Indianapolis -- Target Chip Ganassi Racing doubled its chances of winning the Indy 500 yesterday when its rookie drivers Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian qualified 25th and 27th, respectively, for the May 27 race at Indianapolis Motor ...
Indianapolis -- Target Chip Ganassi Racing doubled its chances of winning the Indy 500 yesterday when its rookie drivers Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian qualified 25th and 27th, respectively, for the May 27 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Junqueira and Minassian, who compete for Team Target in the CART FedEx Series, joined Tony Stewart and Jimmy Vasser, who qualified seventh and 12th, respectively, for the defending Indy 500 champions during Saturday's qualifying session.
"We didn't decide until Saturday afternoon that we were going to put Bruno and Nicolas in the back-up cars, but obviously we're pleased with the results," said Ganassi, whose team claimed the 2000 checkered flag with first-year Indy 500 driver Juan Montoya. "After Jimmy and Tony qualified in their primary cars, we realized we had two additional cars that were fast enough to qualify and two talented pilots who were up to the challenge -- and within Team Target we had the resources and the people to make it happen. The ability to qualify two rookies for the Indy 500 with less than a day to prepare says a lot about the teamwork and talent within this organization."
On Sunday, Junqueira recorded a four-lap average of 224.208 mph on Indy's 2.5-mile oval, making him the race's fastest rookie qualifier. Junqueira, who claimed the pole position in the May 6 CART race at Nazareth, Pa. was pleased with his qualifying position and excited for the opportunity to race at Indianapolis.
"I can't tell you how happy I am to be in the Indy 500," said Junqueira, who will work with former Patrick Racing engineer Jim Hamilton and drive the No. 49 G-Force/Oldsmobile Aurora. "This is a great day for me. I first want to thank Chip and Target for giving me the opportunity to qualify for the race. It has always been a dream of mine to race here, and now that dream will come true. I also want to thank Tony (Stewart) and Jimmy (Vasser). They gave me some ideas on how to set up the car and how to be faster in the corners. Team Target gave me a great car. I'm going to go out and try to win the race."
Minassian, who finished second to Junqueria in the 2000 European Formula 3000 Series, also recorded impressive qualifying laps on Sunday, averaging 223.006 mph. He was the day's second fastest qualifier and was ecstatic with his 27th position on the grid.
"This is an incredible day," said Minassian, who will work with former Tasman Motorsports chief engineer Diane Holl and drive the No. 50 G-Force/Oldsmobile Aurora. "Yesterday I was going to be watching the race, and now I will be racing in it. We were only able to have about an hour of practice before we qualified, and I wasn't sure the car was going to be balanced right. But as soon as I turned my first lap, I thought 'this is very good.' I went 223 (mph) after a couple of laps and I was confident we would have a good car for qualifying. I need to thank Tony, Jimmy and the rest of Team Target for giving me a great car on very short notice."
Of Ganassi's quartet, Stewart took the top qualifying spot, earning the seventh position with a four-lap average of 224.248 mph.
"Like I've said before, our goal here is to win the race," said Stewart, who will also attempt to win NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 for Home Depot/Joe Gibbs Racing on May 27. "No one has ever gotten their face on the Borg-Warner trophy for winning the pole. The more I work with this team, the more I think we have a car and crew that is capable of winning the Indy 500."
Vasser, who earned the first of Team Target's four consecutive CART titles in 1996, qualified 12th Saturday afternoon, averaging 223.455 mph in his No. 44 Target G-Force/Oldsmobile.
"This is about where we thought we would qualify," said Vasser, who finished seventh in the 2000 Indy 500 and competes for Patrick Racing in the CART Series. "The weather conditions were not ideal, but we were concentrating on getting a solid starting position in the field. We can now concentrate on race set-up. It's a very long race, so having a consistent, fast car is obviously very important."
Following the qualifying sessions, team managing director Mike Hull praised all Target Chip Ganassi Racing employees involved in the busy weekend.
"Team Target did a great job these past few days under difficult circumstances," Hull said. "The opportunity presented itself to give Bruno and Nicolas some experience in a pressure-filled situation. With the help of just about the entire team, including Jimmy and Tony, they both took advantage of the situation, and their qualifying efforts exceeded our expectations. Having four drivers and four cars in the field will be a challenge for this team, but Target Racing is fortunate to have impressive depth at key positions. I'm confident we have the personnel necessary to meet this challenge."
Before focusing on the Indy 500, Minassian and Junqueria travel to Motegi, Japan for their fourth CART FedEx Series race. The Firestone Firehawk 500 airs at 1 p.m. ET Saturday on ABC-TV.