CHAMPCAR/CART: Qualifying Rio GP Story

FITTIPALDI THRILLS COUNTRYMEN WITH FIRST CAREER POLE AT GP TELEMAR RIO 200 RIO de JANEIRO, Brazil (May 14, 1999) - Newman/Haas driver Christian Fittipaldi blistered the speedway named for his celebrated uncle Friday to earn his first FedEx ...

FITTIPALDI THRILLS COUNTRYMEN WITH FIRST CAREER POLE AT GP TELEMAR RIO 200 RIO de JANEIRO, Brazil (May 14, 1999) - Newman/Haas driver Christian Fittipaldi blistered the speedway named for his celebrated uncle Friday to earn his first FedEx Championship Series career pole position in track-record time for Saturday's GP Telemar Rio 200 on the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway at Nelson Piquet International Raceway.

Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift) qualified at 174.002 miles per hour (38.565 seconds) on the 1.864-mile oval to eclipse the record of 172.039 mph (39.005 seconds) established by Dario Franchitti last year. It was his first pole position in 65 FedEx Championship Series career starts and his first overall since 1991 in the Formula 3000 series, when he won from the pole at Nogaro in France en route to the series championship.

Fittipaldi's pole was the first of the season for a Ford-powered driver. He earned a FedEx Championship Series point for the performance, giving him 35 for the season and tying him with Franchitti, who currently stands fifth in the championship.

Fittipaldi is the nephew of 1989 FedEx Championship Series champion Emerson Fittipaldi, now the event promoter of the GP Telemar Rio 200.

Franchitti earned the outside pole at 173.962 mph (38.574 seconds). He makes his third consecutive top-three start of the season, following second in Long Beach and third at Nazareth.

Rookie Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard), the FedEx Championship Series points leader, qualified third at 173.615 mph (38.651 seconds). He owns a string of three consecutive top-five qualifying efforts, following fifth at Long Beach and his first career pole position at Nazareth.

Rounding out the top five were Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard), who was fourth at 173.467 mph (38.684 seconds) and Bryan Herta (Shell Ford Reynard), who was fifth at 173.346 mph (38.711 seconds).

The top 17 qualifiers were separated by less than a second.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, Big Kmart Ford Swift: "It's definitely very nice to be here [as the pole sitter], but tomorrow will be a completely different day. It's nice to be starting first here, now we need to make sure we do all the correct changes. [The race] is not going to be easy. It will be very, very competitive. As far as the [pole-winning] lap goes, I was fast, and then in [Turn] Four, I got a little bit of a push. The car has been running good since this morning. We've been running in the top three all the time. There's not a lot more to say, other than that I hope to be back here tomorrow." DARIO FRANCHITTI, KOOL Honda Reynard: "The organizers [of the event] should be applauded for doing a really good job. The track is in much better shape than it was last year. This morning, we worked on setup. As far as qualifying, I'm a little bit disappointed, but we did a good thing for ticket sales by putting a Brazilian [Christian Fittipaldi] on the pole. I'm sure that will guarantee a good crowd for tomorrow." JUAN MONTOYA, Target Honda Reynard: "It felt really good to be on top again [when sitting on the pole with Fittipaldi and Franchitti yet to qualify]. I didn't think the time would hold up, but I knew it was good enough to be in the top five. The car was very loose in Turn Four, and I think that kept me from really pushing the car. I was glad to see [teammate] Jimmy {Vasser} back where he is [starting sixth]."

Christian Fittipaldi's (Big Kmart Ford Swift) first career pole exceeded his previous best career start of third (1996 Milwaukee, 1997 Portland and 1998 Australia). His third-place start at Milwaukee came after the starting grid was based on practice times due to a rainout of qualifying. Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) has started third or better in 11 of the past 16 FedEx Championship Series events, dating to last year at Portland. Included are pole positions at Toronto, Mid-Ohio, Vancouver and Australia. Honda captured three of the top four qualifying spots with second-place Franchitti, third-place Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard), and fourth-place Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard). Honda also had five of the top seven with sixth-place Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) and seventh-place Tony Kanaan (McDonald's Championship Racing Honda Reynard). Firestone earned its fourth pole of the season and ninth in the past 10 events.

Saturday's qualifying was delayed by track cleanup following the single-car incident involving Gualter Salles (Bettenhausen Motorsports Mercedes Reynard), who was uninjured., then further delayed by rain. As a result, Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes), Robby Gordon (Johns Manville/Panasonic/Menards Toyota Reynard) and rookie Luiz Garcia Jr. (The Tang Car Ford Reynard), who each waved off their initial qualifying attempts, were unable to post qualifying times as the delays forced the session to run over its allotted time of 2 hours, 15 minutes. They were gridded according to Friday morning practice times, with Gugelmin starting 25th, Gordon 26th and Garcia 27th. Della Penna Motorsports owner John Della Penna announced Thursday that he will offer a Champ Car test to the South American Formula 3 champion for the second consecutive year. Della Penna, the only Latin American team owner in the FedEx Championship Series, will invite the F3 champion to test the Budweiser Toyota Swift regularly campaigned by Richie Hearn in the FedEx Championship Series. "The F3 championship is the top open-wheel series in Latin America," Della Penna said, "and it's the place where a number of drivers who currently compete in the FedEx Championship Series got their starts, including Helio Castro-Neves (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Lola Mercedes) and Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift). Hopefully, this test will help give the [F3] series added exposure and reveal the opportunities that exist here in CART to the Latin American community." The test is being made possible through the joint contribution of Budweiser and Bridgestone Firestone, sponsor of the South American F3 championship.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Gualter Salles , Robby Gordon , Gil de Ferran , Jimmy Vasser , Christian Fittipaldi , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Richie Hearn , Nelson Piquet , Emerson Fittipaldi , Luiz Garcia Jr.