Fernandez Takes Second Career Pole Position In Qualifying For Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix; Earns Second Championship Point For Turning Fastest Lap In Wet Final Qualifying Session
MONTERREY, Mexico--Mexican driver Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) maintained his position at the head of the qualifying grid and added a second championship point to his season total by turning the fastest lap in a wet final round of qualifying for Sunday's Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix (4 p.m. ET, SPEED Channel).
When rains engulfed the 2.104-mile Fundidora Park road circuit, Fernandez was assured of his first career road or street course pole position, and the second overall pole position of his career. However, there was still the matter of who would claim the championship point for turning the fastest qualifying lap in Saturday's final round of qualifying.
While many of the competitors waited to see if conditions would improve, Team Motorola driver Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) trekked onto the circuit. Andretti was followed a few minutes later by Fernandez, who proceeded to turn the fastest lap of the session at 1:46.320 (71.242 mph/114.649 kph).
The rains got significantly heavier shortly thereafter and the session was stopped with nearly 20 minutes remaining in the hour-long session. However, CART rules stipulate that 45 minutes of guaranteed green flag time must be fulfilled and after track drying efforts were completed, the green flag waved again after a delay of 38 minutes. No driver was able to run faster than Fernandez in the closing laps, and Fernandez earned his second championship point of the season for topping the day's time sheets.
Fernandez starts Sunday's race on the pole for the first time since he qualified on the inside of the front row at Michigan International Speedway in 1998. It is also the first pole position in the history of Fernandez Racing, which made its competition debut in Monterrey last season. Fernandez also holds the distinction of winning the first Champ Car pole position with Bridgestone Potenza tires, which is in its first year as the Official Tire of CART.
Only three drivers--Fernandez, Andretti and Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard)--turned laps in today's final qualifying session, and no driver was within 24 seconds of yesterday's slowest speed. As a result, the starting grid will be based entirely on Friday's qualifying speeds.
That puts Team KOOL driver Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) on the front row alongside Fernandez with a best lap of 1:19.202 (95.634 mph/153.904 kph). Sunday's race will mark Franchitti's first appearance on the front row since Japan last season.
Starting third on tomorrow's grid will be Tagliani, who clocked a best lap of 1:19.241 (95.587 mph/153.828 kph) yesterday. During today's qualifying session, Tagliani had a big moment as he spun through Turn 1, but he fortunately escaped without making contact with any of the barriers. Tagliani will be making his fourth consecutive top-10 starting position dating to last year in England.
Rounding out the top five on the grid will be Christian Fittipaldi in the #11 Eli Lilly and Company Toyota/Lola with a qualifying lap of 1:19.270 (95.552 mph/153.772 kph), and his Newman/Haas Racing teammate Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola) who starts fifth with a best lap of 1:19.275 (95.546 mph/153.762 kph). The top 11 cars on the starting grid qualified within one second of one another.
United States television coverage of today's final round of qualifying at Fundidora Park airs on SPEED Channel at 8 p.m. ET this evening. A half-hour pre-race show airs on SPEED Channel Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. ET, followed by two-and-a-half hours of live television coverage of the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix beginning at 4 p.m. ET. Live audio of the race will also be available beginning at 4 p.m. on www.cart.com , the official web site of the CART FedEx Championship Series.
Quotes from the top three qualifiers follow below:
Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): "Our strategy was that we decided to do five laps in the wet, and then if the conditions got better, we would do more laps at the end. Obviously, we timed it perfectly, and we were very happy. It really took three or four laps to figure out how the track was, so we were not worried at the point of the red flag. It's an advantage to start on the pole, but you're as susceptible as anybody to make a mistake. It's very tricky, and you just need to remember it's a long race. It should work in our advantage if I don't make any mistakes." (On significance of being on pole in Monterrey) "It's huge. It is one of the best rewards of my whole career. I raced here in Mexico for seven years, but not at the level of CART. To have this race here really means a lot. This race is thanks to Tecate and our other sponsors. To get this reward is the best for me, but it's not done yet."
Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone): "I think Adrian and his guys timed it perfectly. I was a spectator this session, I didn't go out. I'm pretty happy to be starting on the front row. I think our record from last year shows that qualifying was abysmal for us. It's good to get started up front this year. It would have been nice to get a couple of laps, but that wasn't in the plan. We'll see what happens tomorrow."
Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone): "We were expecting to qualify in the dry, but then when we saw it start to rain, we had to change everything. We didn't plan to do any lap times, the team planned to do a test for traction control in the wet. It looks like we still have a little bit more work to do." (On spinning in the wet conditions) "I was looking around and seeing where the puddles were, and they were everywhere. I just got on the gas and tried to do a 360 (degree spin) and try not to hit anything. It worked out for us."
Fernandez Racing driver Shinji Nakano (# 52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) qualified 16th in the first round on Friday, but will start 20th on Sunday's grid due to the fact that he took to the track for today's final qualifying session in his backup car. Anytime a competitor switches cars in qualifying sessions, all previously established times are wiped out.
Mario Dominguez and the entire Herdez Competition team want to wish a speedy recovery to their fellow teammate, Chris Sheffer. Sheffer, known around the paddock as "Beaker" after the Muppet character, suffered a seizure last Saturday evening and was hospitalized in grave condition. The 25-year-old Sheffer is making an astonishingly quick recovery. Many of the crew members visited him in the hospital before leaving for the Monterrey race and reports were that, by Wednesday night, he had recovered sufficiently to take his first four steps, albeit with a walker. While it is expected that his full recovery may take another month or longer, Chris is planning to return to work as soon as possible. The #16 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone is carrying a "Get Well Beaker" sign on its sidepod for the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix.