CHAMPCAR/CART: Qualifying Report and Notes

Scott Pruett is on the pole for the Marlboro 500 Fontana, CA (October 31, 1998) - Scott Pruett of Patrick Racing led an American display of speed on the California Speedway oval Saturday when he earned his first pole position of the FedEx ...

Scott Pruett is on the pole for the Marlboro 500

Fontana, CA (October 31, 1998) - Scott Pruett of Patrick Racing led an American display of speed on the California Speedway oval Saturday when he earned his first pole position of the FedEx Championship Series season for Sunday's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota (3:30 p.m. ET, live ESPN).

Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) grabbed the pole for Sunday's 250-lap, 500-mile FedEx Championship Series season finale, which features a $1 million payout to the winner, by averaging 233.748 miles per hour (31.249 seconds) on his second of two qualifying laps. He led a contingent of American drivers who swept the top five starting positions on the tightly grouped grid. The top 24 drivers were separated by less than a second in the 28-car field.

The pole is the fourth of Pruett's career and second for a 500-mile superspeedway event. The other superspeedway pole came last year in the U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan Speedway.

Pruett's pole earned him the $15,000 Marlboro Pole Award, with the opportunity to earn a rollover bonus of $45,000 as well as the lucrative $1 million winner's purse with a victory Sunday. He earned a PPG Cup point for the pole and closed to three points (124-121) of Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) for fifth place in the FedEx Championship Series points battle.

Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) - third in the championship behind Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) and Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) - qualified second at 233.360 mph (31.301 seconds). He makes his seventh top-five start in eight oval events this season, including a pole at Japan.

Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) qualified third at 232.832 mph (31.372 seconds). The effort matches his season best on an oval, previously established at Nazareth.

Rounding out the American wave were Richie Hearn (Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford), fourth at 232.795 mph (31.377 seconds), and Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford), fifth at 232.669 mph (31.394 seconds). Hearn has recorded the two best starts of his three-year FedEx Championship Series career on superspeedways, following a career-best, third-place effort at Michigan.

Rahal, who will conclude his 17-year career by making his record 264th CART career start Sunday, will make the 41st 500-mile start of his career, also a CART record.

Zanardi qualified 18th at 229.525 mph (31.824 seconds). Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) who led Friday's practice at 236.564 mph (30.877 seconds) backed into the wall during his second warmup lap and did not post a qualifying speed. Fernandez, who was uninjured in the incident, will start 27th in the 28-car field Sunday.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:

SCOTT PRUETT, Visteon Reynard Ford: "I thought we had a good shot [at the pole] but it's always difficult. We took virtually all the gurney off the rear of the car. It may have been easy [to drive] flat out for Jimmy [Vasser], but it wasn't for me. It [the pole position] is exciting for me personally, being as how it's my last race with Visteon and Patrick Racing. It's a great way to start the weekend and puts us in good position for tomorrow. Ever since we made the announcement [about next year's move] to Toyota, MCI and Cal Wells, my goal with my guys has been to focus on the last few races and end this season on a high note, and everybody has. My relationship with [team owner] Pat Patrick has been great over the years. He's always been very fair with me. He hasn't changed his commitment to me one bit."

JIMMY VASSER, Target Reynard Honda: "We didn't have that great of a morning session. We struggled with some things and tried to get it back. But I had confidence that we knew what to do with the car and I told [engineer] Julian [Robertson], 'You know what to do.' I just told him we didn't need any wicker. And he did a magnificent job. It didn't matter whether you start second or 15th, we needed the point in our fight with Dario [Franchitti] for second place [in the FedEx Championship Series championship]. I think there are going to be a lot of similarities to the Michigan race, but not as exaggerated with the passing."

MICHAEL ANDRETTI, Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford: "It was a pretty good day. The car has been running really well, really consistent. I thought we had a shot at the pole, but it came down to a guessing game because of the weather. We just needed one small adjustment to be in contention for the pole, but it wasn't there today. I think we have a car that's capable of winning here, the key will be adapting to the changing conditions as the race goes on."

WHAT'S NOTEWORTHY:

Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) earned the fourth pole of his FedEx Championship Series career. His other poles came at Portland and Michigan Speedway last year, and at Detroit in '96. He makes his sixth consecutive top-10 start on a superspeedway, including fourth at California Speedway last year.

Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) captured the outside pole position to claim his seventh consecutive top-five start on a superspeedway, dating to 1995 at Michigan Speedway, as well as his seventh top-five start in eight oval events this season.

Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford), who qualified third, will make his 15th top-10 start of the season and his best start on a superspeedway since third at Michigan in 1995.

Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford), in his 265th and final start as a Champ Car driver, will make his best start on a superspeedway since becoming a CART team owner in 1992. Rahal's previous best start in the owner/driver role came in last year's U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan Speedway, where he started sixth.

For the second consecutive year, Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) won a Mercedes-Benz E430 Sport, courtesy of Saturday's season-ending Marlboro Pole Award car giveaway. The giveaway used a blind draw method of distributing 19 ignition keys, one for each pole position won by a FedEx Championship Series driver this season, with the Mercedes going to the driver whose key started the car. Herta started the Mercedes with the key he earned for winning the pole at Laguna Seca. Ironically, it was the key he earned for winning last year's pole at Laguna Seca, which Herta used to win the car giveaway last year.

Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) earned $10,000 and a trophy from Anheuser-Busch Saturday as the winner of the year-end Budweiser Accelerator Award. The award goes to the driver who exhibits the most instances of improvement from practice to qualifying on road courses and from his first qualifying lap to his second on ovals. Unser Jr. tied Richie Hearn (Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford) and rookies Alex Barron (Castrol-Degree Eagle Toyota) and JJ Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Reynard Mercedes) by recording two individual Budweiser Accelerator Awards during the season. He won the season-ending honor by virtue of having scored more points (72 entering Sunday's race) than the other three competitors.

Pruett's pole position was the sixth of the season for Ford and its third in the past six events. It was Firestone's 18th pole position in 19 events this season, the only exception being Andretti's pole at Road America.

The high-speed, glamorous world of Champ Car racing will soon be turned into a major new weekly television action series. The program is the result of an agreement reached between Championship Auto Racing Teams, Newman/Haas Racing, owned by Paul Newman and Carl Haas, and respected motion picture and television producer Neil Russell and his partner, Peter W. Kuyper. The one-hour television series was announced Saturday by CART Chairman and CEO Andrew Craig; CART Vice President of Broadcasting, Keith Allo; Haas; and Russell and Kuyper.

Setting fictional characters against the very real backdrop of the world of the open-wheel Champ Cars and the CART circuit, the new series will take viewers inside racing the same way that "ER" takes them into a hospital's emergency ward. "We are very enthused about the potential for this program and happy to be working with a producer of the stature of Neil Russell," said Craig. "It gives us a wonderful opportunity to reach new and potential fans of our sport." The CART television series is the creation of producer Russell, who with Jerry Bruckheimer (Con Air, The Rock, Armageddon) is the originator and executive producer of the hit weekly action hour "SOF (Soldier Of Fortune): Special Ops Force," currently in its second season in worldwide syndication. Russell also is developing two feature films and has more than 30 television movies to his production credit.

"With nearly one billion viewers watching CART races each season via television, the worldwide audience for the CART weekly television series is both vast and loyal," said Russell. "We are excited to join with CART and Newman/Haas Racing in the mounting of this action-packed and drama-filled series for television." Long-time Champ Car team owner Haas, who has Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) and Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford) as drivers, is providing technical support in much the same way he and his team worked with producer Stephen Low on the IMAX film "SuperSpeedway," which featured Mario and Michael Andretti. "SuperSpeedway" has been viewed by more than 13 million people around the world since its introduction in 1997. In the television series, a fictional third Champ Car entry from the Newman/Haas team will be featured against the backdrop of the 20-race FedEx Championship Series.

Actor Anthony Edwards, star of NBC's top-rated television series, ER, will give the command to start engines prior to Sunday's race.

WHAT'S ON TAP:

Qualifying for the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota will air 2 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 3 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, one-half hour prior to ESPN's live race broadcast.

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Bryan Herta , Scott Pruett , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Paul Newman , Carl Haas , Chip Ganassi , Greg Moore , JJ Lehto
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing