MONTERREY, Mexico (March 9, 2001) - Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske launched a bid to defend his title by posting the fastest practice speed Friday for the inaugural Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand...
MONTERREY, Mexico (March 9, 2001) - Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske launched a bid to defend his title by posting the fastest practice speed Friday for the inaugural Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez (4 p.m. ET Sunday, live, ABC-TV), opening event of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season.
De Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard), who became Team Penske's eighth CART champion last season, constructed a lap of 96.390 miles per hour (1minute, 18.581 seconds) on the 2.1-mile permanent road course at Fundidora Park to set the opening-day pace on the first day of practice for the inaugural event, CART's first stop in Mexico since 1981.
De Ferran will be seeking his 12th career pole position when qualifying begins 2:45 p.m. ET Saturday. His last four qualifying attempts on permanent road courses have resulted in a pole at Mid-Ohio and outside poles at Portland, Road America and Laguna Seca.
Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola), in his first year with Newman/Haas Racing, was second fastest at 96.199 mph (1:18.737). He seeks his best road or street course start since an outside pole at Toronto last year.
Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) made it a successful day for Marlboro Team Penske by recording the third-fastest speed of 95.981 mph (1:18.916). Like his Marlboro Team Penske teammate, Castroneves enjoyed extraordinary qualifying success on permanent road courses last year, with poles at Portland and Laguna Seca, an outside pole at Mid-Ohio and a sixth-place qualifying effort at Road America.
In addition to their qualifying excellence, Marlboro Team Penske drivers were victorious in three of the four FedEx Championship Series events contested on permanent road courses in 2000, with de Ferran winning at Portland and Castroneves at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca.
Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) of Team Rahal was fourth fastest at 95.699 mph (1:19.148), followed by Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard) of Player's Forsythe Racing at 95.407 mph (1:19.390).
Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola was 12th-fastest at 94.879 mph, while two time FedEx Championship Series champion Alex Zanardi (Pioneer Honda Reynard) of MoNunn Racing was 19th at 93.326 mph (1:21.161).
Scott Dixon, the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights champion, was the fastest of six rookies at 95.327 mph (1:19.457).
GIL de FERRAN, Marlboro Honda Reynard:
"I really enjoy the length of this track; it's a lot of fun. The track surface is very, very smooth, which I like. It should continue to improve this weekend. I have to thank my teammate, Helio. He did a good job in testing. I had an accident [during a test] at Homestead and Helio did most of the testing. The guys in the crew also did a very good job. When you don't have the track time you expect, the guys have to do a lot of work in the shop. The injuries gave me no problems today, it just felt like normal. I'm very, very happy to be physically able to drive now."
CRISTIANO da MATTA, Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola:
"When I came over here [to Mexico], I had a few question marks in my head. The conditions are always so different when you go testing, and you never know how you're going to compare to everyone else. We're definitely not in bad shape. I'm glad to be in the top five on my first day with Newman/Haas Racing. It makes me feel very good."
HELIO CASTRONEVES, Marlboro Honda Reynard:
"Everything you shouldn't do, I did today, spins, crashing, everything. That's what happens when you learn a new circuit. I very much like this circuit. Unfortunately, the track was really dirty. It was very hard to make any changes to the car, because the track just kept getting better and better. I'm sure it's going to be much faster tomorrow."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard:
[On his popularity in Mexico] "It's been a process over a lot of time, I've been racing for 20 years. I raced in Mexico and was successful, then I raced in Europe and was successful, and then I went to race in America. That's when it really started picking up. It took eight years to get to this level. It [the popularity] blew up 50 percent last year because of being in the championship fight. Now, it's become more difficult for me to be outside."
Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) will be seeking his 12th FedEx Championship Series career pole position Saturday and his ninth on a road or street course. He earned five poles in 2000, the last of which, in the season finale at Fontana, established a world closed-course speed record of 241.428 mph.
Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) opened his Newman/Haas Racing career with a strong second-place effort during Friday's practice. His best qualifying performance on a permanent road course came last year at Mid-Ohio, where he was seventh.
Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) will be seeking his fifth career pole position when qualifying begins Saturday afternoon. Three of his previous four poles have come on road or street circuits, at Portland, Toronto and Laguna Seca.
Friday's top three drivers all hailed from Brazil, which is seeking its third consecutive Nation's Cup championship this season.
Qualifying for the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez will air 3 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2.