CHAMPCAR/CART: de Ferran holds on at the top

Gil de Ferran lay claim to the top stop again on the first day of qualifying at the Road America circuit in Wisconsin. The Penske driver lapped the 4.05-mile road course in 1:40.392, less than a hundredth of a second quicker than Newman-Haas' ...

Gil de Ferran lay claim to the top stop again on the first day of qualifying at the Road America circuit in Wisconsin. The Penske driver lapped the 4.05-mile road course in 1:40.392, less than a hundredth of a second quicker than Newman-Haas' Michael Andretti.

With Penske teammates de Ferran and Helio Castroneves already having claimed poles at the first two road course events of the CART season, the team is looking to keep a perfect road course qualifying record this year.

"Even though this is a four-mile track, everybody is very, very close, said de Ferran. "I'm not taking anything for granted, just taking it one day at a time. I'm just hoping we'll be able to stay here tomorrow."

Championship points leader Michael Andretti -- 19 points ahead of de Ferran after the last race ad Mid-Ohio -- was second, having only been able to drive one fast lap during the qualifying session.

"We put a good lap in on our first set of tires and never really got a chance to do a good lap on the second set. I got behind Adrian Fernandez and he kind of messed up a couple of my laps, and then the red flag came out," said Andretti.

Behind de Ferran's Reynard-Honda and Andretti's Lola-Ford were Dario Franchitti and Alexandre Tagliani, both in Reynards, but with Honda and Ford power, respectively.

Rookie driver Tagliani shone again; at 1:40.482, he was only nine hundredths of a second behind de Ferran, and half a second clear of the sixth-place Christian Fittipaldi. The young Canadian has impressed a number of times this season with his speed, only to be let down by a lack of consistency on the race day.

"We had another three tenths in the car, but my good lap was under the black flag," recalled Tagliani. "(I was) a little bit disappointed ... but my car is fantastic."

Franchitti, a strong challenger for the 1999 CART championship, has suffered from the same kind of inconsistency this year, and is languishing well back in 13th place in the point standings.

Yet again he showed speed in qualifying, but can he convert that into points? In the past eight races, he has started fourth or better in five events, but he has only 38 points to show for that stretch -- or an average of less than five points per event.

Behind them, Adrian Fernandez was fifth at 1:40.581, with the remaining runners -- including Fittipaldi, Mauricio Gugelmin, Helio Castroneves, Kenny Brack and Juan Pablo Montoya, in sixth through tenth places.

The final qualifying session starts at 1:45 PM on Saturday.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya