CONTACT: Nate Siebens or Merrill Cain, 001-52-81-8354-4045 Fernandez Claims First Championship Point Of 2002 Cart Fedex Championship Series In Front Of 56,000 Fans In A Thrilling Opening Qualifying Session For The Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand...
CONTACT: Nate Siebens or Merrill Cain, 001-52-81-8354-4045
Fernandez Claims First Championship Point Of 2002 Cart Fedex Championship Series In Front Of 56,000 Fans In A Thrilling Opening Qualifying Session For The Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix
MONTERREY, Mexico (March 8, 2002) - Before an estimated crowd of 56,000 rabid race fans, the legend of Mexican national racing hero Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Reynard) grew undoubtedly larger in Monterrey's Fundidora Park this afternoon, as Fernandez qualified on the provisional pole for Sunday's Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix.
In the dramatic closing minutes of qualifying, Fernandez clocked a best lap of 1:18.929 (95.965 mph/154.463 kph) to place himself atop the time chart. As time expired, Brazilian Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Eli Lilly and Company Toyota/Lola) topped Fernandez's time with a lap at 1:18.824, but that lap was disallowed due to the fact that Fittipaldi caused a red flag stoppage earlier in the qualifying session.
As a result, Fititpaldi was relegated to the fourth position with his second best lap time (1:19.270, 95.552 mph/153.772 kph), and Fernandez remained the polesitter on the provisional starting grid. Fernandez earns one championship point for his efforts this afternoon, and is guaranteed a front row starting spot for Sunday's race, thanks to new qualifying rules that were established during the off-season.
Fernandez will be starting from the front row for the first time since he started second in the 2001 Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Firstar. If Fernandez remains on the pole position, it will be the second of his career, and his first pole since 1998 at Michigan International Speedway.
Posting the second fastest time in qualifying was the 2001Cleveland winner, Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Reynard) with a best lap of 1:19.202 (95.634 mph/153.904 kph). Franchitti is looking to make his first front row start since the event at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan in 2001. If Franchitti finds enough speed to take the pole position after final qualifying tomorrow, it will be his 11th career pole position, but his first pole since the Molson Indy Vancouver in 2000.
Third on the provisional grid went to Alex Tagliani in the #33 Player's Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard at 1:19.241 (95.587 mph/153.828 kph). Should Tagliani land on the pole following qualifying tomorrow, it would be his second consecutive pole position, as he qualified first for the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series finale at California Speedway.
Fittipaldi wound up fourth at the conclusion of the opening day of qualifying, and was followed by his Newman/Haas Racing teammate Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola). Da Matta - the defending Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix champion - turned a best lap of 1:19.275 (95.546 mph/153.762 kph), and is looking for his third consecutive Champ Car victory. He won each of the final two events of the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series in Surfers Paradise, Australia, and Fontana, Calif.
With less than one minute remaining in the qualifying session, Mexico's Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola) occupied the pole position with best lap of 1:19.326 (95.484 mph/153.663 kph). However, a late flurry of fast times relegated Jourdain to the sixth position.
Turning in the seventh-quickest time was Bruno Junqueira in the #4 Target Toyota/Lola (1:19.480, 95.299 mph/153.365 kph). Junqueira was followed by his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola) - the defending Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix polesitter - in the eighth position at 1:19.491 (95.286 mph/153.344 kph). Rounding out the top ten were rookie Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota/Lola) at 1:19.682 (95.058 mph/152.977 kph), and Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola) at 1:19.832 (94.879 mph/152.689 kph). The top 11 cars in qualifying turned laps within one second of each other.
The final round of qualifying for Sunday's Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. local time (2:45 p.m. ET) on Saturday. Tape-delayed coverage of today's qualifying activities airs on SPEED Channel at 9:00 p.m. ET this evening, and qualifying coverage of Saturday's final round of qualifying airs on a tape-delayed basis at 8:00 p.m. ET Saturday night.
Sunday's Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix takes the green flag at 3:00 p.m. local time (4:00 p.m. ET) and airs live in the United States on SPEED Channel.
Quotes from the day's top-three qualifiers follow below:
* Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Reynard): "It feels fantastic. It couldn't happen in a better place. It's just a fantastic feeling. The car was good in the morning, and that gave me confidence in the afternoon session. I was getting a little bit frustrated, because we got three reds and I only did three laps. It was very difficult because the track was really slippery. I'm very proud of the team, it just ran very smoothly." (On the new qualifying procedure) "It's definitely made it more fair. There are times when you will have traffic and red flags, but it's the same for everyone, and you need to decide when you want to go. You need a lot of help from your pits, because you need to know where the other guys are and who's coming. I think it's a great call from CART."
* Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Reynard): "I think for the drivers, we have to adapt to it (the new qualifying procedure), and I think a little bit of luck will be involved, but I think it will be fairer. It is definitely an improvement over two groups. It was very exciting today. It came down to the last lap, and for me, the last three corners. My biggest problem was that I had Michael (Andretti) behind me and Max (Papis) in front of me, and I couldn't get a really good gap for my quickest lap. It was a good day for us, and it was a good provisional qualifying. But it's great for the fans here that Adrian's on the provisional pole."
* Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard): "I really like the configuration of qualifying. If we had two groups today, the guys in the first group would have been really mad because the grip got better with every lap. It will be really interesting. If you wait until the end, you take the risk of having somebody cause a red, but it's good to have everybody on the track at once. I think there will be different strategies, and when we get to the tracks where it takes less than a minute to do a lap, we'll probably wait longer to go out. But it's very good."
* The CART FedEx Championship Series introduced a new qualifying format for 2002 this afternoon. Gone are the days of divided qualifying groups, as all Champ Cars will be on course at the same time in each 60-minute qualifying session. Each driver is allowed 15 timed laps per qualifying session. Today, the new format resulted in an exciting conclusion to qualifying, as the top spot changed hands several times in the closing minutes.
* Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola) was the quickest of the 20 Champ Cars drivers in the first practice session of the weekend with a best lap of 1:20.504 (94.087 mph/151.415 kph). In fact, this afternoon's qualifying session was the first time da Matta's name did not appear atop a CART FedEx Championship Series time sheet since the Sunday morning warm-up for the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series finale at California Speedway. In addition to leading this morning's session, da Matta also won the 2001 season finale and led all four testing sessions at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in CART Sneak Preview last month.
* The two contenders for Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year honors got off to a good start in the opening day of qualifying for the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix. Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota/Reynard) finished the first day of his first full season of Champ Car competition with the ninth fastest qualifying speed at 1:19.682 (95.058 mph/152.977 kph). Mexican rookie Mario Dominguez (#16 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola) also acquitted himself well today, posting the 12th fastest time of the day at 1:19.982 (94.701 mph/152.403 kph).
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