CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston Mercedes Friday Report

Race: Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, Houston, Texas Date/Session: Oct. 2, 1998 Provisional Qualifying Moore and Mercedes on Houston’s Front Row New Street Circuit Well Received Greg Moore adapted quickly to the new...

Race: Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, Houston, Texas Date/Session: Oct. 2, 1998 Provisional Qualifying

Moore and Mercedes on Houston’s Front Row New Street Circuit Well Received

Greg Moore adapted quickly to the new 1.527-mile temporary racing circuit on the streets of downtown Houston today, earning a spot on the front row of the provisional qualifying grid for Sunday’s inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston. Leading the eight-driver Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Team, Moore was a mere .154 seconds off the pace of provisional pole winner Bobby Rahal.

Moore managed his quick lap despite having to serve a penalty which carried over from a qualifying incident at the previous event at Laguna Seca Raceway. CART regulations require a driver to sit out a minimum of eight minutes after causing a red flag interruption of a session. Mechanical problems left Moore stopped on course in the closing moments of qualifying at Laguna Seca. Because the session ended before Moore’s eight-minute penalty was up, he was forced to serve it here, missing the final eight minutes of today’s provisional qualifying session.

Joining Moore’s Player’s/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes among the top 10 was the Team Alumax entry of rookie driver Helio Castro-Neves. Castro-Neves, who has shown his skill on street circuits this year by leading the races at Long Beach, Calif. and in Vancouver, Canada, posted a lap of 60.868 seconds, good enough for the ninth position in the field. Today was the first opportunity for teams to run on this new circuit, and the racing surface was still very "green," the deposits of grip-producing tire rubber not yet laid down. Patrick Carpentier, Al Unser Jr. and Andre Ribeiro all wrestled to acclimate themselves to the track and adapt their cars’ setups. They finished the session 17th, 18th, and 19th.

PacWest Racing drivers Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell were 21st and 24th, respectively, while rookie JJ Lehto was 25th.

The cars will return to the track for practice tomorrow morning, and final qualifying is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.

Mercedes Quotes

Greg Moore, No. 99, Player’s/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: Second - 60.345 sec. "The track’s just getting better and better the more rubber is laid down. This morning, we had a pretty good idea on setup. We made a few changes just to help the car go through the corners. But we had to miss the last eight minutes of the session to serve our penalty for causing a red flag during qualifying at Laguna. Then I spun--just carried a little more speed into turn four than I had before--and caused a red flag and got another penalty. I served Laguna’s penalty today, and I’ll have to serve today’s penalty tomorrow. But we seem to be going pretty well."

Helio Castro-Neves, No. 16 Alumax Reynard/Mercedes/Goodyear: Ninth - 60.868 sec. "We’re headed in the right direction, but we’re still six or seven-tenths (of a second) off where we need to be. I want to really fight tomorrow. We know we can do better. We just need to focus tomorrow and find out the best setup and go for it."

Patrick Carpentier, No. 33, Player’s/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 17th - 61.239 sec. "That was a tough session. There was a lot of traffic. I thought we could do better. We had a problem in the pits which kept me there for a long time, then I went out behind slower cars and I couldn’t get past them."

Al Unser Jr., No. 2, Marlboro Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear: 18th - 61.269 sec. "We found the Marlboro Penske Mercedes to be a bit loose this morning. We’ve been trying to remedy the problem, and we’re going to continue to work on it tomorrow. My first impressions of the track are very good. I like the layout. It’s very challenging, and it looks like there are more than two passing areas. The track is very smooth, which I really like a lot."

Andre Ribeiro, No. 3, Marlboro Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear: 19th - 61.541 sec. "We were able to improve our time from this morning’s session, but unfortunately we’re still struggling with the setup on the Marlboro car. At this type of track, it’s very important to have good traction and acceleration, so that’s where we’re going to focus our efforts tomorrow."

Mauricio Gugelmin, No. 17 Hollywood Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 21st - 61.574 sec. "We wasted a lot of track time this morning and, really, this afternoon, too. Just a bunch of silly little problems. But it wasn’t too bad. The car still has a lot of push, so we’re struggling with that. And we need a car that’s better under braking. It’s too bad, though. I had a lap going that was six-tenths (of a second) faster than my other lap--and that was just after three corners! Then the red flag came out, so we never really got a lap in on our second set of tires."

Mark Blundell, No. 18 Motorola Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 24th - 61.707 sec. "We’re disappointed. We weren’t able to find a balance in the car both in the morning and the afternoon. Fortunately, there is nowhere to go but up from here, so we’ll give it a thorough look tonight and see if we can find a setup that works. Overall, the track is pretty good--it’s bumpy--but that’s what you expect from a temporary circuit."

JJ Lehto, No. 9 Hogan Racing Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 25th - 61.770 sec. "I’m disappointed. We’ve been pretty good at the last few races, but we struggled this morning. We’re on the same tires that we had at Toronto, and we had a bad car there. Now we’ve got the same characteristics that we had at Toronto. We did make some changes and improve. This was basically testing for us. We have a very nervous car. It has understeer. It has oversteer. It has everything at the moment. Still, we gained a lot from this morning."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Mauricio Gugelmin , Mark Blundell , Andre Ribeiro , Greg Moore , Al Unser , JJ Lehto