CHAMPCAR/CART: Nazareth Qualifying Report

Montoya Claims First Career Pole at Nazareth NAZARETH, Pa -- Target/Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Juan Montoya, the last of 24 drivers to qualify, pulled out his first career FedEx Championship Series pole position by a mere one-thousandth of a...

Montoya Claims First Career Pole at Nazareth NAZARETH, Pa -- Target/Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Juan Montoya, the last of 24 drivers to qualify, pulled out his first career FedEx Championship Series pole position by a mere one-thousandth of a second Saturday. He edged past Helio Castro-Neves for the top spot at the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota at Nazareth Speedway. The race will be broadcast live Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) continued his recent and sudden run of success in the series by averaging 173.755 mph (19.600 seconds) on his fastest lap of the 0.946-mile oval. Castro-Neves (Hogan Motor Leasing Mercedes Lola), also bidding for his first career pole position, logged a 19.601-second lap that averaged 173.746 mph to earn a career-best starting position of second.

Montoya, who became the second-fastest driver in CART history to his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at the April 18 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, became the first rookie to win a pole since Dario Franchitti at Toronto in 1997. He earned a FedEx Championship Series point and enters Sunday's fourth round of the championship with 24 points, seventh in the standings.

"The car has improved, and we had a good car at the end of the session," the 23-year-old Colombian said. Did he expect to do so well on ovals this early in his career? "No, especially not here. But I like the track. It's different from other ovals because you can actually push the car here. Most of the top drivers should be able to get used to [the new aerodynamic package]. Eighty percent of the drivers should be okay, and it's going to be the same for everybody. Everyone is concerned in traffic, but when you're running by yourself, it's fine."

Castro-Neves' outside pole improves on his previous career best of fourth in this season's season opener at Homestead.

"I'm pretty happy. The guys have been working pretty hard," he said. "They found a good setup for ovals at Homestead and Japan, and it works pretty well here. I'm very happy to start on the front row, because I know it's going to be very, very hard tomorrow."

The third position went to Franchitti, in a Honda Reynard, who averaged 173.154 mph (19.668 seconds). He will be making his best oval start since winning the pole at Rio de Janeiro last year.

"Yesterday, we worked with the race setup quite a lot," the Team KOOL Green driver said, "and our plan this morning was to work with the qualifying setup, which was quite a bit different because you just want to make the car work well for one or two laps. All in all, I'm pretty happy. I'm actually quicker with the smaller [speedway] wings than I was last year with the big wings.

"I think Juan is doing a great job," he added. "It's going to be tough to beat him, as well as everyone else."

The top 21 of 24 starters were separated by less than one second and the entire field was covered by less than 1.3 seconds.

Franchitti's teammate, Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), qualified fourth at 172.935 mph (19.693 seconds). Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) qualified a season-best fifth at 172.217 mph.

FedEx Championship Series points leader Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Mercedes Reynard) qualified 10th at 170.237 mph (20.005 seconds). He holds a 39-33 edge over Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) and Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard) entering Sunday's event.

Fernandez qualified ninth at 170.630 mph (19.959 seconds) while de Ferran was 13th at 169.054 seconds (20.145 seconds).

Other Notes

Montoya's pole puts Target/Chip Ganassi Racing in good position to defend the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota championship it earned with driver Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) last year. Vasser qualified 11th Saturday at 170.025 mph (20.030 seconds). The last driver to win from the pole at Nazareth was Team KOOL Green's Tracy in 1997.

Castro-Neves' outside pole position is the best qualifying performance for a Lola chassis since Michael Andretti won the pole at Vancouver in 1996.

Franchitti has qualified third or better for 10 of his last 15 starts in the FedEx Championship Series, dating to last year at Portland.

Tracy has qualified fourth or better for four of his past six starts at Nazareth, including second in 1994 and poles in '96 and '97. He is a two-time winner of the event -- in '94 and '97.

FedEx Championship Series points leader Moore's 10th-place qualifying effort kept his streak of top-10 qualifying performances intact at 10. He has started sixth or better in 13 of the last 19 CART events contested on ovals, dating to the 1996 Marlboro 500 at Michigan Speedway.

EPSON Bettenhausen Motorsports owner Tony Bettenhausen and CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach have reached a mutual decision that rookie driver Shigeaki Hattori (EPSON Bettenhausen Motorsports Mercedes Reynard) will not compete on Sunday or the upcoming Rio 200 in an effort to give him more testing time. Hattori will use that period to test on the next upcoming oval -- Gateway International Raceway -- in late May as well as a road course.

"This will be a good time for him to take advantage of and regroup with the team," Dallenbach said. "After his tests, we will look at the time sheets and if he gets up to speed he will be invited to participate at Gateway for the Motorola 300 [on May 29]."

Hattori will miss the Rio 200, according to Dallenbach, because he will not have the opportunity to test at that international venue prior to the race. Bettenhausen said earlier today that the EPSON Bettenhausen Motorsports Mercedes Reynard would be in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the May 15 Rio 200, but a decision has not been reached yet on who will be driving.

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach Sr. , Shigeaki Hattori , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Paul Tracy , Mark Blundell , Chip Ganassi , Tony Bettenhausen , Greg Moore
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing