Tagliani snatches Rio pole

Alex Tagliani became the first rookie to take pole position in this year's CART Championship Series, pipping reigning champion Juan Montoya in a dramatic qualifying session in Rio de Janeiro

Tagliani snatches Rio pole

Tagliani has finished in the points every time out so far in 2000 and came close to winning at Homestead. He has been a pacesetter all weekend in Brazil and always looked a likely contender for pole position. His explosive arrival on the CART scene is almost as impressive as the impact the late Greg Moore, Tagliani's predecessor in the lead Player's/Forsythe entry, made on his debut in 1996.

'I'm very happy, my Player's/Forsythe team really deserve this,' he said. 'It was easy to stay up front, the car has got better and better every time we've been out this weekend.

'The guys did a great job. It's all a matter of having a good car and putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. I could have won in Homestead but I made a rookie mistake, so I owe the team one.'

Montoya will line up on the outside of the front row. Winner here last year and fastest in Friday practice, the Columbian looked to be heading for pole until a mistake forced him to abandon his second lap.

'I got a little too excited, I was really loose in turn one and knew the lap was gone,' he said afterwards. 'But this was the first time all weekend that we've run on new tyres and we were quick, so tomorrow should be good.'

Series leader Paul Tracy starts third for Team KOOL Green, and was pleased to be closer to the front having had to fight through from 17th in the first two races. His team-mate Dario Franchitti also made progress after a difficult start to the year. He put Tracy's settings on the car before qualifying having struggled in practice.

'We're getting there,' said a relieved Franchitti. 'We haven't had much testing so we're just building up mileage in the races. Paul's doing a great job out front and I'm just getting back up to my level.'

Kenny Brack was fourth for Team Rahal, the second highest rookie, while the top five was completed by Christian Fittipaldi, the fastest Brazilian. The Newman-Haas driver was roared on by the enthusiastic crowd as he briefly took pole position before the times tumbled as the final runners came out.

'I'll be in the hunt tomorrow, no doubt about it,' Fittipaldi promised his fans.

Jimmy Vasser was an unobtrusive sixth in the second Ganassi car ahead of Helio Castro Neves, whose Penske team-mate Gil de Ferran was only 13th. The two Brazilians had high hopes on home ground but neither was totally happy with the set-up and both felt that they could have got more out of the car.

Tony Kanaan was by far the fastest Mercedes runner in ninth, and said that his new Mo Nunn Racing team was definitely on the way up.

'We have a lot more to come,' he said. 'Mercedes have got new parts on the way and me and Mo are getting closer and working together really well. It's only going to get better.

'Tomorrow I'm just going to look after the fuel and listen to Mo on the radio a lot!'

Max Papis was slightly disappointed to only line-up tenth fastest while the two 'supersubs' had contrasting fortunes. Memo Gidley was relieved to be 11th in the second Player's car after a difficult practice day, but Walker Racing's Bryan Herta was only 20th, despite his car 'feeling okay.'

Also in trouble was Michael Andretti, a poor 15th and baffled as to why his Lola-Ford works so well in races but cannot qualify in the top half of the field.

Both Cristiano da Matta and Norberto Fontana had to qualify on a second run after mechanical problems at the first attempt. They will line-up 17th and 18th respectively.

The PacWest pair reached possibly their lowest ebb in a fairly bleak run. Mauricio Gugelmin had both understeer and oversteer on the way to 21st, while Mark Blundell was gutted to only line-up 23rd.

'It's just got so much understeer,' he complained. 'We either hit the concrete or go backwards. I did a 39.5s lap on old tyres in practice and then we put on new tyres and we're screwed. I don't know what to do and I'm really upset about it.'

Luiz Garcia Jr was well off the pace in the Arciero Project entry, mainly because he has only had around 30 laps in his new 2000-spec Reynard. He still fared better than Gualter Salles, who missed qualifying because the Dale Coyne Racing team were still trying to repair his Lola after he crashed heavily yesterday. They hope to be back out in time for the race.

Qualifying times from Rio:

1 A Tagliani Player's Reynard-Ford 38.587s
2 J Montoya Ganassi Lola-Toyota 38.696s
3 P Tracy KOOL Green Reynard-Honda 38.843s
4 K Brack Rahal Reynard-Ford 38.876s
5 C Fittipaldi Newman-Haas Lola-Ford 38.879s
6 J Vasser Ganassi Lola-Toyota 38.943s
7 H Castro Neves Penske Reynard-Honda 39.985s
8 D Franchitti KOOL Green Reynard-Honda 39.026s
9 T Kanaan Mo Nunn Reynard-Mercedes 39.101
10 M Papis Rahal Reynard-Ford 39.227s
11 M Gidley Player's Reynard-Ford 39.246s
12 R Moreno Patrick Reynard-Ford 39.265s
13 G de Ferran Penske Reynard-Honda 39.298s
14 O Servia PPI Reynard-Toyota 39.306s
15 M Andretti Newman-Haas Lola-Ford 39.340s
16 A Fernandez Patrick Reynard-Ford 39.391s
17 C da Matta PPI Reynard-Toyota 39.419s
18 N Fontana Della Penna Reynard-Toyota 39.504s
19 T Kurosawa Dale Coyne Lola-Ford 39.590s
20 B Herta Walker Reynard-Honda 39.620s
21 M Gugelmin PacWest Reynard-Mercedes 39.682s
22 M Jourdain Jr Bettenhausen Lola-Mercedes 39.856s
23 M Blundell PacWest Reynard-Mercedes 40.073s
24 L Garcia Jr Arciero Project Reynard-Mercedes 41.053s
25 G Salles Dale Coyne Lola-Ford no time

Rio qualifying highlights

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