HOMESTEAD, Fla. (March 25, 2000) - In his debut with Marlboro Team Penske, Gil de Ferran brought the team its first FedEx Championship Series pole position since 1997 Saturday during qualifying for the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami...
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (March 25, 2000) - In his debut with Marlboro Team Penske, Gil de Ferran brought the team its first FedEx Championship Series pole position since 1997 Saturday during qualifying for the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota at Homestead-Miami Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET, same-day tape delay, ESPN). De Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard), who joined Marlboro Team Penske this year after three seasons with Walker Racing, registered a lap of 208.434 mph (25.942 seconds) on the 1.502-mile oval to claim the seventh pole position of his career. It was his first pole since Toronto last year and the second on his career on an oval, the other coming last season in Japan.
For Marlboro Team Penske, it marked the team's first FedEx Championship Series pole since Paul Tracy at Milwaukee in 1997. The team's best start in the 49 events since came from Andre Ribeiro, who recorded an outside pole at Homestead in 1998.
De Ferran has his hands full with the most competitive field in the world as 23 of the 25 starters were separated by less than a second. The top 13 were separated by less than a half-second.
Starting alongside de Ferran on the grid is defending FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola), who qualified on the outside pole at 208.386 mph (25.948 seconds).
The one-thousandth of a second separating De Ferran and Montoya marked CART's closest qualifying margin since last year at Nazareth, where Montoya edged Helio Castro-Neves, de Ferran's current teammate at Marlboro Team Penske, by .001.
The front-row start is the ninth of Montoya's career front-row start, including seven poles during his rookie season last year, which tied the CART record.
Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) qualified third at 207.634 mph (26.042 seconds). It marked his third consecutive top-five start at Homestead as he started fifth in 1998 and second last year.
A pair of rookies are off to solid debuts as Alex Tagliani and Kenny Brack rounded out the top five qualifiers. Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard), who moved up from the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship series, was fourth at 207.051 mph (26.114 seconds). Brack (Shell Ford Reynard), the defending Indianapolis 500 champion, was fifth at 206.808 mph (26.146 seconds).
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
GIL de FERRAN. Marlboro Honda Reynard: "It's a fantastic feeling. I knew we'd be okay because we had good preparation [in the off-season]; we had a good test here and at Nazareth and I felt we'd be in contention. I can't tell you the feeling I have right now. [On the team being "back"] I guess it depends on what being 'back' is. I felt I was going to be competitive. I felt more confident in the test. I'm confident we're going to be there all season. I was happy with the car Friday morning, there was kind of a mix-up session Friday afternoon, but I was comfortable with the car in testing, Friday morning, Friday afternoon, and this morning. I had to keep my foot down a little bit more and the car went quick. It's never easy, I suppose."
JUAN MONTOYA, Target Toyota Lola: "We've been having a few problems, but we've still been really competitive. 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. But the car in traffic has been behaving, so it's going to be good. Normally, I've got the time on my dash, but I don't know why it didn't work. I knew what I had to beat, so I just pushed harder, but as usual, if you push harder, you go slower. The wind was a big factor in qualifying. In one turn the car got loose and in the other you got a push. Last year was very experimental. Now I know what I want from the car, and that's a big advantage. My car was good all weekend. The rear has been really solid."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, Tecate/Quaker State/ Patrick Racing Ford Reynard: "My teammate, Roberto Moreno, was ahead of me and he gave me the track conditions. That relationship is really starting to work pretty good. It's not the pole but we're starting third and we can win the race from there. It's looking good. The conditions have improved since yesterday. Today the conditions were excellent for us. The car was very stable. I'm also happy with the performance of the Ford engine, so I'm excited about the whole season. I didn't have problems. The guys who were more aggressive on the push probably had problems. It didn't bother me. We're going to have to go by a little bit by history (tomorrow). We've got to be careful at the start of the race. When we run with all the cars it's a different deal. We'll have to be careful and have to read this, but I think the conditions are going to be better than last year."
* Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) will be making his third top-three start in five career appearances at Homestead. He was second in 1996 and third in '97.
* Juan Montoya's (Target Toyota Lola) outside pole marks the second consecutive front-row start for Toyota at a FedEx Championship Series event. Scott Pruett won the pole for the season finale at California Speedway last year.
* Dario Franchitti, the FedEx Championship Series runner-up, qualified 22nd at 201.746 mph (26.802 seconds) in his return to competition from injuries sustained during CART Spring Training at Homestead last month. Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), who finished third at Homestead last year, sustained a fractured pelvis and brain contusions in the incident.
* There were six different countries represented among the top six qualifiers and three different engine manufacturers among the top three (de Ferran, Honda; Montoya, Toyota; Fernandez, Ford). De Ferran is from Brazil, Montoya from Colombia, Adrian Fernandez from Mexico, Alex Tagliani from Canada, Kenny Brack from Sweden and Michael Andretti from the United States.
* Women's tennis champion Monica Seles visited Homestead-Miami Speedway Saturday and took a pace car ride before posing for photographs with Newman/Haas Racing drivers Michael Andretti (BigKmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) and Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola). Seles is competing this week and next in a WTA event at Key Biscayne.
* The command to start engines Sunday will be delivered jointly by actor Sylvester Stallone and Father Phil De Rea, chaplain of Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. Stallone is spearheading a movie project, titled Champs, which utilizes Champ Cars and the FedEx Championship Series as its setting.
WHAT'S ON TAP
Qualifying for the Marlboro Grand Prix Presented by Toyota will air 2 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, while ESPN's tape-delayed broadcast will air 4:30 p.m. ET.