IRL: California: Chevy qualifying report

Jaques Lazier and Chevy on front row in Fontana FONTANA, Calif., March 23, 2002 -- On a brisk and blustery day at California Speedway, General Motors' 53-race, 62-month streak of consecutive pole starts in Indy Racing League competition finally...

Jaques Lazier and Chevy on front row in Fontana

FONTANA, Calif., March 23, 2002 -- On a brisk and blustery day at California Speedway, General Motors' 53-race, 62-month streak of consecutive pole starts in Indy Racing League competition finally came to an end. Jaques Lazier was the fastest Chevy driver today, qualifying on the outside of the front row at 220.909 mph for Sunday's Yamaha Indy 400.

"Butch Meyer (team manager) has our Chevrolet engine program running extremely strong right now," said Lazier. "We're making good power and the aerodynamics are working well. We're starting to come into our own as a team."

Chevy Indy V8 engines powered six of the top ten qualifiers. IRL points leader Sam Hornish Jr. was fourth fastest at 219.410 mph in Pennzoil Panther Racing's Chevrolet Dallara. Jaques' older brother Buddy turned the seventh quickest lap at 218.656 mph in Hemelgarn Racing's Chevrolet Dallara. Jeff Ward had the fastest Chevy-powered G-Force chassis at 218.241 mph, and Chevy stalwarts Al Unser Jr. and Felipe Giaffone rounded out the top ten with Dallara chassis.

Gusty winds that followed early morning showers challenged the IRL teams who were making their first appearance on the 2.0-mile superspeedway.

"We had a little push coming out of the corner," said Jaques. "If we could have freed up the car and trimmed it out a little more, I think we might have been a little faster -- but I'm very happy with our overall result."

Chevy Indy V8 engines won the pole in the first two IRL races of the season in Miami and Phoenix. Today Eddie Cheever Jr. edged Lazier by 0.513 mph to claim Infiniti's first pole since the IRL introduced its naturally aspirated engine formula in January 1997.

"Infiniti has been running fast speeds at this track for some time now, and we knew that eventually they would win a pole," said GM Racing Group Manager Joe Negri. "This is the third event for the new Chevy Indy V8 engine package, and the first race on a superspeedway. The closeness of the qualifying speeds is a good indication of the horsepower level that we have achieved in a very short development cycle with the Chevy Indy V8. We are continuing to develop this new package rapidly, and we're not done yet. We are working on a new engine specification with the goal of putting a Chevrolet driver on the pole for the Indianapolis 500."

The Yamaha Indy 400 is the longest event before the Indy 500, and several drivers predicted that it would become a race of attrition.

"This race isn't about who's on the pole," said Hornish. "You saw the competition we had on the short tracks, and when you get to a longer track like this there are going to be even more cars running at the front. If you lose the draft and have to lift off the throttle, you're going to go toward the back. It's been a good year for me so far thanks to Chevrolet and Speedway Engines, and I hope it continues tomorrow."

Buddy Lazier agreed: "It's a long race and I don't think you need to lead the first laps to be successful at the end of the day," said the 1996 Indy 500 winner. "I anticipate 400 miles of flat-out racing. Traffic will upset the cars a little, but most everyone will be wide open. The winner won't be determined until the very end."

"Tomorrow is going to be a drafting game and we should be able to run through the corners two or three abreast," predicted Al Unser Jr., who will start ninth on the grid in Kelley Racing's Corteco Chevrolet Dallara. "The lead will change two or three times a lap.

"I had a good qualifying run, and I didn't really expect a 218," Unser noted. "It was a good run, and that's all she had."

SCHEDULE
The Yamaha Indy 400 will start at 12:30 p.m. PST on Sunday, March 24. The 200-lap, 400-mile race will be televised live on ESPN and broadcast live on the IMS Radio Network.

-chevy-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Jaques Lazier  , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing