Unser on Row Two At Michigan Marlboro Team Penske Leads Mercedes Into U.S. 500 With the advent of the new high-drag, low-downforce Handford Wing, drafting has become the key to speed at Michigan Speedway more than ever before. But during this...
Unser on Row Two At Michigan Marlboro Team Penske Leads Mercedes Into U.S. 500
With the advent of the new high-drag, low-downforce Handford Wing, drafting has become the key to speed at Michigan Speedway more than ever before. But during this afternoon's single car qualifying session, Marlboro Penske/Mercedes driver Al Unser Jr. managed to find a lap of almost 228 mph all by himself, qualifying fourth for tomorrow's U.S. 500.
His quick lap of 31.592 seconds, fastest among the eight drivers using the Mercedes-Benz IC108E engine this weekend, was just .222 off the pace set by polewinner Adrian Fernandez.
Unser's Marlboro Team Penske teammate Andre Ribeiro qualified a conservative 11th, choosing to focus on tomorrow's 250-lap, 500-mile race. Most drivers down-played the importance of qualifying, citing the length of the race and the uncertainty of racing in traffic with Handford Wing-equipped cars as their chief concerns.
Rookie JJ Lehto's Hogan Racing Reynard was the third-fastest Mercedes-powered car. The Finnish former F1 driver qualified 13th in his first appearance on a two mile oval, while Player's/Forsythe Racing's Greg Moore will start 14th.
Meanwhile, PacWest Racing teammates Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell qualified 17th and 19th, respectively. Patrick Carpentier will start 21st, and rookie Helio Castro-Neves will line up the Team Alumax car 24th.
Tomorrow's race will start at 1:00 p.m. EDT and will be televised live on ABC.
Al Unser Jr., No. 2 Marlboro Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear: Fourth - 31.592 sec. "Every race this year we've been running as fast as the leaders, we've just been in the middle of the pack and not able to take advantage of it. I've got the reliability of a Mercedes and good tires with Goodyear. I'm ready to race tomorrow. There is a big difference running on your own and running in traffic here. With the new rear wing, your car makes a big hole in the air. I've driven stock cars, and the hole feels as big as that of a stock car. Everyone will get up to the lead group tomorrow. There will be a lot of cars running wheel to wheel for the lead."
Andre Ribeiro, No. 3 Marlboro Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear: 11th - 31.853 sec. "We could have been a bit more aggressive for qualifying, as Al (Unser Jr.) did. I think it's more important to focus on the car for the race. Our car is really good in traffic. I'm happy with the time that Al did because it shows the potential of the car. We definitely have the car to run at the front. I'm confident with the time that I did and the car we have for the race. Everybody is going to be paying attention to saving equipment, and with us it will be no different. This is a long race, a survival race, but we're pretty sure we have the equipment to go to the end."
JJ Lehto, No. 9 Hogan Racing Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 13th - 31.881 sec. "That run was okay, but it was flat. The pop-off valve was jumping some on that lap. I had to change the boost a little bit. I think the speeds in qualifying were surprising everybody. I thought we would all be faster. Tomorrow it will all depend on how you handle traffic. If you can handle the drafting, then you should be okay. It's certainly going to be fun for the spectators."
Greg Moore, No. 99, Player's/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 14th - 31.938 sec. "I'm a little bit disappointed. We worked really hard the last couple of days on our race setup. As long as we stay in the top 15 or so, I think you'll see us move up tomorrow. The car was balanced. I was flat all the way around, but we're just not as trimmed out as some guys. We're not worried. We have a good car in traffic, and we're ready for a long race."
Mauricio Gugelmin, No. 17 Hollywood Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 17th - 32.054 sec. "I'm not super happy with that qualifying run. The car was running well, but we didn't quite get the gearing right. I'm not too concerned. I'm happy with the handling of the car in traffic. It will be a long race and there will be a lot of passing. With the solid car my team gives me we should be looking good. We'll just save the car until the end and then make a dash for the front in the last 15 minutes."
Mark Blundell, No. 18 Motorola Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 19th - 32.120 sec. "The car was okay. I'm not feeling quite right. I'm feeling a bit sick, and hoping I start feeling better in time for 500 miles tomorrow. But if you look at the history, we never go for qualifying. We know we can go faster and want to take some drag out of the car, but if we stay somewhere near the top 15, we'll be fine. For a 500 mile race, it doesn't really matter where you start."
Patrick Carpentier, No. 33, Player’s/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 21st - 32.178 sec. "We've got a good race setup for tomorrow. During qualifying there was a problem. I'm not sure what is was. The car just didn't work properly. I don't know if it was the setup or the pop-off valve or what. We just didn't have the speed we had this morning."
Helio Castro-Neves, No. 16 Alumax Reynard/Mercedes/Goodyear: 24th - 32.705 sec. "I think we had too much downforce on the car for qualifying. We didn't do any testing here. Today was the first time we've tried to find good lap times with no draft. We were thinking more on the race than qualifying today. The race is 500 miles, so anything can happen in that time."
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