CHAMPCAR/CART: Michigan Saturday qualifying report

24 August 1999 Michigan Speedway, Brooklyn, MI by motorsport.com The U.S. 500 qualifying at the Michigan Speedway proceeded under hot and cloudless sky, with the one-and-a-half hour session eventually producing some of the usual faces at the ...

24 August 1999 Michigan Speedway, Brooklyn, MI by motorsport.com

The U.S. 500 qualifying at the Michigan Speedway proceeded under hot and cloudless sky, with the one-and-a-half hour session eventually producing some of the usual faces at the front of the grid.

Jimmy Vasser was eventually the fastest, with a lap speed of 229.606 mph in the Target Reynard-Honda, beating last year's polesitter Adrian Fernandez by 0.168 mph. Fernandez' qualifying speed, 229.438 was less than 0.1 mph off his own pole position time of last year, and the third-fastest lap ever at Michigan - for a car equipped with the Handford Wing.

These devices, introduced for the superspeedway races last year, are still the talk of the town. They have dropped the top speeds by some 5 mph (from 234 mph in 1996 to 229 mph today), but, due to the nature of this high-drag wing, the drafting speeds continue to be high, and the closing speeds between the cars can actually be higher. And yet the wings haven't turned the races entirely into fuel economy processions: "The beauty of the Handford Device is that its effect is unpredictable, even for the drivers," said Vasser, "It leads to good racing."

Vasser feels that the key to his success at Michigan - three poles in five attempts, and a victory in the first U.S. 500 in 1996 - is his participation in the intensive Firestone tire testing program in 1996 and 1997. Yet he feels that this is the least important qualifying session of the season, given how much passing for the lead usually takes place here. "I need the point" sums up Vasser's satisfaction after the qualifying run.

Fernandez had a much more eventful run. After having to deal with "evil" handling problems on Friday, the Tecate Reynard-Ford driver found the right setup today. But it almost went all wrong for the 1996 polesitter completing the warmup lap: "I was looking for the sway bar adjustment, and hit the fuel mixture button instead." Fernandez recovered from this mix-up to put together an outstanding qualifying run, and might yet have bettered Vasser's time, had he not lifted slightly on the final turn. The memories of Fontana have not yet faded for the veteran driver.

The new face on the second row at Michigan, next to Michael Andretti (Kmart Swift-Ford, 229.168 mph), was no other than the new face at nearly every event this year: Juan Montoya, qualifying his Target Reynard-Honda at the speed of 229.321. The rookie sensation proved his doubters wrong by posting an outstanding performance on his first-ever superspeedway appearance. Now he has to take it from there, and match that up with an equally impressive race performance.

"It's OK for the first time here," said Montoya, belittling his accomplishment. "I like the speed." While Vasser promised to help his teammate with race strategy for tomorrow, Fernandez had more practical words of wisdom for the young Colombian: "Make sure you go to the bathroom first!"

Further down the field, the qualifying runs for KOOL Green Reynard-Honda teammates Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti ended up in somewhat of a disappointment. Franchitti, battling to stay in championship contention, was flat out around the track like Tracy, but was unable to find a fast enough line to get close to the front of the grid. Both are counting on the long race to be able to move up the grid, especially once the rubber left on the track by this afternoon's NASCAR truck raced is worn off.

Gentlemen, get ready to start your calculators, if you intend to keep track of the lead changes in this year's U.S. 500.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti