Nazareth qualifying report

The weather in Pennsylvania remained sunny and warm with strong winds whipping up through the afternoon. Fears of qualifying being cancelled by rain were cast aside and Juan Montoya once again stole the show by taking his first pole of the year and the second pole on record for Toyota. Scott Pruett took Toyota's first pole at the 1999 season-closing 500-mile race in California

Nazareth qualifying report

Montoya showed how competitive Chip Ganassi's new Lola-Toyota combination is at Homestead two weeks ago and CART's defending champion emphasised the point on Friday and Saturday at Nazareth. Montoya was fastest on Friday and Saturday morning, then went out and beat everyone again in qualifying. In fact, the young Colombian needed only one of two flying qualifying laps to take the pole, backing off and coasting into the pits after his first lap turned the trick.


"I think there was more potential in the car," Montoya said. "We could have put more wing in the car, but we were concerned about the wind and didn't want to put the handling over the edge. So we were a little conservative on our set-up and I think I drove a little too conservatively as well. There was a little more room to hang it out, but it turned out we didn't need it. I was surprised the wind didn't affect the car more.

"I could've gone quicker," Montoya added. "But I lifted and back-off after the first lap. I only needed that lap."

Montoya is very confident about the race. "The car has been good all weekend and I think we have a good set-up for the race," Juan said. "The Toyota has been good as well. We've had no problems at all with the engine this weekend. I think what happened at Homestead was a freak thing, and I feel very good about the car. We've been quick everywhere we've tested and we had some very good short oval tests. I think if anything, we might be a step ahead of everyone."

Second and third in today's qualifying were Christian Fittipaldi and Helio Castro-Neves with Ford and Honda powered respectively. Fittipaldi has been quick all weekend and produced the best oval track qualifying performance of his career and the first Lola front row since Long Beach in 1995 when Michael Andretti and Paul Tracy shared the front row. Christian has been quicker all weekend than Newman-Haas teammate Andretti who qualified a disappointing 15th today.

"I believe I could have gone quicker if I had gone a little more neutral on my set-up," Fittipaldi said. "Maybe I wasn't brave enough, but I think we could have put more front wing in. But I'm very happy to start in the top four. The top four or six is a big advantage here because it's going to be very tough to pass."

Many drivers believe they have cars capable of racing to win tomorrow, including Castro-Neves and Paul Tracy who will share the second row of the grid, Gil de Ferran and Kenny Brack who start from row three, and Robrto Moreno and Tony Kanaan from row four.

Among those who were disappointed with their qualifying runs were Jimmy Vasser, Michael Andretti, and Max Papis. Vasser blew an engine near the end of his first qualifying lap and will start eleventh while Andretti has struggled all weekend here a his home track and went backwards today, qualifying half a second off Montoya's pace. Homestead winner Papis qualified directly behind Andretti in 16th, but while Andretti is not very confident about being competitive in tomorrow's race, both Vasser and Papis believe they can work their way towards the front.

Dario Franchitti qualified 14th and also believes he has a car capable of racing well if not a potential winner. "We did our race set-up on Friday and we were reasonably happy with that," Franchitti said. "Our car may not be the best but we're in much better shape than at Homestead."

The most important factor in tomorrow's race will be the weather conditions which are expected to be much cooler than today, by as much as thirty degrees F. Rain is forecast to fall most of the night, turning to cold rain and possibly even wet snow early on Sunday morning. The front is supposed to pass through by mid-morning so it looks likely that the race will take place, but a dramatic change in the weather will play havoc with the set-ups of many of the teams.

"It will be interesting with the cold weather," Montoya said. "It will be the same for everybody, but it will be interesting to see who makes the best guesses on set-up."

Only 22 cars will start Sunday's race following the withdrawal of Luis Garcia's Arceiro Racing Group Reynard-Mercedes. Garcia was more than five second off the pace aboard a 1999 Reynard and the team decided to withdraw before they were cut from the field for being too slow.

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