RICHMOND, Va., Friday, June 29, 2001 -- It was no surprise when Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8 powered the pole winner for the 45th consecutive IRL event, but the names of the drivers who will start on the front row in Saturday night's SunTrust Indy...
RICHMOND, Va., Friday, June 29, 2001 -- It was no surprise when Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8 powered the pole winner for the 45th consecutive IRL event, but the names of the drivers who will start on the front row in Saturday night's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway were certainly unexpected. Jaques Lazier, 30, of Vail, Colo., will start on the pole for the first time in his IRL career. Distaff driver Sarah Fisher will start alongside Lazier on the front row, her best grid position in 16 IRL starts.
Intense heat and humidity combined with rubber deposited on the track by the USAC support series to make qualifying on the tight .75-mile Richmond oval a challenging proposition. Lazier and car owner Sam Schmidt solved the puzzle as Jaques circled the bullring at 160.417 mph in the Sam Schmidt Motorsports Oldsmobile Dallara. Lazier's lap eclipsed the previous track record by more than 29 mph, and exceeded the Winston Cup record at RIR by nearly 34 mph.
"I'm in shock," said Lazier, younger brother of defending Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion Buddy Lazier. "It far exceeds our expectations. We wanted to qualify in the Top Ten. Sam Schmidt Motorsports has had its trials and tribulations this year. I'm just happy I could do this for Sam and Davey Hamilton."
Car owner Schmidt was paralyzed from the neck down in a testing accident in January 2000. Hamilton is recovering from severe leg injuries he sustained in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9.
The rain-delayed qualifying session saw the cars of Billy Boat and Jeff Ward hit the wall, while several drivers pulled off after a single lap. Perennial polesitter Greg Ray crashed in practice and was not cleared to drive before qualifying began.
"We were a little afraid of the conditions, and the car was jumping out," Lazier confided. " I adjusted the bars for a little extra security. The car stuck and it was perfect."
Fisher, 20, rebounded from her own close encounter with Richmond's unforgiving concrete wall on Thursday. She was uninjured in the crash, and Walker Racing repaired the Oldsmobile Dallara that she subsequently qualified at 159.891 mph.
"The guys pulled together and put the car back on the track for a great performance," Fisher reported. "It's so important here to start at the front because the leaders are going to catch the back of the pack instantly. This is definitely a handling track and a driver's track. It's going to be an endurance track, too, because you're always moving around. I grew up on short tracks, so this is home for me."
Buddy Lazier will start Hemelgarn Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara from the second row with the fourth fastest qualifying lap at 159.199 mph. "If you've got great handling and grip, you're in great shape," said Lazier, who won the preceding race at Pikes Peak International Raceway. "But the straightaways are long enough that the more motor you've got, the better off you're going to be."
Airton Dare, last year's Rookie of the Year, will start Team Xtreme's Oldsmobile G-Force in the third row alongside points leader Sam Hornish Jr. in Panther Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara.
Oldsmobile powered 17 of the 19 qualifiers for the SunTrust Indy Challenge. Oldsmobile drivers Boat and Ray were added to the field although they did not post qualifying times, bringing the starting grid to 21 cars.
Oldsmobile Qualifying Quotes
Buddy Lazier, Hemelgarn Racing Oldsmobile Dallara, winner of preceding race at Pikes Peak, qualified fourth at 159.199 mph: "There was a lot of rubber from the USAC cars but it's the same for everyone. A skating rink would have more grip. It's very challenging. We've got a great race car and my team has a lot of momentum, so no complaints here."
Sam Hornish Jr., Panther Racing Oldsmobile Dallara, IRL points leader, qualified sixth at 158.288 mph: "Tomorrow it will be darker, we'll have a little cloud cover, and speeds will be faster. We're going to have to go with the setup we used last night and hope that it's close to where we need to be."
Eliseo Salazar, A.J. Foyt Enterprises Oldsmobile Dallara, qualified seventh at 158.261 mph: "It's important to be at the front of the pack because it's going to be very hard to pass on this track. There is really one groove for the IRL cars here because the cars are so fast."
The SunTrust Indy Challenge will start at 8:00 p.m. EDT on Saturday night, June 30. The 250-lap, 187.5-mile race will be televised live on ESPN at 8:00 p.m. EDT and broadcast live on the Indy Racing Radio Network.