CICERO, Ill. (Aug. 21, 1999) - Max Papis of Team Rahal gained his first career FedEx Championship Series pole position on the final lap of qualifying Saturday and earned the right to lead the field to the green flag for Sunday's inaugural Target...
CICERO, Ill. (Aug. 21, 1999) - Max Papis of Team Rahal gained his first career FedEx Championship Series pole position on the final lap of qualifying Saturday and earned the right to lead the field to the green flag for Sunday's inaugural Target Grand Prix Presented by Shell at Chicago Motor Speedway (4 p.m.. ET, one-hour tape delay, ABC-TV).
With the pole battle boiling down to a matchup between a pair in search of their career first, Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) turned a lap of 162.559 miles per hour (22.788 seconds) to claim the first pole of his four-year career. The effort allowed him to take the pole from Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes), who will start second after a lap of 162.381 mph (22.813 seconds).
Papis exceeded his previous career-best qualifying effort of third at Japan this year. He earned a PPG Cup point for the effort, bringing him to 79 for the season, which places him ninth in the FedEx Championship Series championship. Papis will be chasing his first career victory in Sunday's 15th round of the series.
Blundell, looking for his first triumph since winning the 1997 season finale at California Speedway, earned a season-best effort - eclipsing fifth at Nazareth - and matched his career best established at Toronto and Road America in 1997.
Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) qualified third at 162.331 miles per hour (22.820 seconds). He will make his fifth top-five start of the season, which includes a run of four in the last five events.
FedEx Championship Series points leader Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) qualified fourth at 162.296 mph (22.825 seconds). He leads rookie Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) by one point (152-151) through 14 rounds of the championship. Montoya qualified 10th at 160.357 mph (23.101 seconds).
Rounding out the top five was Helio Castro-Neves (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Mercedes Lola) at 162.246 mph (22.832 seconds). He makes his sixth top-five start of the season, four of which have come on ovals.
The top 22 qualifiers were separated by less than one second.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
MAX PAPIS, Miller Lite Ford Reynard: "The most important thing is that we've been working on consistency, making it right when it counts. We knew in qualifying we would have to have a special one. We learned during the past three days exactly how we want the car in the race. I'm very, very glad we've done as much work as we have for Ford this year. When I was driving for Ferrari [in World Sports Cars], I got kind of used to being on the pole. It's personal satisfaction. Today, I'm on the pole and that means I'm the best."
MARK BLUNDELL, Motorola PacWest Mercedes: "Everything has been going pretty well all weekend. This morning was pretty productive; the only thing we didn't get to do at the end of the session was run some new tires, so it was kind of nice to go out and stand on it for a change. I'm very happy for the team."
JIMMY VASSER, Target Honda Reynard: "We weren't terrible yesterday [seventh fastest in practice], but the car didn't feel good. So we built our 'T' car up in completely different fashion and it turned out to be much quicker. Qualifying was very close; maybe we left a little bit on the table, but Max has been on the pace all week and Mark has, too. I'm very happy with the third starting position. Certainly you can win from there in a 225-mile race."
* Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) will be looking to improve on his career-best FedEx Championship Series finish of fourth at Rio de Janeiro. He also owns five fifth-place finishes this season (Homestead, Gateway, Road America, Toronto, Mid-Ohio).
* Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) is on a qualifying run that has resulted in four top-five starts in his past five outings. The stretch includes starts of fourth at Toronto, a pole at Michigan and fifth at Mid-Ohio, in addition to Saturday's third-place effort. * Papis' pole was the third of the season for Ford, and its first since Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) at Road America. It was the 13th of the year for Firestone.
* Jan Magnussen (Visteon Ford Reynard) qualified 16th in his first competitive appearance ever on an oval. He had one previous testing session at Gateway International Raceway prior to this weekend.
WHAT'S ON TAP
Qualifying for the Target Grand Prix Presented by Shell will air 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2 while ABC-TV's one-hour tape-delayed race broadcast begins 4 p.m. ET.