CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana Friday Practice Report

Adrian Fernandez gets ready to practice at California Speedway. Fontana, CA (October 30, 1998) - Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing positioned himself for a sweep of FedEx Championship Series superspeedway pole positions Friday when he led...

Adrian Fernandez gets ready to practice at California Speedway.

Fontana, CA (October 30, 1998) - Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing positioned himself for a sweep of FedEx Championship Series superspeedway pole positions Friday when he led the opening day of practice for Sunday's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET, live, ESPN).

Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford), who claimed his first career pole in July's U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan Speedway, averaged 236.564 miles per hour (30.877 seconds) on his quickest lap of the 2.029-mile superspeedway oval. He will chase his second pole of the season when final qualifying begins at 3 p.m. ET Saturday.

The winner will claim the $15,000 Marlboro Pole Award with the opportunity to add an additional $45,000 in rollover bonus money with a victory in Sunday's season finale. More importantly, Sunday's winner earns $1 million, the biggest winner's purse for a FedEx Championship Series event since The Inaugural U.S. 500 at Michigan Speedway in 1996.

This weekend's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota marks the return of the Handford Device, the aerodynamic piece fitted to the rear wing of Champ Cars to help contain speeds at superspeedway events. When it debuted at the July 26 U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan Speedway, the Handford Device helped produce a race which featured a CART-record 62 lead changes - including one in each of the final five laps - before Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) claimed the victory.

Moore recorded the third-fastest practice speed Friday at 234.951 mph (31.089 sec), behind Fernandez and second-place Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford), who topped the afternoon practice session at 235.428 mph (31.026 sec).

Michael Andretti was fastest in the afternoon practice session.

Andretti seeks his second front-row start of the season - the other a pole at Road America - while Moore could tie Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) for the FedEx Championship Series lead with five pole positions by improving two positions during qualifying.

Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes), who recorded the fastest qualifying lap in auto racing history in last year's event (240.942 mph), was fourth fastest Friday at 234.830 mph (31.105 sec). Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) was fifth fastest at 234.461 mph (31.154 sec).

Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda), the 1997 and '98 FedEx Championship Series champion, was eighth fastest at 233.980 mph (31.218 seconds). Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford), who concludes his 17-year FedEx Championship Series driving career this weekend, was 10th at 233.644 mph (31.263 seconds).

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford: "We started on the same basis we had at Michigan and the car responded really, really well. The car felt pretty comfortable. With this new wing, you have to be a little bit more careful. You just have to play the race by ear and try to get to the end. It's going to be a very exciting race, just like the last one."

MICHAEL ANDRETTI, Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford: "I really believe that if we didn't have [the Handford Device] on, we'd be going 245 [miles per hour], maybe even more. But I still think you're going to see a lot of passing, like at Michigan, and a very exciting race. At Michigan, the driving was the best I've ever seen in any type of racing, ever, and it's going to take the same thing here. We tested here right before we left for Australia and we made a huge gain in tires. I think the race is where you'll see it. I'm very happy with what Goodyear has brought for this weekend. I think we have a better tire than Firestone. I really do."

GREG MOORE, Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes: "We didn't test here at all. Last year, we came here with the same setup we ran at Michigan and this year we were able to do the same thing. I had heard the track was a little bumpier in [Turns] 1 and 2, so we had to change the setup a little bit to allow for that. The car responded well. This afternoon, we just went out and tried to run some tires in for the race. The biggest worry that I've got is working your way through traffic because we're running so close together. At Michigan, we had to make changes on the car as the tires kept changing. The person who wins this race will be the driver who adapts his car and his driving to the changing conditions."

MOORE on the span between superspeedway events (July to November): "I like the way the series is set up now with road course and street events between Michigan (the U.S. 500 on July 27) and here. We have the small ovals, the Michigan race and then the road and street courses before we come here and it measures a true champion that way. If we raced here a week or two after Michigan, everybody would probably stay up at Michigan and test and get a lot of track time. I'd rather have it this way. It is much better this way to end the season with a superspeedway event because this is our Super Bowl, especially with $1 million going to the winner. I just think that is a great way to end our season."

WHAT'S NOTEWORTHY:

CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach announced Friday that Team KOOL Green driver Paul Tracy will be excluded from the 1999 FedEx Championship Series season opener as a result of infractions stemming from an incident at the Oct. 18 Honda Indy. A press release announcing the decision follows.

The Arciero-Wells Racing Team announced Friday that it has signed PPG-Dayton Indy Lights graduate Cristiano da Matta to drive for the MCI WorldCom Racing Team in the 1999 FedEx Championship season. Da Matta, who ran away with the 1998 PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship, will drive the No. 25 MCI WorldCom-sponsored, Toyota-powered Champ Car. He will team with nine-year veteran Scott Pruett, who signed with Arciero-Wells in August to pilot the No. 24 Pioneer Electronics-sponsored, Toyota-powered entry.

"Da Matta is already known as a winning driver in the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship," said Cal Wells III, co-owner of the Arciero-Wells team. "He brings talent and youthful exuberance to our partnership with Toyota and MCI WorldCom. After testing him, it is clear that the chemistry between Cristiano, the engineers and the mechanics is a good fit. We are looking forward to next year with great anticipation. Our selection of Cristiano proves once again that CART's developmental series, the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship and the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship work."

In a related development in the Arciero-Wells camp, Pioneer Electronics, a leader in the consumer and commercial video markets, has signed a three-year, multi-million dollar deal to sponsor the No. 24 Toyota-powered Reynard Championship Car in the 1999 FedEx Championship Series season. Scott Pruett, who signed with Arciero-Wells in August, will drive the Pioneer-sponsored entry.

WHAT'S ON TAP:

Qualifying for the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota will air 2 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2.

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach Sr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Scott Pruett , Greg Moore , Cristiano da Matta