De Ferran takes pole for Penske

Gil de Ferran surprised many people by taking the pole for Sunday's opening CART Champ car race in his first appearance with Team Penske. De Ferran's pole was the first for Penske in almost three years since Paul Tracy qualified fastest at Milwaukee in 1997. The Brazilian's Reynard-Honda beat defending champion Juan Montoya's Lola-Toyota to the pole by 0.006 of a second

De Ferran takes pole for Penske

"It's a fantastic feeling," de Ferran said. "We had a good test here and Nazareth recently and I thought we'd be in contention, but this is a little above my expectations. I guess this pole means a lot from many points of view. This team has had some tough times in the past few years and it's my first race with the team, so there's a lot of emotional significance. The team has been through a lot in the past couple of years and to pull this out is quite elating."

De Ferran underlined the hard work put in by Honda since Spring Training where it was clear Ford had an edge over Honda. "Never lose confidence in Honda, that's the way I look at it," de Ferran said. "At the beginning of last year it was the same thing. Honda didn't have the best engine, but they work with such diligence. Honda's ability to improve is remarkable."

The 32-year old Brazilian said he was confident about his chances in the race. "I feel relaxed to be honest, going into tomorrow," de Ferran said. "We have a good car and we'll see what happens. Hopefully, Juan won't bother me too much."

Montoya said he tried a little too hard on his second qualifying lap and made a mistake. "I pushed harder and made a mistake on my second lap in turns one and two," Montoya said. "That's what happens when you push hard. But I'm pretty happy. The car has been behaving really good in traffic, and Toyota is right there."

Montoya said he believes he's capable of scoring Toyota's first Champ car victory this year. "Toyota is right on the money basically. I'm looking forward to having my first win for Toyota this year. That's going to be a lot of fun."

Adrian Fernandez was third fastest in one of Patrick Racing's Reynard-Fords and also expressed the belief that he'll be capable of racing to win tomorrow. An impressive fourth in qualifying was rookie Alexandre Tagliani, followed by Kenny Brack, Michael Andretti and Roberto Moreno, all in Ford-powered cars. Brack, Andretti and Moreno also said they thought they would be able to fight to win tomorrow.

Among those to hit trouble on their qualifying runs were Max Papis, Tony Kanaan and Mark Blundell. Papis had a wild moment exiting turn four on the first of his two qualifying laps. Papis was able to catch a slide, coming within a few millimeters of brushing the wall, but the incident ruined his qualfying run so that he starts 13th. Kanaan was unable to get full boost on his qualifying run while Blundell crashed and had to jump into his spare car to make the field. Kanaan qualified fourteenth and Blundell 16th.

And Team Green continued to struggle as neither Paul Tracy nor Dario Franchitti could get their cars to handle well. Both complained that their cars were understeering badly while entering the corners and oversteering on the exit.

"We're struggling. There's no other word for it," Franchitti said. "We tried different set-ups for Paul and me today, but both of us are struggling. Physically, I feel fine. the only time I feel any pain is when I look at the time sheets. I feel great other than trying to get the car to go quicker. It's great to be back in the car, even if it's not going so good right now."

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