CHAMPCAR/CART: Laguna Seca Saturday Qualifying

Laguna Seca (September 12, 1998) - Team Rahal's Bryan Herta became the first back-to-back pole position winner at Laguna Seca Raceway since 1992 Saturday when he earned the pole for Sunday's Texaco/Havoline 300 (3 p.m. ET, live, ESPN), feature ...

Laguna Seca (September 12, 1998) - Team Rahal's Bryan Herta became the first back-to-back pole position winner at Laguna Seca Raceway since 1992 Saturday when he earned the pole for Sunday's Texaco/Havoline 300 (3 p.m. ET, live, ESPN), feature event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey.

Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) averaged 118.229 miles per hour (1 minute, 8.146 seconds) for his fastest lap on the 2.238-mile permanent road course. He improved from 11th (117.096 mph, 1:08.805) following provisional qualifying to become the first driver to win consecutive poles at Laguna Seca since Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) in 1991-92.

Herta established the track record of 118.666 miles per hour (1:07.895) during qualifying for last year's event. He collected the sixth pole position of his career and his third pole of the season, following top qualifying efforts at Long Beach and Portland, respectively.

Herta earned a PPG Cup point, giving him 68 and moving him out of a tie with Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda), who has 67. He also claims the $10,000 Marlboro Pole Award, with the opportunity to add an additional $15,000 in bonus money if he can register his first career FedEx Championship Series victory Sunday.

The bonus, which rolls over at a rate of $15,000 for every event which concludes without a win from the pole, starts fresh after a record jackpot of $330,000 was claimed by Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) at Vancouver last week.

Herta has started on the front row for each of his four career Champ Car appearances at Laguna Seca, including last year's pole and outside poles in 1995 and '96. His best finish at the venue is second in '96, when he relinquished the lead to Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda), who made a daring last-lap pass on the corkscrew section of the course.

Franchitti, Friday's provisional polesitter, qualified second at 117.869 mph (1:08.354). He brings a two-race winning streak into Sunday's event and is bidding to win three consecutive events, which has only been accomplished 11 times in FedEx Championship Series history. Franchitti is also making his seventh front-row start of the season, which includes a series-high four pole positions, and his sixth in the past eight events.

Defending race champion Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) qualified third at 117.700 mph (1:08.452). It is his seventh top-three start in 16 events this season and his best since second at Mid-Ohio.

Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) qualified fourth at 117.648 mph (1:08.482). He makes his fourth consecutive top-eight start and has started in the top five in eight of 16 events.

Zanardi, who clinched his second consecutive FedEx Championship Series championship last Sunday at Vancouver, qualified fifth at 117.576 mph (1:08.524). The performance came after Zanardi was excluded from Friday's provisional qualifying session by CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach for unjustifiable risk in connection with an incident of contact with Herta following the checkered flag of Friday morning's practice session.

The top 19 qualifiers are separated by less than a second on the 28-car starting grid.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:

BRYAN HERTA, Shell Reynard Ford: "[Getting the car repaired after Friday morning's contact with Alex Zanardi was] the biggest single thing we did good this weekend. After some damage to the car yesterday, the crew really busted themselves to get the car ready for today. After seeing the problems the slower group had [today], the advantage of a little more green [flag] time gave us what we needed to go for it. This is a track where starting up front is certainly an advantage, but the determination is no greater or less than it was at Vancouver or before that, at Elkhart Lake. Through all this [the quest for his first victory], I've tried to maintain my own self-confidence and believe in the things I've done in the past which have gotten me to this point in my career. You want to kill that frustration. If nothing else, when it does happen, it'll be especially sweet for all those reasons."

DARIO FRANCHITTI, KOOL Reynard Honda: "I'd love to sit here and tell you that if we'd have had that eight minutes [lost due to a penalty incurred during provisional qualifying Friday] we'd have been on the pole, but I don't know if I believe that myself. I just think we didn't have the balance on the car that we needed to challenge Bryan. The track was very slick, and to get one good lap in was very difficult."

JIMMY VASSER, Target Reynard Honda: "We made some changes, but I still don't have the car where I want it. I don't know if anyone does. I had a hard time putting a lap in yesterday. The difference today was a little bit of handling. The difference was that we were able to keep working with the car and we were able to put a good one [lap] in."

WHAT'S NOTEWORTHY:

Bryan Herta's (Shell Reynard Ford) pole position extended an impressive qualifying resume of late in FedEx Championship Series road or street course events. Herta has qualified among the top eight for 12 of the past 13 events contested on road or street courses, the lone exception being a 17th-place effort at Toronto in July. Included are pole positions at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca last year, and Long Beach, Portland and Laguna Seca this year.

As he continues to chase the first victory of his FedEx Championship Series career, Herta can draw strength from the fact that nine of 15 previous race winners at Laguna Seca have come from the pole. Included are Teo Fabi (1983), Bobby Rahal (1985), Danny Sullivan (1988, '90), Rick Mears (1989), Michael Andretti (1991, '92), Paul Tracy (1994) and Alex Zanardi (1996).

Rookie JJ Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Reynard Mercedes) qualified 11th and will make his best start on a road or street course, topping 16th at Vancouver last weekend.

Rookie Vincenzo Sospiri (Castrol-Degree Eagle Toyota) qualified 27th for his FedEx Championship Series debut with All American Racers. Sospiri, named last week to replace PJ Jones for the final four events of the FedEx Championship Series season, averaged 112.615 mph (1:11.543) for his fastest lap of the Laguna Seca road course.

At the conclusion of Saturday's drivers meeting, the 28 Champ Car competitors in this weekend's Honda Grand Prix of Monterey, as well as former PPG Cup champions Rick Mears, Mario Andretti and Danny Sullivan, created a live auction item for the upcoming inaugural Runway Madness presented by FedEx charity extravaganza. Randy Owens, a well-known motorsports artist who is heading up the project, created a graffiti-style racing design in the center of a 5x13-foot piece of canvas and the Champ Car drivers put the finishing touches on the project this afternoon. Each driver imprinted his right foot around the border of the canvas and then added his signature. The art piece will be featured as a live auction item during Runway Madness presented by FedEx on Friday, Oct. 30 at the Lockheed Hangar at Ontario (Calif.) Airport. All proceeds from Runway Madness will benefit Championship Auto Racing Auxiliary (CARA) Charities, Loma Linda Children's Hospital and the Championship Drivers Association (CDA). The charity function is being held in conjunction with the season-closing Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota on Nov. 1at California Speedway.

WHAT'S ON TAP:

Qualifying for the Texaco/Havoline 300, featured event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey, will air Sunday 1:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, one-half hour prior to ESPN's live race broadcast.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Bryan Herta , Mario Andretti , Rick Mears , Danny Sullivan , Teo Fabi , Vincenzo Sospiri , Greg Moore , JJ Lehto