ROOKIE TAGLIANI CAPTURES FIRST CAREER POLE POSITION AT RIO 200 RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (April 29, 2000) - Alex Tagliani of Player's Forsythe Racing continued his impressive rookie run in the FedEx Championship Series on Saturday by capturing the...
ROOKIE TAGLIANI CAPTURES FIRST CAREER POLE POSITION AT RIO 200
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (April 29, 2000) - Alex Tagliani of Player's Forsythe Racing continued his impressive rookie run in the FedEx Championship Series on Saturday by capturing the pole for the Rio 200 on the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway at Nelson Piquet International Raceway (12:30 p.m. ET Sunday, live, ESPN).
Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) secured the first pole of his career with a lap of 173.903 miles per hour (38.587 seconds) on the 1.864-mile oval. He will be chasing his first career victory when the green flag falls 1:30 p.m. local time for Sunday's third of 20 races in the 2000 FedEx Championship Series.
Thanks to the point he earned for the pole, Tagliani, who spent the previous four seasons competing in the Toyota Atlantic Championship, enters Sunday's event ranked sixth in the championship with 17 points. His is the highest championship ranking among the six rookie drivers currently competing in the FedEx Championship Series. Prior to Saturday, Tagliani's most recent pole came during an Atlantic event at Montreal last year.
Defending Rio 200 and series champion Juan Montoya of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing earned the outside pole at 173.413 mph (38.696 seconds). It is his second front-row qualifying effort of the season, following a pole position earned at Nazareth earlier this month. The Nazareth event, postponed on race day (April 9) due to inclement weather, will be completed on Saturday, May 27.
FedEx Championship Series points leader Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green qualified third fastest at 172.757 mph (38.843 seconds). It marks a career-best start for Tracy, a 1999 CART All Star, in five appearances at Rio, improving on fifth, en route to victory, in 1997.
Tracy enters Sunday with a 34-26 lead over Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) in the championship. Vasser qualified sixth at 172.313 mph (38.943 seconds).
Rounding out the top five drivers were rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal, fourth at 172.610 mph (38.876 seconds) and Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing, fifth at 172.597 mph (38.879 seconds). Brack's effort improves on a season best of fifth established at Homestead in the season opener, while Fittipaldi, a native Brazilian, earns his second consecutive top-five start at Rio de Janeiro, after claiming his first career FedEx Championship Series pole position here last year.
The top 18 drivers were separated by less than one second.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
ALEX TAGLIANI, Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard: "When I got on track I saw that Juan had a (lap of) 38.6. He improved quite a bit from this morning. We weren't expecting him to be so fast. We ran a 38.6 this morning too but we had a small draft running behind Jimmy (Vasser). We tried to manage the tires on the first three warm-up laps and we turned a 38.8. Neil (Micklewright) came on the radio and said we needed another two tenths of a second. When I came through the first corner I knew it was going to be a good time. This isn't really a difficult track to drive but it's a challenging track for the engineers. This pole is really for the Players/Forsythe team today."
JUAN MONTOYA, Target Toyota Lola: "The car was pretty good. When I got the green flag I thought, 'Oooh, this is going to be interesting today.' Coming around turn one I was just trying to get a clean lap. We were pretty clean and very fast but I thought whomever had a balanced car was going to get (the pole). We tried it but it just didn't work. The car was too loose."
PAUL TRACY, KOOL Honda Reynard: "We've really been concentrating on where the team's been lacking in order to make it to the front of the grid. We've been looking for more balance in qualifying. The car's been good all weekend. We got kind of a scare in tech. The car had been bottoming out and we had a problem with the skid plate. But we got it straightened out and the car's through tech now. I think we've got a great race car and starting up front will make the race a lot better for me."
* By claiming the pole in his fourth FedEx Championship Series event, Alex Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) matches defending FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya, who also earned his first career pole in his fourth event, at Nazareth last year. Among other recent rookies of note, two-time series champion Alex Zanardi earned the pole for his second career start at Rio de Janeiro in 1996. Nigel Mansell earned his first career pole and victory in his rookie debut at Surfers Paradise, Australia in 1993 and went on to the FedEx Championship Series title.
* Tagliani's pole also makes it possible to keep alive a streak which has seen the Rio pole winner go on to record his first career FedEx Championship Series victory during the same season in which he has claimed that pole. Zanardi's '96 pole was followed by his first career victory at Portland. Mauricio Gugelmin won the 1997 pole at Rio and went on to his first career triumph at Vancouver. Dario Franchitti was the 1998 pole winner at went on to his first career triumph at Road America while Christian Fittipaldi won the pole last year and continued the run with a victory at Road America.
* Outside pole-sitter Juan Montoya has qualified fifth or better for nine of 10 oval events, dating to a pole last year at Nazareth. Poles at Gateway last year and Nazareth this year are also part of the run, as is an outside pole at Homestead, starts of third Rio, Michigan and California last year, and fifth at Milwaukee last year.
* Paul Tracy's (KOOL Honda Reynard) third-place qualifying performance was his best on an oval since winning the outside pole at Gateway last year.
* Daniel Pedroso, Operations Director of the Rio 200, announced late Saturday afternoon that the Rio 200 is a sellout. A crowd of nearly 60,000 is expected.
WHAT'S ON TAP
The Rio 200 will air live 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN.