FONTANA, Calif. (October 30, 1999) - Scott Pruett of Arciero-Wells Racing scored the first pole position in Toyota's four-year FedEx Championship Series history Saturday when he earned the right to start first in the Marlboro 500...
FONTANA, Calif. (October 30, 1999) - Scott Pruett of Arciero-Wells Racing scored the first pole position in Toyota's four-year FedEx Championship Series history Saturday when he earned the right to start first in the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota (3 p.m. ET Sunday, live, ESPN). Pruett's lap of 235.398 miles per hour (31.030 seconds) earned him the right to lead 27 starters to the green flag for Sunday's 20th and final installment of the FedEx Championship Series, to be contested at 500 miles on the 2.029-mile oval located in suburban Los Angeles. The race will feature a $1 million payout to the winner. The pole position was the fifth of Pruett's career and his second consecutive at California Speedway. He earned a PPG Cup point to improve his total to 28 for the season. Pruett's effort also marked the second event in a row in which a Toyota-powered driver had posted a FedEx Championship Series qualifying best for the manufacturer. Pruett also owned the previous best of third, established at Australia two weeks ago. Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) qualified second at 234.544 mph (31.143 seconds). He will make his second front-row start of the season after earning his first career pole position at Chicago in August. Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) qualified third at 234.251 (31.182 seconds). It marks the 11th top-three start of the season for Montoya, who trails Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) by nine, 209-200, in the FedEx Championship Series points race heading into Sunday's final round of the championship. Franchitti qualified eighth at 233.174 mph (31.326 seconds). He can clinch the championship with a podium finish in Sunday's race, which will determine the winner of the $1 million bonus from PPG which will go to the series champion. Rounding out the top five qualifiers were defending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota champion Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard), who qualified fourth at 234.063 mph (31.207 seconds), and Bryan Herta (Shell Ford Reynard), who qualified fifth at 233.913 mph (31.227 seconds).
SCOTT PRUETT, Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard: "It was a great day all the way around. It was awesome for Pioneer, Toyota, PPI and Cal [Wells, team owner]. I'm getting all the benefits from Toyota. It's very sweet. There's nothing like the first [pole]. We knew going in that we had to free the car up; that we had to run it really, really loose. We got one good lap in and I said, 'That's it. We can't get any more out of this car.' Nobody's ever going to be able to give them [Toyota] their first pole again, so for me to do that, it's awesome. The last few races, I've been gambling with the guys on what the pole speed will be, and I've been right on. I missed it totally this time. I thought it was going to be 234.4, and I didn't think I was going to do it. The truth is, I think we have a better race car than we do a qualifying car."
MAX PAPIS, Miller Lite Ford Reynard: "First of all, I want to congratulate Scott [Pruett]. Conditions were a bit strange. The wind was really, really gusty. When I went out during the second lap and headed into the wind, it was like pulling a hand brake. Qualifying last today is maybe not the best thing [due to the weather], but being on the front row is fantastic, and I feel we have a very good car for the race."
JUAN MONTOYA, Target Honda Reynard: "The car was good. The car was perfect. It was too windy, but the car was perfect. If you would have asked me what we would have changed, I would have said 'Nothing.' It was just too windy. Going into Turn 1, it isn't accelerating at all. I'm pretty confident [for the race]. The car has been good in every session. We'll just have to see what happens with Dario [Franchitti]."
CAL WELLS III, co-owner, Arciero-Wells Racing: "It's thrilling. Obviously, a lot of people questioned our decision to take Scott [Pruett], and I'm sure that there were times when he questioned his decision to go with us. Today, he proved again that he can get around these tracks as well as, or better, than anyone. I'm thrilled that we can bring this to Toyota. It's their first pole, and obviously, only one team can do it. But it was Scott who gave us this gift; it was all him."
* Scott Pruett's (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) pole position was the fifth of his FedEx Championship Series career, three of which have come on superspeedways. Pruett also won the pole for last year's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at Fontana, as well as for the 1997 U.S. 500 at Michigan Speedway. His other career poles came at Detroit in 1996 and Portland in 1997. Pruett finished 20th due to contact last year at Fontana.
* Pruett's pole position allowed the United States to trim a crucial point from its deficit to leader Brazil in the Nation's Cup competition. The U.S. now trails, 257-254 heading into Sunday's season finale. No team other than the United States has won the Nation's Cup competition in its four previous years of existence.
* Former Champ Car driver Stefan Johansson is teaming with actor Anthony Edwards and Artisan Entertainment producer Jonathan Shestack in forming Team CAN, a charitable non-profit organization dedicated solely to finding an effective biological treatment, prevention and cure for autism and related disorders. Johansson announced Saturday that Johansson Motorsports and CAN, an acronym for "Cure Autism Now," will become partners for the year 2000 to field a one-car effort in the FedEx Championship Series, as well as a one-car effort in the Indianapolis 500. The unique marketing program will feature CAN as the title sponsor, supported by 10 co-sponsors who will equally share space on the car, as well as the VIP team hospitality amenities. "We are focusing on taking the issue outside of the community directly affected by autism and bringing it into the mainstream," Johansson said. "Racing fans are among the most generous group of people I know, and because of that, I know they will rally around this cause."
* Season-ending performance awards were presented Saturday for the STP Most Improved Driver, the Valvoline/ASE Mechanic of the Year and the OMEGA Speedmaster Award. Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) was selected as the Most Improved Driver by his peers, and received $5,000 for his efforts. Kyle Moyer, chief mechanic for Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), was selected as the Valvoline/ASE Mechanic of the Year, which includes a three-day trip to a Skip Barber Competition Racing School. Juan Montoya won the season-ending award from OMEGA, Official Timekeeper of the FedEx Championship Series, for logging the fastest race lap at seven events this season.
* The PacWest Racing Group announced Saturday that it had reached agreement with Brazilian driver Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) to come back for a sixth season as one of the team's drivers during the 2000 FedEx Championship Series season. Gugelmin owns one career victory (Vancouver, 1997), three pole positions and thirty-five top-10 finishes in his five years with the team to date. He also owns the world closed-course speed record of 240.942 miles per hour set during qualifying for the 1997 Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway. "Since 1995, Mauricio has been a cornerstone of the PacWest organization, and we are privileged to teaem with a man who is not only a talented driver, but also a truly remarkable individual," said PacWest Racing Group team owner Bruce McCaw. "Mo is an outstanding ambassador for PacWest, our sponsors and the sport of motor racing, and I'm very pleased to continue our relationship with him." Said Gugelmin, "I have total confidence in the PacWest organization under Bruce and [wife] Jolene McCaw's leadership. I feel very much at home with this team, and I'm looking forward to a very successful future with them."
* CART Chairman and CEO Andrew Craig took a few moments in Saturday's Champ Car drivers' meeting to recount the achievements and contributions of Al Unser Jr. and Scott Pruett to the FedEx Championship Series. Both drivers are leaving CART to race elsewhere in 2000. Pruett, who captured the pole for Sunday's race, has two Champ Car wins in his career as well as five poles. Unser, who as series champion in 1990 and 1994 won the PPG Cup, has 31 victories and an equally impressive 80 podium finishes. Craig asked the drivers for their driving shoes following Sunday's race and CART will then have them bronzed and mounted on special commemorative plaques for each driver.
* CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach allowed Player's Forsythe Racing driver Greg Moore (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ltd. Mercedes Reynard) the opportunity to take to the track for a special practice session Saturday afternoon to test his injured right hand. The session, scheduled on the advice of the CART medical staff doctors, lasted roughly 15 minutes. Moore was injured earlier Saturday morning in a scooter accident in the paddock, in which he sustained a minor fracture to the forefinger of his right hand, lacerations on the same hand, and a bruised right hip. Early in the session, Moore decided that he will compete in Sunday's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota. Qualifying for the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota will air 1:30 a.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2 while ESPN's live race broadcast begins 3 p.m. ET.