CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana qualifying story

Gugelmin's Marlboro 500 Pole The Fastest Qualifying Lap In Auto Racing History CART Online (September 27) -- Mauricio Gugelmin recorded the fastest qualifying lap in auto racing history Saturday afternoon when he earned the pole position...

Gugelmin's Marlboro 500 Pole The Fastest Qualifying Lap In Auto Racing History

CART Online (September 27) -- Mauricio Gugelmin recorded the fastest qualifying lap in auto racing history Saturday afternoon when he earned the pole position for the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at the brand-new California Speedway.

Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) rocketed around the two-mile superspeedway oval at an average speed of 240.942 miles per hour, breaking the all-time record of 237.4 mph set by Arie Luyendyk at the 1996 Indianapolis 500. Gugelmin, a three-time pole winner this season, will lead a field of 27 drivers to the green flag at 3 p.m. EDT Sunday (8 p.m. EDT, same-day coverage, ESPN) for the 17th and final round of the PPG CART World Series season.

"Initially, you see that [240 mph] number and it's just unbelievable that a car can go around a place at that speed," Gugelmin said.

He earned the $10,000 Marlboro Pole Award, with the opportunity to earn an additional $105,000 in rollover bonus money Sunday for becoming the first driver to win from the pole since PPG CART World Series champion Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) was victorious at Cleveland.

"Two hundred forty is a magic number," added Gugelmin, who Saturday morning had a practice lap of 242.333 mph, the fastest unofficial lap in auto racing history on a competition weekend. "It's a great achievement for the team, for Firestone and for Mercedes. I'm proud to be a part of history."

Gugelmin, who earned his earlier poles at Rio de Janeiro and Road America, is making his 20th consecutive top-10 start, which includes 13 in the top five. Gugelmin led 14 drivers who obliterated the previous CART qualifying record of 234.665 mph set by Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) during last year's Marlboro 500 at Michigan Speedway.

Vasser qualified second at 239.222 mph in a Target Reynard Honda. Vasser, last year's PPG Cup champion, will be making his best start of the season, topping third-place efforts at Australia and Vancouver. It is his best start overall since qualifying second at Mid-Ohio last year.

Vasser has qualified in the top four for each of his past four 500-mile starts. The run includes pole positions at last year's Inaugural U.S. 500 and Marlboro 500 at Michigan Speedway, and a fourth-place start in this year's U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota.

"There was a little bit of baloney going on [after his qualifying run] with my crew," he said. "They were happy we had done so well, but it was a little premature to be celebrating when Mauricio was still out doing his warm-up laps. Mauricio has been quick all weekend, and I knew he was going to be a contender."

Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) qualified third at 237.222 mph. It is his third top-three effort in his past five starts, including poles at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca, and his fourth top-five over the same span.

"Things have just been going well lately," Herta said. "We've had good fast cars, but we haven't been as consistent in races as we needed to be. Goodyear has given us a good tire for tomorrow; it's going to be an interesting race."

In addition to his strong qualifying effort, Herta won a Mercedes-Benz E 420 Sport as part of the season-ending Marlboro Pole Award giveaway. Pole winners from each of the 17 PPG CART World Series events selected keys in order of their pole-winning performances. Herta started the car with the key he earned for winning the pole position for the Toyota Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Texaco/Havoline 300 at Laguna Seca three weeks ago.

Scott Pruett (Brahma Reynard Ford) qualified fourth at 236.810 mph, his sixth top-four start of the season. He won the pole for this season's other 500-mile event, the U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan Speedway. Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez/Viva Mexico! Reynard Ford) qualified a career-best fifth at 236.603 mph. He eclipsed his previous career best of eighth, set at Laguna Seca three weeks ago.

Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda), who sustained a mild concussion during separate practice accidents Friday morning and afternoon, was not medically cleared to drive Saturday morning following examination by Dr. Steve Olvey, CART Director of Medical Affairs.

"It's tough," said Zanardi, who earned series-high totals of five victories and four poles this season and clinched the championship with a third-place finish at Laguna Seca. "I kind of feel like I'm not doing my duty [for the team], but even if Dr. Olvey had given me the O.K. to drive, I don't think I would have driven because I simply don't feel right."

Luyendyk, who drove for team owner Chip Ganassi in two 500-mile events in 1992 and for a full season in 1993, has been recruited to drive Zanardi's car in Sunday's race. Luyendyk, owner of three victories in 141 PPG CART World Series career starts, will be making his first start in a Championship Auto Racing Teams-sanctioned event since competing in Phoenix in 1995.

"It's great to drive for him [Ganassi]," said Luyendyk, who achieved a top speed of 225.988 mph during practice Saturday afternoon and will start 27th. "I raced for him in 1992 and '93 and I've always had a good relationship with him. The speeds are tremendous here. The track will let you do that with these cars. For me to go out and do 225 [mph], I'm pretty happy."

Rookie Patrick Carpentier (Alumax Reynard Mercedes), who was transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center Friday following a practice accident, was listed in good condition and was expected to be discharged Saturday evening after being held overnight Friday for observation. Bettenhausen Motorsports/Team Alumax withdrew from Sunday's event as a result of Carpentier's accident.

Qualifying for the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota will air 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. EDT Sunday on ESPN2. ESPN2's "On the Grid" program will air 7:30 p.m. EDT Sunday, one-half hour prior to ESPN's same day, race broadcast.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Arie Luyendyk , Jimmy Vasser , Patrick Carpentier , Mauricio Gugelmin , Bryan Herta , Scott Pruett , Chip Ganassi , Michel Jourdain