Grand Prix’s Speed: From Fast to Faster


The more CART rule makers try to slow their cars, the faster the engineers make them go.

New rules reducing turbocharge boost from 45 to 40 inches and taking an estimated 30% off the aerodynamic down-force was expected to cut horsepower from around 900 to 800.

So what did the drivers do Friday in the first day of qualifying for Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach?

Five of them bettered Gil De Ferran’s course record of 109.639 mph around the eight-turn street circuit. De Ferran himself had the fastest lap of 111.313, earning the provisional pole in Derrick Walker’s Reynard-Honda.


Last year, De Ferran was driving for Jim Hall, but with Hall retired, the Paris-born Brazilian has switched to Walker’s team.

“We took a little bit from what we learned last year, and a little bit from what we learned last week in Australia and put together our package for Long Beach, and we are quite happy with the results,” De Ferran said. “We also worked extremely hard over the winter, but a race lasts the whole weekend, though, and we hope for better results than last year.”

Last year, De Ferran led 100 of the first 101 laps after starting from the pole, only to drop out when an exhaust hose disconnected from his turbocharger, allowing Jimmy Vasser to take the victory over Parker Johnstone.

Vasser, defending CART PPG Cup World Series champion, appeared to be still suffering from a Wednesday attack of food poisoning and managed only a lap of 108.059 mph in Chip Ganassi’s Team Target Reynard-Honda.

Another session, which traditionally produces even faster times, is scheduled for today at noon. Starting positions for Sunday’s 105-lap, 166.53-mile will be determined by the fastest of the two sessions.

If the standings remain the same, it will be the end of Alex Zanardi’s amazing string of six poles in a row and 10 consecutive front-row starts. Zanardi, in Ganassi’s other car, stands third at 110.133.


“It has to happen eventually, maybe tomorrow, but I am confident we can make it run better tomorrow,” Zanardi said. “Hopefully, the streak will continue.”

Mauricio Gugelmin is second at 110.341 in a Reynard-Mercedes.

“I’m a little bit surprised with the lap Gil did, but I believe I know where he is working well,” Gugelmin said. “Tomorrow, there will be so much more rubber on track, today will be almost irrelevant.”

Because the track was remeasured and found to be slightly shorter, 1.586 miles instead of 1.59 miles, all speeds are first-time records.

Bobby Rahal and Bryan Herta, in a pair of Rahal-owned Reynard-Ford Cosworths, are fourth and fifth at 109.758 and 109.654, respectively.

Competition between the Firestone and Goodyear tire companies and extensive engine work by Ilmor Mercedes and Ford Cosworth in overcoming the advantage Honda appeared to have at this time last year were given as the reasons speeds continue to climb.

“We’re making progress every time out in the car, and we were about half a second faster than this morning,” Rahal said. “Goodyear is coming up with a good tire, and of course I’m very pleased with the Ford engine.


“Coming here to Long Beach is more than just a race, it’s a happening. This Friday crowd is like most Saturday crowds.”

Michael Andretti and Scott Pruett, winners of the two earlier races at Homestead, Fla., and Surfers Paradise, Australia, had disappointing starts. Andretti, in the new Cosworth-powered Swift chassis, is eighth at 109.383 and Pruett is 10th at 109.208.

“We thought the car would be pretty good when we put it on the track, but we seem to be struggling a little bit,” Pruett said of his Reynard-Cosworth. “Having won on a road course in Australia last week, it’s unfortunately not just as simple as dropping the same car back on the track.

“There are asphalt changes--conditions of a single race track change over a weekend--and even the weather plays a part in varying the formula.”

Andretti echoed the thought of nearly all drivers, saying that “tomorrow will change a lot of things.”

Roberto Moreno, Andretti’s new Newman-Haas teammate who replaced the injured Christian Fittipaldi, impressed with a 108.356-mph lap that was good for 12th position. Fittipaldi suffered leg injuries in last week’s race.


“The car feels really good, but I need some time to get used to it,” Moreno said. “The car is so different. I can brake much later than usual, which will take some time to get used to. The power is unbelievable.

“This whole package is a new ballgame altogether. It’s great.”


The Facts

* WHAT: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, race No. 3 of CART PPG Cup World Series.

* WHERE: Oceanside streets of Long Beach.

* WHEN: Today--8 a.m., practice; noon, CART qualifying; 1:45 p.m., pro-celebrity race; 3:45 p.m., Toyota Atlantic series race. Sunday--10:30 a.m., Indy Lights race; 1 p.m., Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach; 3:40 p.m., Super Touring race.

* PURSE: No prize money announced.

* ATTENDANCE: Estimated 85,000 to 100,000 on Sunday.

* TICKETS: Grandstands sold out. General admission--$40 for three days, $32 for Sunday only, $25 for today. Tickets available daily at four booths on Ocean Boulevard, on north side of racing circuit, and at TicketMaster outlets.

* TV: CART Grand Prix, Channel 7, 3 p.m (delayed); Indy Lights, ESPN2, 4 p.m. (delayed).