Originally created 07/12/98

Vasser holds onto pole at Cleveland



CLEVELAND -- Despite the speculation about what they will be doing next year, Jimmy Vasser and teammate Alex Zanardi are taking care of business right now -- and enjoying it.

Vasser, who led first-day qualifying for the Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland, held onto the pole Saturday despite failing to improve on his record-setting lap of 134.385 mph Friday.

But Zanardi, the defending race winner, moved up a position to third. In between the teammates at the front of the 28-car field was Dario Franchitti.

Zanardi, who was fourth Friday, improved to 133.658, while Franchitti, who was third Friday, jumped to 133.868.

At the post-qualifying press conference, Vasser and Zanardi sat side-by-side, poking fun at each other and looking like buddies without a care in the world.

With Vasser on the pole for the second time this season and the sixth time in his Champ car career, Zanardi wasn't going to let his teammate bask in his success too long.

"I'll probably get by him in turn one and go from there," Zanardi said, grinning.

Vasser, also smiling, responded by throwing a wadded up piece of paper at Zanardi.

But there is a more serious undercurrent. Vasser and Zanardi are in the final year of their contracts with Target-Chip Ganassi Racing, and the two most recent champions in the CART FedEx Series are certainly in demand.

Zanardi, the defending PPG Cup champion and current series leader, is mulling offers from at least two Formula One teams, while Vasser, the 1997 series winner, is being courted by several CART teams.

Ganassi is trying hard to re-sign both of his talented drivers. Meanwhile, they keep on winning. Between them, heading into Sunday's race, Zanardi and Vasser have won six of the nine races this season, including the last four.

"It's not a distraction for me," Vasser said of the job hunt and accompanying speculation. "I try to focus on racing. If I can do well in the race car, everything else will take care of itself."

Zanardi, who has won four times this season, including three of the last four races and the last two, said, "It's true I don't have a job yet for next year ... but I've been talking to people for more than a month and I've still been winning races."

Asked if he was surprised his first-day lap held up for the pole, Vasser said, "That's exactly what happened here in `96 when I won the pole.

"You never know about track conditions until you get out there," he said. "Today, I sat in the pits for a while to see how Alex, Dario and Bryan (Herta) would do, what kind of lap times they would be doing. It didn't seem like people were improving that much, so we just went out for a few laps to see if we could improve our car."

Vasser, whose pole-winning lap time was 56.417-seconds, added, "Then I heard Alex and Dario both got down into the 56s and I tried to get in a couple of fast laps. I was pushing on my last lap and I fell off the road, so it wasn't a quick one. But, fortunately, it didn't matter."

Herta fell from second to fourth despite improving to 133.556. Franchitti's teammate, Paul Tracy, was fifth at 133.354, followed by Mark Blundell at 132.920 and Michael Andretti at 132.908.