ths of a second, and the top 19 qualifiers were separated by less than a second.

"I have no complaints," Gugelmin said. "The car had a very good balance, and that lap was as quick as the car would go today. It's interesting to see many combinations (of chassis, engines and tires) fighting at the front. That's good for the sport, but makes life very hard for the drivers."

Gil de Ferran (Valvoline Cummins Reynard Honda) averaged 194.695 mph on his sole qualifying lap to take the third spot on the grid. His second lap ended when he made contact with the wall in Homestead's first turn, but he will start third on Sunday since the driver rather than the car qualifies for the race according to CART rules.

De Ferran was uninjured in the incident.

"The engine misfired for a moment going into Turn One," de Ferran said. "I don't know if that had anything to do with the accident or not. The car took off right from the turn and headed up to the wall. It became a case of damage limitation, not avoidance."

Rounding out the top five were Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes), fourth at 194.004 mph, and Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes), fifth at 193.132 mph.

Defending PPG Cup champion Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) qualified sixth at 192.968 mph. Zanardi's pole-sitting speed was three mph slower than that of Marlboro Team Penske Paul Tracy, who averaged 198.590 mph in winning the 1996 pole here. CART mandated aerodynamic and manifold pressure changes during the off-season will result in reduced speeds on oval circuits.

A total of 28 cars are set to take the green flag at 1:30 p.m. Sunday for the first of 17 events in the 1997 PPG CART World Series. Round 2, the Sunbelt IndyCarnival Australia is scheduled for April 6 at Surfers Paradise.

ESPN's "On the Grid" program will air at 1 p.m. Sunday, one-half hour before the green flag

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Mark Blundell , Mario Andretti , Bobby Unser , Danny Sullivan , Greg Moore
Teams Team Penske