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Tracy uses special Honda qualifying engine to nip Andretti and Fittipaldi in Michigan Quals
by Mark Cipolloni

7/22/00


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Fastest of the day was Paul Tracy.  His Honda was running a single wastegate configuration, first tried by Toyota.
(Click on any photo to see enlargement)

Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green blazed to a new Michigan Speedway track record Saturday while winning his first FedEx Championship Series pole position since 1997 for Sunday's Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota (ABC-TV, live, 1:30 p.m. ET).

Tracy's (KOOL Honda Reynard) lap of 234.949 miles per hour (30.645 seconds) came on the final lap of qualifying and eclipsed the track standard of 234.665 mph (30.682 seconds) established by Jimmy Vasser during qualifying for the 1996 Marlboro 500. It was the 13th pole of Tracy's 10-year career and his first in the FedEx Championship Series since 1997 at Milwaukee.

The championship point Tracy earned for the pole position drew him to one (75-74) behind Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske for third place in the championship. Tracy will seek his second victory of the season, the 17th of his career, and his first-ever 500-mile triumph when he leads 24 fellow competitors to the green flag Sunday.


Michael Andretti, thought he had won the pole until Paul Track went out with his trick Honda qualifying engine and bumped him off.
All photos by David Cipolloni

Tracy's record effort bumped Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) from the pole, but Andretti, CART's all-time victory leader, starts second after a lap of 234.627 mph (30.687 seconds). Andretti will make a season-best start, improving on third at Toronto last week, a position from which he drove to his 40th career triumph.

Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) made it an outstanding day for Newman/Haas Racing, joining teammate Andretti among the top three starters after a lap of 234.230 mph (30.739 seconds). It will be his best career start in seven appearances at Michigan, eclipsing ninth in 1998.


Christian Fittipaldi watches the monitor as first his teammate Andretti, and then Paul Tracy bumped him down to third.
(Click on any photo to see enlargement)

Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) allowed Newman/Haas and Team KOOL Green to sweep the two front rows by qualifying fourth at 233.176 mph (30.878 seconds). It marks his sixth consecutive top-10 start, dating to an outside pole at Milwaukee. Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske qualified fifth at 232.980 mph (30.904 seconds) for his ninth top-five start in 11 events this season.

FedEx Championship Series leader Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) qualified 16th at 228.086 mph (31.567 seconds). He holds a two-point (90-88) lead over Andretti entering Sunday's 11th of 20 rounds in the championship.

The top 16 qualifiers were separated by less than one second.

Substitute driver Memo Gidley ran the fastest laps of his career in this morning's practice, but a blown engine late in the session forced him to qualify in his backup car without the benefit of Toyota's single-sided-turbo qualifying motor. The Della Penna team successfully transferred Gidley's chassis setup to the backup car, but the lower horsepower of the non-optimized race motor permitted a qualifying speed of only 224.628 miles per hour, good enough for 20th position. 

Gidley's fastest lap in the morning practice was clocked at 233.010 which placed him in P10 at the time his Toyota engine blew. As he coasted onto pit lane, the young American driver told his team that the car was a "rocket ship," and the Della Penna crew worked feverishly in the ensuing two hours to install another qualifying motor in the #10 Direct-TV Toyota-Reynard-Firestone. 

Toyota has been running a special single-sided-turbo engine this weekend for qualifying, which produces at least ten additional horsepower. Unfortunately Gidley's backup car had a standard race motor with a double-sided turbo system that had not been boost-calibrated with the pop-off valve. Although frustrated by the lack of qualifying horsepower, Gidley enters tomorrow's race with a high level of confidence in the speed and stability of his race car. 

PacWest Racing’s Mark Blundell will lead the Mercedes-Benz runners.  Heclocked a time of 31.789 seconds at an average speed of 226.558mph on the first of his two flying qualifying laps and will start 17th on the grid – the highest placed of the five Mercedes-Benz runners in the field.   Mauricio Gugelmin, driver of the #17 Nextel PacWest Mercedes-Benz, set a time of 31.909 seconds at 225.559mph on his first qualifying lap and will start from 20th on the grid. 

Gugelmin actually set the world closed course speed record with an average lap of 240.942mph in his Mercedes-Benz-powered machine at the California Speedway in Fontana in 1997 when the Champ Cars ran with a much faster aerodynamic package.   Both Blundell and Gugelmin believe they have a good race package for tomorrow’s grueling 500 mile race – the first of two 500-mile endurance contests this season. 

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

PAUL TRACY, “It was a great run. I owe it to the Team KOOL Green engineering staff, especially Tino Belli, who has done a fantastic job with all the work they’ve done over the winter in the wind tunnel. I also have to thank Honda for the engine that they let me run here this weekend. It was a one-off special that was in my car and it obviously gave us enough power to outrun the Fords. We’ve been having a great weekend and it has a lot to do with our race in Toronto, getting the monkey off our back by finishing third. It’s nice to be on the pole and get an extra point, but we have to be there at the end tomorrow.   “I was surprised by the 234 (mph) lap by Michael (Andretti). When I went out, I heard on my radio that Michael did 234.6 and I thought that was pretty good. My last warm-up lap was a 234.4, so I knew that we had a little bit more speed in the car. The car slid a little bit in turns three in four on the first lap and scrubbed off a little speed. I made a sway-bar change and just let the car flow up the track. That freed it up and got the speed I needed.”  "My last warmup lap was 234.5 [miles per hour], and I thought that was pretty good. Then, on the first lap the car had a little push and it just slid up the track in Turn 3. On the second lap the car was planted in Turns 1 and 2 and I just let it slide up in 3 and 4 and got a 234.9 [mile per hour lap]. It definitely boosts the team up. Our qualifying has been disappointing, but our performance in the races has been good. I think [the race] is going to be faster than last year. Last year, we ran 224s and 225 [mile per hour laps]. I'm expecting 228s and 29s this year. We just need to settle in and run a good pace. If you're running in the lead pack, you won't have a choice but to get in the lead sometimes with these wings. It's great. We've been looking for a pole for a long time. It's just self-gratifying for the team."

MICHAEL ANDRETTI 
"It doesn't matter where you qualify here because you can win from any position but I am a little disappointed that we didn't get pole. It would have been nice to reward the guys with a pole. Especially since I haven't won a pole on an oval since 1992. We are very happy with the car. We unloaded fast. I thought my time would stick but then Paul went out and put a good lap together. I was impressed but disappointed. It would have been nice to get the point for the pole as well. Now all we have to keep in mind is finish, finish, finish. This race is a mental game. Now more so than ever with the Handford wing. You are racing wheel-to-wheel for three hours. You can't let your mind wander. You have to really be on it for three hours and you are exhausted after the race. It amazed me when Christian put up his time and then it stuck for a long time. I saw that and I knew we had a shot a pole since our cars are almost identical in set-up. I think all of us are surprised at how fast we went. I don't think there will be as much passing as there was in the previous races here but there will still be a lot." "[The speeds] just amazed me. When Christian put up his time, I thought, 'whoa.' I thought I'd be in pretty good shape because our setups are pretty identical, but then it [Fittipaldi's lap] held up for quite a while so I didn't know what the conditions were going to be like. The conditions were pretty good. There was a little wind, but not too bad. I had a lap that I thought would hold, but then Paul went out and did a blistering lap. I'm a little disappointed. It would have been nice to get my first pole on an oval in what seems like forever. But we've got a good car for the race. We've just got to think, 'finish, finish, finish,' and we'll be right there."
NOTES:
Andretti was second quickest in the morning practice session and therefore qualified second from last. He held pole position for a few moments before Paul Tracy ran his qualifying laps. His second place start is his highest so far this season after qualifying third in Toronto. He has won two 500-mile races in his career (1987 and 1989) and both came here at Michigan International Speedway. Although he has not competed in the Indy 500 since 1995, Andretti still holds the dubious honor of having led the most laps without a victory - a total of 356 laps. 

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI,   "I am very happy with the car. We had some small mechanical problems so I didn't get to run a lot either day but we knew we were happy with the car anyway. We had to keep switching the cars in the practice but we knew we were in good shape. I feel very optimistic about the race. We just need to stay toward the front until the last 20 or so laps and then go for it. It will be a long day tomorrow in the office. I think there will be a lot of passing tomorrow and a lot of dicing through the whole race. If you don't win and finish second, it is still a good result in a 500-mile race. We all just want to get out of here in one piece."  "The car felt good the whole weekend. When we came and tested before [the race in] Detroit, we only ran for a couple of hours because the car was already good. The car was good when we got here, but we had a few little problems in practice yesterday and again this morning. I wasn't worried about the lap, I just wanted to be in the top five. I didn't think the pole would be that quick. Tomorrow it's going to be a long day in the office. You just have to be patient. You could be running at the front in the beginning or in the middle and it doesn't say anything. The last ten laps are when it counts."
NOTES: Fittipaldi had a water leak in his radiator this morning and had to run both his racecar and his back-up car in the practice session, as he had to do on Friday. Despite limited track time, Fittipaldi was happy with the set-up on his racecar. In 500-mile races Fittipaldi's highlights include a second place in his first and only appearance in the 1995 Indy 500 where he was also named "Rookie of the Year." In his previous 500-mile race at the 1999 season-finale at the California speedway, Fittipaldi drove the fastest race lap and finished third in his fourth race back after suffering a subdural hemitoma when his transmission failed during an August 2nd testing accident at Gateway Intentional Raceway. 

DARIO FRANCHITTI, “Before the session the Team KOOL Green engineers and I were debating about how much wing to put in the car due to it being a little warmer this afternoon. I think they did a pretty good job because it was pretty near perfect. It’s a long race, so qualifying isn’t as important as it usually is. But it’s always good to be up near the front. We’ll put the setup back on that we used in practice, which I’m very happy with, and we should be in great shape for the race.   “A 500-mile race is very mentally taxing. For three-and-a-half hours you can’t make any mistakes. You can’t be an inch off line, you can’t get your car in the wrong position behind someone and you’re averaging laps of 230 mph – it’s pretty hard work.” 

MEMO GIDLEY, "The car is a lot better than it was yesterday- literally a night and day difference," explained Gidley. "It's fast, I can run in traffic, and I can race it. I ran with a lot of people this morning, trying different lines. I think people were a little surprised, they saw the red car and either thought they could pull up and pass me or they were going to pull away. Neither of those things happened, and [my competitors] were a little stunned at that. It was a good moment for the team." In pursuit of a full-time ride for the 2001 season, Gidley is eager to have the benefits of an ongoing relationship with a team. "I'm ready to get into a situation where I am with a team all year long and we can work together during a full schedule of testing."   "For example, this Della Penna team is capable of an excellent result," Gidley continued. "Remember, this team has never tested the 2000 car at Michigan Speedway. This weekend we developed a setup in two-and-a-half hours of track time that put us top-ten during this morning's practice. So if we could have rolled off the trailer with that baseline we would be so much farther ahead."  “We had a great car this morning, but then we lost the motor,” Gidley said. “The guys did an incredible job trying to get the primary car but out here for me, but we ran out of time and had to go with the backup. The backup was balanced real well, but it just wasn’t freed up enough to get the speed out of it that we were looking for. We certainly had the possibility of being in the top-ten. We’ll just have to pick them off tomorrow in the race.” “I found out about the ride (for this weekend) early in the week, which is pretty good by Gidley standards,” he said. “I brought my own seat into the shop, we made some pedal adjustments, and we’re off.” 

TONY KANAAN  “It’s very important for this race to have a good race car and I can safely say that we do. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find the speed to qualify further up the grid. But, above all, I’m feeling very comfortable in the car. It’s very neutral, and I’m able to go flat out all the way around the track. The car is very good in traffic. It’s a very long race, so the key will be to be patient and make the right changes as the conditions change during the race. You have to stay on the lead lap, and then go racing the final 50 laps and hope for the best. That’s what I did here last year and it worked out really well. It’s really good to be back, not only from my injury, but back at the track where I won my only (Champ Car) race. I’m feeling very good, physically. The arm is fine and the ribs haven’t been a problem. We just have to get through 500 miles safe and sound.” 

MARK BLUNDELL -   “I think that is probably the best we could have expected,” said Blundell. “I don’t really think there was much left in it. “I think we have a reasonable car for the race and we seem to run OK in traffic. “Tomorrow is a going to be a long, long day and we just have to ensure we are there at the end.” 

MAURICIO GUGELMIN   “My car was actually handling pretty well,” said Gugelmin. “It was glued to the ground all the way around the course and the set-up was fine. “We were flat out for the entire lap and I got as much out of my car as possible.” 

Oriol Servià,  “The car felt good, we had a little push, but the engine felt strong. I thought we would be much faster than we were. I think I have a better racecar than I do a qualifying car, so I am confident for tomorrow. This weekend has been a very good learning experience for me. I have never run a 500-mile race before, and certainly not in a Champ Car, so everything is new to me. I have really been studying, in order to be ready. I have been watching tapes and working with my engineer a lot. I want to make sure I am ready mentally, that is very, very important.” 

Cristiano da Matta,  “I am a little disappointed, because I thought we would be much faster, and of course I wanted to qualify much higher, especially after this morning’s practice. However, we have a very long race tomorrow, anything can happen in a 500-mile race. I don’t like to qualify 14th, but if it is going to happen, this is the right type of place for it. I think we might have been a little to conservative on the down on the downforce. We will look at the data, and make a few changes. I think we will have a very good race car for tomorrow.” 

WHAT'S NOTEWORTHY

· Paul Tracy's (KOOL Honda Reynard) pole position was the 13th of his career, the past six of which have come on ovals. Included in the run, in addition to Saturday's pole, are poles at Homestead, Nazareth and Milwaukee in 1996 and Nazareth and Milwaukee in '97.

· Tracy's pole was Honda's fifth in the past seven FedEx Championship Series events at Michigan Speedway. Included in the run are poles by Parker Johnstone (1995) and three by Jimmy Vasser (1996 U.S. 500, 1996 Marlboro 500, 1999 U.S. 500).

· By qualifying second, Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) has now improved on his previous season-best qualifying performance in three consecutive events. He was fourth at Cleveland and third at Toronto prior to Saturday. His previous season-best qualifying performance on an oval is sixth at Homestead.

· Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) has qualified among the top 10 drivers for nine of 11 FedEx Championship Series starts this season. Saturday's third-place effort was his second best of the season, exceeded only by second at Nazareth. 

· Coyne Racing rookie driver Takuya Kurosawa, airlifted earlier to Foote Hospital in Jackson for precautionary x-rays following an incident in Turn 3 during qualifying, was transferred to St. Joseph's Hospital in Ann Arbor for further evaluation. Dr. Steve Olvey, CART Director of Medical Affairs, said that Kurosawa was moved for additional tests to determine if he incurred any internal bruising. Olvey said Kurosawa is expected to be held overnight at St. Joseph's. Kurosawa, who was briefly unconscious following the incident, will not compete in Sunday's race.

WHAT'S ON TAP

Qualifying for the Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota will air 12:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, with ABC-TV's live race broadcast following at 1:30 p.m. ET. The race will also air live on the Armed Forces Radio Network, reaching 165 countries around the world, on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com .

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