Ward Stakes Out Homestead Pole as Oldsmobile Dominates Qualifying in Miami Debut HOMESTEAD, Fla., April 7, 2001 - Infiniti is on the marquee at the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami, but Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8 engine is on the pole and on the...
Ward Stakes Out Homestead Pole as Oldsmobile Dominates Qualifying in Miami Debut
HOMESTEAD, Fla., April 7, 2001 - Infiniti is on the marquee at the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami, but Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8 engine is on the pole and on the first 15 spots of the starting grid for Sunday's inaugural Indy Racing Northern Light Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. On a day when changing track conditions on the flat 1.5-mile oval limited the top contenders for the pole to sub-200 mph speeds, Jeff Ward produced a stunning 201.55 mph lap with Heritage Motorsports' Oldsmobile G-Force.
Ward circled the low-banked track in 26.792 seconds to set the Homestead-Miami track record for naturally aspirated race cars. Using an Oldsmobile engine prepared by Team Menard, Ward captured the second pole of his IRL career in only his second race with the newly formed team.
Oldsmobile motors from Team Menard's Indianapolis shop monopolized the front row as Greg Ray claimed the outside front row starting spot with Team Menard's Oldsmobile Dallara. Ray's bid for a third straight pole came up short when he qualified at 199.893 mph. Reigning IRL champion Buddy Lazier was third fastest in Hemelgarn Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara at 199.432 mph, and rookie Felipe Giaffone posted the fourth fastest speed at 199.211 mph in Treadway-Hubbard Racing's Oldsmobile G-Force.
Oldsmobile engines swept the top 15 spots on the starting grid and powered 24 of the 26 qualifiers. The fastest Infiniti-powered entry qualified 16th with a speed 6.31 mph slower than Ward's pole-winning lap.
"A lot of guys who could have been quicker hit the rev limiter, but (team manager) Mitch Davis hit the gearing spot on," Ward explained. "I had to get off the throttle just a little in Turn 1, and the car was perfect in 3 and 4.
"When I saw Greg and Buddy run 199, I knew the door was open," Ward recalled. "We've got unbelievable motors - it really feels great to have two Menard motors on the front row. The whole package with the chassis and tires came together."
Although Ward's last-minute run denied Ray his 12th career pole start, Ray recognized the long-term benefits of Menard's new alliance with Heritage Motorsports. "Butch Meyer (Menard engine department manager) has always built great motors, but we haven't really been able to build a lot of motors. We saw other engine builders like Speedway come on strong last year. Mitch Wright is a great engineer, and not many guys stand on the gas like Jeff does, so this is going to help our development program."
Homestead-Miami Speedway's modest six-degree banking in the corners is a stark contrast to the high-banked 1.5-mile speedways on the IRL circuit. "You can't keep the throttle wide open in the turns like you can at some of the high-banked tracks," Ray noted. "You lose speed in the corners because they are so long, and you don't have that instant acceleration out of the turns that you get with a tighter rpm band. Butch Meyer has been doing a wonderful job building those Oldsmobile engines for this track."
Buddy Lazier had hoped to give his two-year-old son the pole trophy as a birthday present, but he was pleased with his second-row starting position. "It's a tricky race track and it's going to be a tough day tomorrow," Lazier predicted. "The motors are running great, and I couldn't be happier. I consistently have a great race car, and that's a testament to our team."
Felipe Giaffone was at the head of the rookie class with the fourth fastest qualifying speed at 199.211 mph. After struggling in practice, the Treadway-Hubbard Oldsmobile entry was quick when it counted.
"I've been here three times before, and the best we did was 197 mph," Giaffone reported. "Yesterday we ran 193 mph, so the guys did a really good job to get the right setup for qualifying."
Oldsmobile Qualifying Quotes:
Sam Hornish Jr., Panther Racing Oldsmobile Dallara, Phoenix race winner, IRL points leader, qualified fifth at 199.72 mph: "Gear selection is a big thing here because the wind makes the track different on both ends. You have a tailwind going down the front straight and a headwind on the back straight. With the rev limiter, we have to find the right ratios in the gearbox. If we had our qualifying run to do over again, we might have been a little faster."
Eliseo Salazar, A.J. Foyt Ent. Oldsmobile Dallara, second in IRL points, qualified sixth at 199.110 mph: "We're feeling really confident. We have a good car for the race, and ran virtually the same speeds yesterday in windy conditions. I live nearby and ride my bike here often, so I know how the conditions can change in a minute." <pre> Top Qualifiers:
Pos./Driver/Engine/Speed 1. Jeff Ward, Oldsmobile, 201.551 mph 2. Greg Ray, Oldsmobile, 199.893 3. Buddy Lazier, Oldsmobile, 199.432 4. Felipe Giaffone, Oldsmobile, 199.211 5. Sam Hornish Jr., Oldsmobile, 199.172 6. Eliseo Salazar, Oldsmobile, 199.110
Schedule: </pre> The Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami is scheduled to start at 2:00 p.m. EDT on Sunday, April 8. The 200-lap, 300-mile race will be televised live on ABC Sports and broadcast live on the Indy Racing Radio Network.