David Reininger - motorsport.com Homestead, Fla. (March 25, 2000) - During the off season, Marlboro Team Penske made some drastic changes to their CART FedEx Champ car program, including a new driver line up and a new chassis-engine package.
David Reininger - motorsport.com
Homestead, Fla. (March 25, 2000) - During the off season, Marlboro Team Penske made some drastic changes to their CART FedEx Champ car program, including a new driver line up and a new chassis-engine package. Those changes paid off as Marlboro Team Penske driver Gil de Ferran captured the pole position for Sunday's Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Any time a team goes through wholesale changes, as Team Penske has done, changing from the Mercedes-powered Penske chassis to a Honda-powered Reynard, there is a period of adjustment. "There is always going to be a learning curve for the team engineers and the mechanics," said de Ferran. "They've been used to one machine and now we have a whole different idea now. The team is full of talented engineers. They're still learning about it. It is my expectations that we should get better as the year goes on. We're getting to know the Reynard better. Every time we hit the track we feel more comfortable with it."
Despite competing in the Honda Reynard package with Walker Racing in 1999, the feel of the car has changed with the switch to Firestone tires. "For me, as a driver, one of the biggest differences has been the tires. I've been on Goodyears ever since I started my career in CART racing. I myself had to learn a lot about the (Firestone) tires. For me there was definitely a big change. Unfortunately, a lot of what I felt and what I knew about the Reynard was on Goodyear tires and it did not translate exactly to what we have this year."
Juan Montoya, driver of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing Toyota-powered Reynard, will rest easy tonight knowing his Toyota engine was powerful enough for a front row starting position. Montoya's qualifying lap was just six one-thousands of a second slower than de Ferran's. "We've been having a few problems, but we've still been really competitive," said Montoya. "The qualifying lap was pretty good. We did some changes to the car and it was pretty good, but we expected it to be better. The car in traffic has been good so it's going to be good."
"This is a great start to the season. Since practice this morning, even with the wind conditions, the car has been awesome. Both the Toyota engine and the car have been awesome."
Although the Honda and Toyota engines captured the front row starting berths, five Ford-powered cars are starting right behind de Ferran and Montoya. Starting third in the fastest Ford entry is Adrian Fernandez in the Tecate Quaker State Reynard entered by Patrick Racing.
"My teammate, Roberto Moreno, was ahead of me (in qualifying) and he gave me the track conditions," said Fernandez. "That relationship is really starting to work."
With the new Ford-Cosworth XF engine powering six of the top-ten in qualifying, Fernandez is optimistic about his chances this season. "The car got better and better all weekend. We have just been working hard to tune the car. I am very happy with the performance of the Ford engine. They have worked so hard. I am looking forward to the whole season."
Rookie driver Alex Tagliani qualified fourth, driving the Player's Forsythe Racing Team Reynard around the 1.502-mile speedway at an average speed of 207.061 mph. "I had a good run on my first lap but I tried to push the car even more by staying on the gas pedal in corner one on the second lap but it didn't work," said Tagliani. "I had to lift twice and was never able to pick enough speed between corner 3 and 4. It's too bad because that would have been a quick one. Live and learn."
Kenny Brack set the fastest lap of the weekend in this morning's practice session with a lap at 209.460 miles per hour. Brack's qualifying speed was nearly three miles an hour slower, yet he still qualified in the fifth position. "I feel pretty good about our car," said Brack. We tried to improve on this morning's setup and we just went a little too far. The car was a little loose. Plus the wind was a factor."
"I'm happy with where we qualified. The third row isn't bad," Brack added.
Brack's teammate, Max Papis, will start 13th tomorrow after nearly coming in contact with the Turn four wall. "I think that was a wild qualifying for me," said the Italian driver. "The wind just pushed my car completely sideways in the turn. I might have entered Turn four a little too fast but it was definitely the wind. It just went big-time loose. I used all of my four years of oval racing experience on that lap."
"I'm disappointed with our qualifying. But, on an oval like here at Homestead, you can come from behind. We did that last year (from 15th to 5th)."
Mark Blundell wasn't as lucky as Papis as his Motorola Pac West Mercedes Benz made contact with the Turn four wall in the day's only incident. Blundell lost traction exiting Turn four and made hard contact with the outside wall. Blundell kept the car against the outside wall, sliding past the start finish line, halfway to Turn one.
"If we had a race track with two corners, I'd have been looking very, very good," Blundell said with a smile. "(Turns) one and two were very sweet. I had a small lift in there. I committed myself to (Turn) three and by the transition from three to four, the rear just stepped out of line." Blundell was uninjured although he admitted to some swelling in the hip area.
Blundell qualified the back up car in 16th.
The Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami takes the green flag at 2:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Same day television coverage will be broadcast on ESPN starting at 4:00 p.m. EST.