The Penske team continued to show top form in Portland as last week's Detroit winner Helio Castroneves beat teammate Gil de Ferran to the pole for Sunday's Champ car race in Oregon. Castroneves shaded de Ferran by less than a tenth of a second as the pair battled back and forth for the pole.
"I think everybody saw how happy I was at the last race," Castroneves said. "It's fantastic for the entire team. We are looking very strong. We'be been quick at every track we've been to in the last month or two. We've been working really hard. It didn't just fall out of the sky."
Castroneves says he expects Sunday's race to be very difficult. The race has been lengthened by 14 laps to 112 or a 2h15m time limit.
"The race is going to be tough," he said. "The tyres are going to go off pretty quick. With the race distance extended it's going to be a three-stop race. You're going to have to take care of the equipment and be patient."
A thorough track-cleaning last night dramatically improved the track surface today. The drivers complained loudly about track conditions on Friday but everyone was much happier today.
"It's a huge change," de Ferran said. "The track was in very strange condition yesterday afternoon. Today it was more normal."
De Ferran won here last year by adopting a different pit strategy than everyone else. He decided in the middle of the race to richen his fuel mixture and make a late-race pit stop rather than run conservatively on fuel. De Ferran said it's possible he could adopt the same strategy tomorrow.
"I think the key issue here is not so much the length of the race but whether you have a yellow near the end," de Ferran said. "That's what creates that option and with a longer race it's less critical. But that situation could still occur."
Roberto Moreno completed a Brazilian one-two-three in qualifying while Dario Franchitti once again qualified well in fourth ahead of Kenny Brack, Christian Fittipaldi and an impressive Oriol Servia. Juan Montoya struggled for speed today, qualifying eighth just over half a second slower than polewinner Castroneves. This was the first time this year Montoya has not qualified in the top three. Teammate Jimmy Vasser qualified almost a full second slower in 14th.
Meanwhile, most of the talk in Portland this weekend has been about Bobby Rahal's election last week in Detroit as CART's new 'interim' president and CEO. CART's co-founder Pat Patrick said this weekend that he believes Rahal is the perfect man to run CART. Michigan oilman Patrick founded CART in partnership with Roger Penske in 1978 and continues to exert considerable influence in the organisation.
"I think Bobby will do an excellent job," Patrick said. "He is very experienced, and he's a racer, and that's the kind of guy we need running this company. We use the word 'interim', and that is what he is right now for the company, and I only have one vote, but I would vote to keep him if he is willing."
Patrick said he believes it's time an owner rather than an outside manager took control of CART. "I'm a sincere believer that if you run this operation you have to be an insider," Patrick commented. "And Bobby is an insider. I think it's going to be an excellent opportunity for us to find out if an owner really can run the organisation, or an ex-owner. I think we're going to have a happy marriage here."
There's been criticism from some quarters that having a team owner run the organisation creates a conflict of interest, but Patrick vigorously refuted that idea. "I see absolutely no conflict with Bobby. He doesn't promote races, or sell cars, or engines"
Patrick emphasised that Rahal accepted CART's top job with great reluctance. "Let's be clear on one point Bobby did not want to do this job," Patrick said. "It took a lot of arm-twisting. I think a lot of Bobby Rahal. He just knows the whole thing, the whole business, and I hope that he will decide to take on the job for the longterm.
"My biggest concern," Patrick added, "is that six months from now, Bobby is going to say, 'I don't want to do this anymore.'. He has a young family, he has a race team, and he has other business interests. It's tough with everyone pulling on you trying to get your attention."
Rahal said he is focusing on the job at hand rather than wondering about who might replace him in four or six months. "As I've said to
many people, I have a lot of work to do," Rahal said. "I am excited to do it. It is a tremendous challenge, but I think our goals are achievable and we have got a great board.
"So right now, I have just got my head down and what happens three, four, or five months from now, well that sort of happens. I think certainly the board will consider having arrangements with an executive search firm to look for the right person."
Rahal said he agrees with Patrick that someone from within the sport must run CART. "I personally believe that this position calls for someone with racing experience as a promoter or somebody within the industry who has run the business side as well as understands the supporting side. I think it is important to have somebody with experience at the helm. That is my personal view and we will see as we discuss this going into the future and if the right guy shows up on the doorstep.
"I am sure there are a bunch of resumes already sitting there and we will see what happens," Rahal added. "But for me, personally, I have just got my head down. We are just going to work hard here."
1, Helio Castroneves (Penske), 57.738s
2, Gil De Ferran (Penske), 57.820s
3, Roberto Moreno (Patrick), 57.977s
4, Dario Franchitti (Green), 58.059s
5, Kenny Brack (Rahal), 58.098s
6, Christian Fittipaldi (Newman-Haas), 58.115s
7, Oriol Servia (PPI Motorsports), 58.163s
8, Juan Montoya (Ganassi), 58.296s
9, Cristiano da Matta (PPI), 58.487s
10, Adrian Fernandez (Patrick), 58.540s
11, Michael Andretti (Newman-Haas), 58.619s
12, Patrick Carpentier (Forsythe), 58.659s
13, Max Papis (Rahal), 58.864s
14, Mauricio Gugelmin (PacWest), 59.214s
15, Jimmy Vasser (Ganassi), 59.269s
16, Alex Tagliani (Forsythe), 59.352s
17, Mark Blundell (PacWest), 59.382s
18, Paul Tracy (Green), 59.472s
19, Tarso Marques (Coyne), 59.572s
20, Michel Jourdain Jr (Bettenhausen), 59.624s
21, Bryan Herta (Mo Nunn), 59.746s
22, Shinji Nakano (Walker Racing), 1m00.014s
23, Luiz Garcia Jr (Fast Racing), 1m00.061s
24, Norberto Fontana (Della Penna), 1m00.187s