#66 Alex Zanardi - Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard
Two-time series champion Alex Zanardi made his race weekend debut with Mo Nunn Racing and new sponsors Pioneer and WorldCom today, struggling a bit with not-so-unexpected first-day-of-the-season complications, but nonetheless optimistic that the weekend can end on a high note. Zanardi drove his #66 Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard to a fast lap of 1 minute, 21.161 seconds (an average of 93.326 mph) over the 2.1-mile road course in Monterrey's scenic Fundidora Park. It was the 19th-best time of this afternoon's 2-1/2 hour practice session, and 11 places behind teammate Tony Kanaan in the #55 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard, who was clocked with a fast lap of 1:19.505 (95.269 mph). Today's scheduled two-hour morning practice was halted a little more than a half-hour into the session due to slippery conditions on the brand new track surface. Subsequent practice sessions by the support series that are also competing here this weekend helped clear off dust and silt and laid down rubber necessary to make this afternoon's 2-1/2 hour Champ Car practice session safer and more interesting. It was what Zanardi termed fuel problems that cost him valuable practice time today. But they are problems he says are behind him and the team. Defending series champion Gil de Ferran turned the fastest lap of the day at 1:18.581 (96.390 mph).
Practice resumes Saturday morning with qualifying set to begin at 1:45 p.m. local time (2:45 p.m. ET). ESPN2 will air its CART Qualifying show at 3 a.m. ET Sunday. Zanardi and Kanaan Zanardi will qualify in the first of two group sessions set for 30 minutes apiece. By virtue of new qualifying rules instituted by CART this year, groupings are based on last season's final driver points standings. Zanardi took a year off from racing while Kanaan finished 19th in the points. Race time Sunday is 3 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET) with a live broadcast set for ABC-TV.
"It's not the greatest first day I've ever had, but we had some track issues to deal with and some fuel problems. Now that we've got all that first-day stuff out of the way, tomorrow we will try to go out and have a better day. The layout of the circuit is very, very interesting. It's a pity the track is just so dirty. But there's nothing you can do. The only fix to the problem is to run on it. In the afternoon session, every single minute the track was getting better and better. By tomorrow afternoon, it will be tremendous, which has me quite nervous, in one sense, because we are in the slow (first qualifying) group. We will do our best. This is a great team, a great group of guys, and I'm certain we will have a competitive car by the time it matters the most ... on Sunday."