De Ferran takes provisional pole

Penske teammates Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves outpaced the rest of the field in today's opening day of practice and qualifying at Mid-Ohio.

De Ferran takes provisional pole

De Ferran and Castroneves were faster than anyone else in an open test at this track two months ago and they showed that was no flash in the pan by setting the pace in both this morning's practice and this afternoon's qualifying.

The Penske teammates finished the day more than half a second quicker than the best of the rest.

Castroneves was fastest in the morning with de Ferran coming out on top this afternoon. The more experienced de Ferran edged his young teammate by 0.015 of a second although Castroneves was suffering from a virus and dehydration and went straight from his car to CART's medical center for an intravenous feeding. De Ferran's quick lap exactly equalled Dario Franchitti's track record set last year.

"I had a bit of a brake problem this morning," de Ferran said. "But this afternoon was good. I didn't get the best out of my first set of tyres because of a red flag but I got a good, clean run on my second set. But it's important to not get too excited. It's only Friday, and we're definitely going to be in the fours tomorrow if track and weather conditions remain the same."

De Ferran says Honda has made plenty of progress with its engine over the last few months. "We started the year with a good engine," de Ferran said. "But I think Honda has made more progress than anybody and I think Honda has the best engine now on power, driveability and maybe even fuel economy."

Penske's team leader emphasised that it was the complete package of handling, aerodynamics and power that made he and Castroneves so quick today. "We've got everything working," de Ferran commented. "The car is really handling well. We're trying not to overdrive it. It's so easy to do that here. Either you're right on the edge or completely sideways. It's either one or the other."

Castroneves ran only a handful of laps this morning. "I'm feeling pretty weak," he said. "I'm saving myself for qualifying." He was at the top of the times for most of the qualifying session only to get shaded by his teammate.

Obviously capable of qualifying near the front, Castroneves must get himself in shape for Sunday because the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course probably is the most technically and physically demanding track on the CART schedule.

Dario Franchitti impressed by qualifying third fastest today. Franchitti was the only man to threaten the Penske pair and finished the day almost two seconds faster than teammate Paul Tracy. Franchitti said his car handled as well today as it has on any road or street circuit all year.

"I didn't have any oversteer today," Franchitti said. "That's the first time this year I haven't had a loose car."

The Scotsman said he fought a handling problem today that he would not reveal. "The car really isn't too bad but we had a problem consistently that we haven't managed to get to the bottom of yet, and that hurt our performance. We had to work really hard to get what we had today. I don't think we could have got much more out of the car the way it was today, but I'm sure we'll make some improvements for tomorrow. I just hope it's enough."

Franchitti said he remains hopeful of producing some good results in the last third of the season. "Right now, finishing races is goal number one," Dario said. "Winning would be a pleasant change. I've got to keep pushing, keep the pressure on. We've got to keep going and hope for a break."

The Scotsman also spoke about the physical demands of the twisting, plunging Mid-Ohio track. "This is a very physical place, no doubt about it," Franchitti said. "Driving one of these cars is a lot more physical than driving a Formula 1 car. You have to push harder on the brakes and the steering is three times as heavy. And because the weight of the car is heavier, you really have to fight the car."

An impressive fourth fastest today was Christian Fittipaldi who did not race in Chicago two weeks ago following an accident on the opening day of practice. Fittipaldi tested briefly a Elkhart Lake last week before spending five days recuperating at home in Brazil.

"In racing we operate at 110 percent, and I'm 100 percent right now," Fittipaldi said. "I tested at Road America last week and I had some swelling in my back, but I am better now."

Fittipaldi said his car wasn't the best today. "I don't know how that lap was quick enough to be fourth fastest because I was all over the place. There has to be more in the car to catch the Penskes. I really want to finish the race on Sunday really, really high, really, really bad."

Last year's race winner Juan Montoya fought a tail-happy car to finish today in seventh behind Kenny Brack and Adrian Fernandez. "I know we can go quicker, but the back end was pretty loose this afternoon," Montoya said. "We were still making changes and ran out of time, but we're on the right track. We had a pretty good car right out this morning and now we just need to get it all balanced."

Chicago winner Cristiano da Matta was eighth today followed by championship leader Michael Andretti in ninth. "I think the car is good enough to be where Christian is but I got caught in traffic," Andretti said. "The car is pretty good. It may not be as good as the Penskes, but it's not bad. We just need to finish this race with some good points and continue on building a lead."

Among those in pretty deep trouble today was Roberto Moreno who is ranked second in championship points behind Andretti and ahead of de Ferran. Moreno struggled for speed most of the day and spun near the end of his qualifying session today damaging the underside of his car and engine. Moreno finished the day 22nd, almost three and a half seconds slower than pacesetter de Ferran.

Next live timing
Final qualifying: 18:45BST
Race: 19:00BST

First Qualifying Results

Gil de Ferran Penske Reynard-Honda 1m05.347s
Helio Castroneves Penske Reynard-Honda 1m05.362s
Dario Franchitti Green Reynard-Honda 1m05.971s
Christian Fittipaldi Newman-Haas Lola-Ford 1m06.131s
Kenny Brack Rahal Reynard-Ford 1m06.317s
Adrian Fernandez Patrick Reynard-Ford 1m06.472s
Juan Montoya Ganassi Lola-Toyota 1m06.534s
Cristiano da Matta PPI Reynard-Toyota 1m06.549s
Michael Andretti Newman-Haas Lola-Ford 1m06.627s
Mauricio Gugelmin PacWest Reynard-Mercedes 1m06.919s
Max Papis Rahal Reynard-Ford 1m07.018s
Oriol Servia PPI Reynard-Toyota 1m07.042s
Paul Tracy Green Reynard-Honda 1m07.246s
Jimmy Vasser Ganassi Lola-Toyota 1m07.277s
Patrick Carpentier Forsythe Reynard-Ford 1m08.245s
Tony Kanaan Mo Nunn Reynard-Mercedes 1m07.714s
Alex Tagliani Forsythe Reynard-Ford 1m07.817s
Mark Blundell PacWest Reynard-Mercedes 1m07.877s
Michel Jourdain Jr Bettenhausen Lola-Mercedes 1m08.256s
Shinji Nakano Walker Reynard-Honda 1m08.413s
Tarso Marques Coyne Swift-Ford 1m8.697s
Roberto Moreno Patrick Reynard-Ford 1m08.766s
Gualter Salles Coyne Lola-Ford 1m09.343s
Memo Gidley Della Penna Reynard-Toyota 1m09.623
Luiz Garcia Jr Arciero Project Reynard-Mercedes 1m12.142s

Castroneves fastest in first practice

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