CHAMPCAR/CART: Michigan Friday practice report

CART Online (July 24, 1998) - Patrick Racing's Adrian Fernandez, seeking the first pole position of his six-year FedEx Championship Series career, recorded the top speed Friday during the opening day of practice for Sunday's U.S. 500 Presented by...

CART Online (July 24, 1998) - Patrick Racing's Adrian Fernandez, seeking the first pole position of his six-year FedEx Championship Series career, recorded the top speed Friday during the opening day of practice for Sunday's U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan Speedway.

Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) averaged 232.004 miles per hour (31.034 seconds) for his quickest lap during the morning practice session on the two-mile Michigan Speedway oval.

Friday's practice was CART's first with the new Handford Device, a wing-like aerodynamic piece adopted by CART to help contain speeds at superspeedway events. Fernandez' speed was more than two miles per hour slower than the track-record speed of 234.665 mph (30.682 seconds) set by Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) in 1996.

In 81 career FedEx Championship Series events, Fernandez's top start to date is third at Detroit and Toronto in 1996. He qualified second for The Inaugural U.S. 500 in 1996 while driving for the Tasman Motorsports Group, but an accident during the pace lap left him unable to start the race due to damage to his car and he was not credited with a start.

Fernandez will seek a career-best start when qualifying gets underway noon ET Saturday. The pole winner earns the $10,000 Marlboro Pole Award, with the opportunity to collect a record rollover bonus of $285,000 with a victory in Sunday's race. The rollover has been accumulating at a rate of $15,000 per event since Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) drove to victory at Cleveland last year.

Combined with the $100,000 winner's purse in Sunday's race, the potential payoff for a victory from the pole Sunday is $395,000.

Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) was second fastest at 231.051 mph (31.162 seconds) and was followed by Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) at 230.769 mph (31.200 seconds). Nineteen drivers and 27 cars posted practice times within a second of Fernandez.

Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda), the defending race champion and FedEx Championship Series points leader, was fourth fastest at 230.525 mph (31.233 seconds). He holds a 175-106 lead over Vasser entering Sunday's race.

Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford) averaged 230.407 mph (31.249 seconds) during the opening day of his 23rd and final career appearance at Michigan Speedway, good for fifth overall.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford: "On your own, the car feels pretty good; in traffic, you have to be a little bit more careful. Drafting is going to be a big key for the race. It [the Handford Device] is a good measure to slow down the cars. I'm sure during qualifying, the speeds will go down. In this type of racing [500-mile events], you try not to do too many fancy things. If the car is running well, you just keep doing what you're doing and try to finish."

MICHAEL ANDRETTI, Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford: "The new rules are great. The car feels real good. They're real good in traffic and we're going slower. Who knows how fast we'd be going it they hadn't done anything. I think it's going to be a great race on Sunday. I'm real, real happy in the car. I think the pole [speed] will be 229 [mph] in the end. Right now, we'd be around 240 [mph] without it [the Handford Device]. A 500-mile race is all about finishing. That's what we're going to try to do. I think I've finished this race three times. That says something about how hard it is to finish this race."

PAUL TRACY, KOOL Reynard Honda: "We unloaded off the truck and the car was pretty much like we tested. The car felt good. The track's faster than it was when we were here. Qualifying is going to be a big guessing game gear-wise. You're looking for maximum power and maximum revs. If you're off a couple of hundred revs, it makes a massive difference in power ... If the rules weren't controlled, who knows? By the year 2000, we could be doing 300 miles per hour. Believe me, CART's always looking for ways to slow the cars down. It's a never-ending process. I like to go fast, but there's got to be a limit. You've got to have some guidelines."

ALEX ZANARDI (Target Reynard Honda): "It may sound like the same thing I said last time I was asked, but there really isn't anything new to say. There are rumors of a strong connection between me and Williams, and it is probably true that Williams, more than ever, has been looking for a driver since Jacques [Villeneuve] announced he was leaving. We have been talking and I would think that would be a neat opportunity for me. But it is true that there is no limit to what you can accomplish in any one series. Just because I have 14 victories in this series doesn't mean I don't want any more. I think I showed that last week ...

"You cannot structure your whole life or your whole career on being able to leave whenever you want to leave. If one day the opportunities are equal, that may be one thing [the opportunity to live in Europe] that helps decide it one way or another. I know that you guys would like me to say that this is what I'm going to do next. Unfortunately, I can't give you an answer because I don't know what that is ...

"Everybody believes that my desire is to go to Formula One and that is not the case. If my desire was to go to Formula One, I would have been gone from here long ago. I had this opportunity two years ago and again last year. In this series, CART, the officials, the broadcasters, the journalists, they let me be myself. They don't put any restrictions on me. I really found myself at home here in the United States and that's another reason why I stayed ...

"I think we cannot definitely go further than mid-August [to make a decision]. For Chip, I think I am an open book. He knows exactly what my feelings are and I told him 'Chip, if I stay, I'm gonna get every dime you have in your pocket (laughing),' and he knows that. ...

(Regarding pregnant wife Daniela's illness earlier this week) "Basically, what happened Monday morning was that she wasn't feeling very well so we went to the hospital for a checkup, hoping that we could get home by noon for the rebroadcast of the Toronto race. Normally, the hardest thing I do on Monday is walk from upstairs down to the couch, and that's especially true of days after I win, so she felt badly about that. Basically, instead of coming home Monday, she came home yesterday afternoon. But she's O.K. She'll be home watching the race, so I hope I don't do anything crazy to make her worry."

WHAT'S NOTEWORTHY:

* CART announced Friday that effective Monday, July 27, its New York Stock Exchange stock ticker symbol will change from "OPW" to "MPH." "MPH is a natural choice for a company such as ours," said CART Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Craig. "At the time of the initial public offering, we knew that MPH would be available to us and we are delighted to make the change." Richie Hearn (Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford) helped punctuate the announcement by driving his car through a banner announcing the change at the Michigan Speedway start/finish line.

* Kevin Chambers, crew chief for Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford), missed Friday's practice sessions due to illness. Pedro Campuzano filled in for Chambers during a trying day which included an oil pressure problem in the primary car, followed by an engine problem in the secondary car, both of which occurred during the morning session. As a result, Fittipaldi only logged one lap during the 90-minute practice.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Richie Hearn , Kevin Chambers
Teams Williams