Elkhart Lake: De Ferran top in first qualifying

Championship rivals Gil de Ferran and Michael Andretti battled for the provisional pole on FrIday at the magnificent 4.0-mile Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. De Ferran edged Andretti by 0.009s, with Dario Franchitti and rookie Alex Tagliani also qualifying within one-tenth of a second of the Brazilian

Elkhart Lake: De Ferran top in first qualifying

With seven races to go, Andretti and de Ferran are locked in a battle for this year's FedEx Championship. Andretti leads de Ferran by nineteen points, 125 to 106, as CART's two most successful teams, Newman-Haas and Penske, appear to have taken centre stage in this year's championship battle - and the title duellists confirmed their roles at Road America on Friday. De Ferran was particularly impressive, setting fastest time despite having to sit-out the final eight minutes of today's qualifying session because he caused a red flag at the conclusion of last Saturday's final qualifying at Mid-Ohio.

"Obviously, things are going very well," said de Ferran who finished second to team mate Helio Castroneves at Mid-Ohio last weekend. "At this point, we're not taking anything for granted. It's super, super close. Even on a 4.0-mile racetrack like this, there's nothing between us.

"The car is very good," de Ferran added about his Reynard-Honda. "It's working really well, but we've got to think about making it better tomorrow and try to stay on the pole."

De Ferran said he's not thinking only about Andretti. "I don't feel I'm racing so much Michael as I am at least six other guys. There's at least six guys who can run at the front at any race, or win any race, and we've just got to race against all-comers, rather than just thinking about Michael."

Andretti said his Lola-Ford is working more to his satisfaction than at Mid-Ohio last weekend. "We definitely have a better car than at Mid-Ohio," Michael said. "I think we can keep the Penskes more honest this weekend. My only problem today was that I didn't get a clear lap on my second set of tyres. We definitely have more left."

The Newman-Haas driver said he's still thinking of trying to win as many races as possible rather than adopt a conservative approach. "I think it's too early to be conservative. There are too many points out there to get. We have to continue what we've been doing. We have to keep pushing, keep pushing. Maybe I'll take a different approach later in the year, but not yet."

As he was at Mid-Ohio, Dario Franchitti may be the primary spoiler in this weekend's Newman-Haas versus Penske party. Franchitti was very close to the pace on Friday and believes he can challenge de Ferran and Andretti on Saturday.

"We had a pretty good day," Franchitti said. "We made some improvements but ran out of time at the end of the day. We hope to get closer to these guys tomorrow. But I'm sure they'll raise the bar into the '39s."

Rookie Tagliani was impressive in qualifying fourth, just a tick behind Franchitti. Mid-Ohio winner Castroneves qualified eighth behind Adrian Fernandez, Chrisitian Fittipaldi and Mauricio Gugelmin, with Kenny Brack and Juan Montoya completing the top 10. As at Mid-Ohio, Montoya and team mate Jimmy Vasser fought ill-handling cars qualifying 10th and 16th on Friday.

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Elkhart Lake preview: reach for the superlatives!
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Franchitti beats Penskes to Road America pole

Franchitti beats Penskes to Road America pole
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