Mauricio Gugelmin and his PacWest Racing team set up a well-balanced race car for qualifying today for the Firestone Firehawk 500 at the 1.549-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval in Motegi, Japan, and earned the seventh-place position on the...
Mauricio Gugelmin and his PacWest Racing team set up a well-balanced race car for qualifying today for the Firestone Firehawk 500 at the 1.549-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval in Motegi, Japan, and earned the seventh-place position on the starting grid for their effort. Gugelmin's time was 26.633 seconds (209.379 mph). Juan Montoya will start on pole with a time of 26.237 seconds (212.540 mph).
A strong breeze was the key story for the single-car qualifying session this afternoon, but the teams were happy that the rain that was forecast for today never arrived. The wind had been calm in each of the three practice sessions leading up to qualifying. But gusts of almost 15 mph were recorded this afternoon.
"It was hard to get the gears right with the wind," said Gugelmin, driver of the Nextel/Mercedes-Benz, who had been running in the top 15 for most of practice. "I was happy with the run. This is the first time I've had a car balanced this good this year. When the wind picked up it messed us up a bit on the gearing, but it's the same for everybody."
Also in the top 10 for Mercedes-Benz is Mo Nunn Racing's Tony Kanaan, pilot of the Hollywood/Mercedes-Benz. His time of 26.667 seconds (209.112 mph) was good enough for the ninth starting position.
"There was too much wind on the front straight," said Kanaan. "The car was reasonable. I have a very good race car. I have a better race car than a qualifying car. We need to do good pit stops and finish the race tomorrow. Me and Morris (Nunn) are trying to be consistent."
Michel Jourdain Jr., driver of the Herdez/Mercedes-Benz for Bettenhausen Motorsports, was disappointed with his 18th-place qualifying time of 26.915 seconds (207.186 mph), but is optimistic about his chances in the race tomorrow.
"I was hoping for a better time," said Jourdain. "The wind picked up. I think for the race we can be in good shape. It's easy to pass here. With the new wing there should be a lot of passing. We changed the car for qualifying and that hurt us in turns three and four, and we lost speed on the straights."
Gugelmin's PacWest Racing teammate, Mark Blundell, who drives the Motorola/Mercedes-Benz, will start 22nd after running a lap of 27.412 seconds (203.429 mph).
"We just made a big error with the gearing," said Blundell. "It cost us a lot of time. It cost us a lot of speed. Turns one and two are like a superspeedway, just flat out. It's difficult to get the balance right for turns three and four, because you're on the brakes and downshifting, which is hard on an oval."
Luiz Garcia Jr., who pilots the Hollywood/Mercedes-Benz for Arciero Project Racing, will start the race 24th with a lap of 27.684 mph (201.430 mph).
"It took a while to get heat in the tires," said Garcia. "The temperatures were not coming up as they should. That's what slowed us down. I believe maybe the tire pressures were a bit off."
The green flag will fly for the 200-lap race at noon local time Saturday, and fans can follow the action live on CART.com beginning at 11 p.m. Friday, May 12 in the United States. A tape-delayed broadcast of the race can be seen on ABC-TV at 1 p.m. May 14.