CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana Saturday Qualifying Story

David Reininger - Fontana, Calif. (October 30, 1999) - Scott Pruett averaged 235.398 mph around the 2.029-mile California Speedway to capture the pole position for Sunday's Marlboro 500 presented by Toyota. Although it was ...

David Reininger -

Fontana, Calif. (October 30, 1999) - Scott Pruett averaged 235.398 mph around the 2.029-mile California Speedway to capture the pole position for Sunday's Marlboro 500 presented by Toyota. Although it was Pruett's second consecutive pole at the California Speedway, it was the first pole for Toyota.

"This is a great day all the way around, especially being my last CART race here," said Pruett, who will be making the move to NASCAR's Winston Cup division next year. "It's awesome for Toyota, for Pioneer, for everybody at PPI. Cal (Wells) and everybody have all worked so hard on reaping the benefits from Toyota. There's nothing like the first."

High winds presented problems for several drivers as wind speeds increased during today's qualifying session. Max Papis, who qualified on the outside of the front row, faced some of the strongest gusts of the session. "Conditions were a bit strange," said Papis, the last driver to qualify. "The wind was really, really gusting when we went out. We were basically flat out. There were a couple of wiggles in turn one and couple of wiggles between turns three and four. When I faced the wind, coming off turn four it was like pulling the hand brake."

"I'm glad Max only had a twitch a couple of times, because it was like four, five six or seven times in each turn for me," said Pruett. "We knew going into it we'd really have to free the car up. We didn't want to scrub off any speed through the turn. To do that you have to run the car extremely loose. I was only able to hold onto it for one lap."

"The first lap it went loose, the next lap it was really loose. We got that one lap in and I told them, 'that's all there is, that's all that's going to happen'. The toughest time for me was waiting from there until the end. I really thought Max had a chance to take it away from us. He had been running strong all weekend. He ran strong at the last Michigan race. I saw him as the guy that could take it away from us, so I was sweating bullets while he was doing his run."

"It's tremendous, not only to win a pole for Toyota, but to win the very first pole for Toyota," said Cal Wells, co-owner of Arciero-Wells Racing. "I'm very pleased that Scott gave us that gift, because it came from him." Wells had good reason to be pleased with qualifying today since Papis was his driver last season. "Max drove for us before. We actually brought him to Champ cars. It's kind of nice to have an all front row with people that we work with. We're pretty excited about that."

Qualifying third on the grid for tomorrow's race was championship contender Juan Montoya. Montoya trails Dario Franchitti by nine points in the championship standings going into tomorrow's season ending race. "I'm a little disappointed about missing the pole, and the championship point," said Montoya. "But it's okay. My car was perfect, there wasn't another tenth of a mile an hour left in it. It's just the wind. When the first guys went out, the track conditions were better, then the wind picked up and it's getting stronger all the time."

Franchitti, who swapped the championship lead with Montoya at the last race in Australia, qualified eighth today, well within striking distance of the leaders. "At a track where you can make up two or three places a lap, that (starting position) doesn't matter. The wind really picked up when I went out. We were running flat for the two laps that I was qualifying but the wind was gusting so strongly on the straight it really hurt us. It's unfortunate, but what can you do? If we're still around and in good shape after the last pit stop we'll be in good shape for the wind."

Franchitti's teammate, Paul Tracy, who had run fast in each of the practice sessions, was disappointed with his 19th place qualifying run this afternoon. "Obviously it's frustrating. I'm frustrated with having to qualify towards the back of the field. It's disappointing. We had a great car for two days. When it came time to do the number, we had a guy (de Ferran) crash right before we were going out, we jumped the gun on the downforce a little bit and went slow."

"Dealing with the turbulence here is pretty tough. It would have been nice to start in the top-ten but we're going to start outside the top-fifteen. The wind picked up just before we went out. It can go up and down and that's the big difference in this track. When you're dealing with terminal velocity any type of wind change is huge."

Mark Blundell was another driver facing stiff competition from the wind after posting impressive practice times all weekend. Blundell qualified 18th. "We had a reasonable car," said Blundell. "We took everything off, trimmed it right out. We didn't run any wickers. Nothing. I mean, there isn't anything else we could take off our package."

"We just didn't get any speed out of it. Nature went against us on our run. The wind kicked the speed off of us. I've been on the golf course where your partner takes a shot and the wind is with him. You take a shot and the wind is up, you lose a few yards. It's the same deal. We won in '97 from 11th on the grid so I'm not too fussed."

The Marlboro 500 presented by Toyota takes the green flag at 12:00 noon on Sunday, October 31. Live television coverage begins at 3:00 ET on ESPN.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Max Papis , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Pruett , Mark Blundell