Originally created 07/11/98

Vasser takes provional pole at Cleveland

CLEVELAND -- For a while Friday, Jimmy Vasser's crew was lost, unable to figure out a way to get real speed out of his Honda-powered Reynard.

There was no give-up in his Target-Chip Ganassi crew, though. Doing a little guessing and hoping, along with a lot of work, they helped put Vasser on the provisional pole for Sunday's Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland.

"We had some major problems in the morning (practice)," Vasser said after grabbing the top spot in the first round of time trials with a record-setting lap of 134.385 mph. "We came here with a (chassis) set-up not very conducive to the circuit.

"We destroyed the tires in the morning and knew we were in trouble."

So Vasser's crew looked for help from his teammate, CART FedEx Series champion and defending race winner Alex Zanardi.

"We took most of what he was doing, some of what we were doing, just threw it at the car and it was fantastic," Vasser said.

The fast lap, which broke Zanardi's record of 133.048, set last year on the 2.106-mile, 10-turn Burke Lakefront Airport road course, came on Vasser's last lap. It knocked Bryan Herta's 133.181 off the top spot.

"I got a front row seat for that one," said Herta, who drives a Reynard-Ford. "I was following him on that lap. He was inching away from me pretty good and I thought, `I'm on a good lap and he's pulling away. That's going to be a good one.' It was."

CART officials used orange safety cones on some areas of the course to keep the drivers from short-cutting the corners. But some of the cones were scattered onto the track.

"There were a couple of them right in the racing line," Vasser said. "One was in a particularly bad spot, a very fast place. You had to keep tiptoeing around it. But, my last lap, I put one together and, lo and behold, that one cone was gone right in a place where you can make up some speed."

Both the drivers on the provisional front row said they expect speeds to climb even more Saturday in the final round of qualifying.

If Vasser can hold the top position, it will be his sixth career pole and first road course pole since leading qualifying in Cleveland in 1996.

Dario Franchitti was third at 132.990, with Zanardi -- the current series points leader and winner of two straight races and three of the past four -- next at 132.936. Both were in Reynard-Hondas.

Mark Blundell was fifth at 132.920, followed by Paul Tracy at 132.901, Michael Andretti at 132.764, Mauricio Gugelmin at 132.236 and Gil de Ferran at 132.187.

De Ferran, who won here in 1996 and finished second to Zanardi last year, was one of the favorites to lead Friday's qualifying, but had problems with a sticking throttle cable.

Cars on Firestone tires dominated the session, taking the top six positions and 11 of the top 14. Goodyear's fastest entry was Andretti.

"I can get maybe another tenth (of a second) out of the car, but that's it," said Andretti, the 1991 Cleveland winner. "Everything was perfect with the car, so I don't know what else we can do.

"The track will get quicker tomorrow, and so will everyone else. I hope we can come up with more than a tenth of a second or we will be farther back than seventh."


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