CHAMPCAR/CART: Road America Saturday Report

Elkhart Lake ...

Elkhart Lake

The pole was the 31st of Andretti's career and it allowed him to break tie with his father, Mario, for sole possession of second place on the CART career list. Rick Mears is CART's all-time pole position leader with 39.

In claming his first pole since 1995 at Long Beach, Andretti earned a PPG Cup point, giving him 93 for the season and breaking a tie for fifth place in the championship with Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford).

He also claimed the $10,000 Marlboro Pole Award, with the opportunity to collect a record rollover bonus of $315,000 with a victory in Sunday's race. The rollover has been accumulating at a rate of $15,000 per event since Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) drove to victory at Cleveland last year. Combined with the $100,000 winner's purse in Sunday's race, the potential payoff for a victory from the pole is $425,000.

Team Rahal swept the second and third qualifying spots as Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) qualified second at 145.628 mph (1:40.069) and Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford) third at 145.228 mph (1:40.344). Herta continues a run which has seen him qualify fifth or better at eight of the past 11 FedEx Championship Series road-course events while Rahal makes his second top-three start of the season, following an outside-pole effort at Long Beach.

Pruett qualified fourth at 145.140 mph (1:40.405) and was followed by de Ferran at 145.025 mph (1:40.485). The top 19 qualifiers are separated by less than two seconds.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

MICHAEL ANDRETTI, Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford: "Until this afternoon, it seemed like every time we started to get something going this weekend we'd get a red flag, and I'd wonder, 'How am I going to ever catch a break?' But it was a perfect qualifying session. Every lap I had out there was clear and the car was great. This feels as good as a win to me personally because it's been so long.

"I'd like to thank Goodyear, they've really worked hard to get to this point. And the Ford engine has been great. I'm just really happy with the package [including the Swift chassis] we're running right now."

BRYAN HERTA, Shell Reynard Ford: "It was a pretty good day throughout. We made some significant gains yesterday in the car and today was just fine tuning. I had a good lap going, then [Gil] de Ferran spun off and I thought they were going to red flag the session. Luckily, they didn't, and it gave me enough time to get in one more good lap."

BOBBY RAHAL, Miller Lite Reynard Ford: "This morning was kind of uneventful. We made some changes and ran on cold tires, and I really think I had my best lap on tires that had 110 miles on them. In the first part of the [qualifying] session, we couldn't get going, then the Patrick guys [Adrian Fernandez and Scott Pruett] got together and we were able to make some changes that the car really liked. As the owner of the second and third cars on the grid, I'm thrilled, and hoping that maybe we can do one better tomorrow. I've raced all around the world, as Michael [Andretti] has, and I rate this as one of the top-five race tracks, not only in the country, but in the world. This is a drivers' track and drivers love coming here."

WHAT'S NOTEWORTHY

With Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford), Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford), Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford) and Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) starting in the top- four positions, respectively, it will mark the first time Americans have swept the top-four positions at a FedEx Championship Series event since 1992 at Loudon, New Hampshire. In New Hampshire, Rahal, Andretti, Eddie Cheever and Scott Brayton started first through fourth, respectively. The grid for that race was based on practice times after qualifying was rained out.

The pole position was the first of the season for Goodyear and its first overall since Bryan Herta earned the pole at Laguna Seca last year.

Ford-powered cars swept the top-four qualifying positions and five of the top six, including the sixth-place performance by Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford), at 144.751 mph (1:40.675).

Arciero-Wells/Panasonic Racing announced Saturday the signing of Scott Pruett as the driver of the #24 Panasonic Duskin Reynard Toyota for the 1999 and 2000 FedEx Championship Series seasons. Pruett, a nine-year veteran, is leaving Patrick Racing at the end of the season and will replace Robby Gordon as the driver of the Toyota-powered entry. Pruett will team with Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota). "As we continue in partnership with Toyota and our sponsors, we are continuing to focus on what it will take to move our partners to the front and keep them there," said Cal Wells III, co-owner of Arciero-Wells Racing. "To add Scott's experience, history and maturity is going to have a profound, positive effect on where we're headed." Said Pruett: "I'm looking forward to this opportunity. With any luck, it [the partnership] is going to continue beyond the year 2000. Knowing the dedication that Toyota has and knowing the dedication that Cal and the team has, I guess I just see this as a heck of an opportunity. I firmly believe that Toyota's going to turn this thing around."

Marlboro Team Penske announced Saturday afternoon that Andre Ribeiro (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) will compete in Sunday's race, less than 24 hours after sustaining a fracture of the left fibula during Friday's qualifying. Ribeiro qualified 13th at an average speed of 143.639 mph (1:41.454), his best time from Friday. He will be fitted with a special shin guard and padding to make him more comfortable in the cockpit. He will also utilize a special heel rest on the clutch pedal. Dr. Terry Trammell, CART's Chief Orthopedic Consultant, worked with Team Penske fabricator Rich Laubenstein and Ribeiro's crew to help develop the special shin guard.

"I am thankful to have such a resourceful team," Ribeiro said. "They have really made it possible for me to drive in the race Sunday. I think with some rest, and if I can keep the leg elevated, we should be ready tomorrow."

CART Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Craig held an informal meeting with the media prior to qualifying Saturday. Among his remarks:

(On the $1.7 million improvements program undertaken at Road America during the off-season) "One of our team owners, Cal Wells, said to me - and I agree completely - that he's never seen a track where there have been so many profound changes from one year to the next. We're very pleased and very appreciative of what [Road America President] Jim Haynes and his people have accomplished here. It's obvious that Road America has gone the extra mile and we're very appreciative of what's been done."

(On Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach's recent disciplinary measures against several drivers) "Certainly, Wally has made it clear during our drivers' meetings that the object of the race is to be the first one to finish, and not the first one into the first corner. While those two events may not always be totally unrelated, the fact of the matter is that when cars are taken out, it's disappointing for the fans and disappointing for the sponsors. I think Wally's doing a first-rate job of trying to deliver the message. Wally is the Chief Steward and he has our complete support. He's the one with 15 TV monitors in front of him and he's the one with 25 years experience in racing. He has our complete support."

(On next year's FedEx Championship Series schedule) "Scheduling is getting harder, not easier. The world of TV is cha nging so much, with more and more events and more and more channels on which to broadcast those events. It takes awhile [to set a schedule] because so many issues come into play. We still have two or three issues that need to be resolved with regard to the next year's schedule, and we want to take care of them as quickly as we can. We're looking to expand our schedule. We're interested in racing in Mexico, although probably not next year and we're interested in racing in Germany, although that probably won't happen until 2001. I'm not prepared to comment on Road Atlanta other than to say that we're very interested in racing there as well."

(On the issues dividing CART and the Indy Racing League) "I don't say this in any way trying to duck the question, but I do believe that these are critical and important issues, and that they are best not discussed in the press until there is something substantial to talk about."

WHAT'S ON TAP

"CART 2Day" airs 3 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, one-half hour prior to ESPN's live race telecast. The Texaco/Havoline 200 will air live nationally on the CART Radio Network, beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Source: CART Online

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