CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland Saturday Qualifying Report

Vasser Keeps Cleveland Pole Cleveland, OH (July 11, 1998) --Though many of his rivals improved, none bettered Jimmy Vasser's provisional pole speed of Friday during Saturday's final qualifying session, keeping him in the pole position for ...

Vasser Keeps Cleveland Pole

Cleveland, OH (July 11, 1998) --Though many of his rivals improved, none bettered Jimmy Vasser's provisional pole speed of Friday during Saturday's final qualifying session, keeping him in the pole position for Sunday's Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Star Bank at Burke Lakefront Airport (12:30 p.m. ET, live, ABC-TV).

Vasser's track-record lap of 134.485 mile per hour (56.417 seconds) in a Target Reynard Honda, established during Friday's provisional qualifying session, went unmatched Saturday to give him his second pole of the season and sixth of his career.

It also puts him in contention for a $365,000 payday if he can win Sunday's 10th round of the FedEx Championship Series. Vasser earned the $10,000 Marlboro Pole Award, with the opportunity to pick up an additional $255,000 in rollover bonus money with a victory Sunday. Including the $100,000 winner's purse, the potential payout for a victory from the pole is $365,000.

The Marlboro Pole Award rollover bonus has been accumulating at a rate of $15,000 per event since defending series champion Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) became the last driver to win from the pole, at Cleveland a year ago.

Vasser's pole was his second in three years at Cleveland and put the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team in strong position to claim its fifth consecutive FedEx Championship Series event, the most by one team since Marlboro Team Penske won seven races in a row with Al Unser Jr. (5), Emerson Fittipaldi (1) and Paul Tracy (1) in 1994.

Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) maintained second place Saturday after improving his average speed to 133.868 mph (56.635 seconds). Zanardi, the defending race champion, improved Saturday to move from fourth to third on the starting grid with a lap speed of 133.658 mph (56.724 seconds). He will be seeking his third consecutive FedEx Championship Series victory, following wins at Detroit and Portland, respectively.

Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford), qualified fourth at 133.556 mph (56.767 seconds). He has qualified among the top five at all four road or street course events this season. Tracy's fifth-place effort in a KOOL Reynard Honda is a season best.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:

JIMMY VASSER, Target Reynard Honda: "I'm pretty happy. We sat in the pit lane until we could see how Alex [Zanardi], Dario [Franchitti] and Bryan [Herta] would run. It didn't appear that people were improving, so we sat until there were about seven minutes remaining, when we heard that Alex had run in the 56s [seconds]. I actually pushed for a couple of laps. The good thing is that we didn't put too much on the tires and we're in good shape for tomorrow. It's going to be difficult to win the race, no doubt about it. It should be easier to win from the pole than to win from last, but if you saw last year's race here [when Alex Zanardi drove from as far back as 22nd place to victory], it looked pretty easy to win from last. I'm going to give everything I've got to win this race, not for the [Marlboro Pole Award] money, but for the points."

DARIO FRANCHITTI, KOOL Reynard Honda: "This morning, we didn't actually run that many laps. We were concerned about the tires, so we worked on balance and setting the car up for long runs. During qualifying, you've got to go for it over the bumps, and you have to carry as much speed as you can. I was out there on my tires to do two or three quick laps. We've improved the car over the bumps, which is good. Hopefully, that will be a good sign for tomorrow."

ALEX ZANARDI, Target Reynard Honda: "Hats off to Jimmy. Tomorrow is another day. I'll probably get him in Turn One [laughing] and we'll go from there. I gave everything I had and I'm happy we made the car better. [Regarding rumors of his plans for next year] I think if you let that be a distraction, I wouldn't be able to win any race. To answer the question which I'm sure is going to come, I don't have a job yet for next year. I don't have a done deal with anybody right now. It may well be that one day I will drive for Williams [in Formula One], but I haven't decided anything yet."

WHAT'S NOTEWORTHY:

Jimmy Vasser's pole position in a Target Reynard Honda gave Target/Chip Ganassi Racing three consecutive poles at Burke Lakefront Airport. Vasser won the 1996 pole when his provisional pole speed from Friday held up through Saturday's qualifying session. Teammate Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) won the pole during second-day qualifying last year, then became the most recent FedEx Championship Series driver to win from the pole on race day.

Vasser's pole position is his seventh top-five start of the season. The starts were third at Homestead, the pole at Japan, fifth at Nazareth, second at Gateway, fifth at Milwaukee and fourth at Portland.

With Vasser starting on the pole and Zanardi starting third, Target/Chip Ganassi Racing is well positioned for a run at its fifth consecutive FedEx Championship Series victory, the longest streak since Marlboro Team Penske won seven in a row in 1994. Zanardi began the run with a victory at Gateway International Raceway in May, followed a week later by a win by Vasser at Milwaukee. Back-to-back triumphs by Zanardi at Detroit and Portland, respectively, continued the streak into Sunday.

Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) continued an impressive streak of qualifying on road/street circuits with Saturday's fourth-place performance. He has now started in the top 10 at the past eight road-course events, dating to last year at Mid-Ohio. The streak consists of poles at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca last year, and Long Beach and Portland this year. Herta has started fifth or better at the past five road/street course events.

Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) and Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) are making season-best starts of fifth and sixth, respectively.

Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford) qualified 10th for his final appearance as a driver at Burke Lakefront Airport. Rahal, whose first career victory came in the inaugural CART event at Cleveland in 1982, is in his final season as a FedEx Championship Series driver, dubbed "Rahal's Last Ride." "I don't know if I'll be emotional on Sunday," he said. "This place brings back a lot of great memories. But I'll be so focused on the race that I'll probably not think about any memories until I drive home Sunday night."

Robby Gordon (Panasonic Duskin/MCI Reynard Toyota) and Richie Hearn (Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford), respectively, threw out the first pitches at Thursday's and Friday's major league baseball games between the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins at Jacobs Field. Hearn may be invited to return; his pitch preceded a dramatic 6-5 Indians victory in the bottom of the ninth inning. The home team was shut out, 3-0, following Gordon's first pitch.

WHAT'S ON TAP:

"CART 2Day" airs noon Sunday on ESPN2, one-half hour prior to ABC-TV's live race broadcast.

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Al Unser Jr. , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Bryan Herta , Mark Blundell , Richie Hearn , Emerson Fittipaldi , Chip Ganassi
Teams Williams , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing