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Rookie Barron Qualifies 15th but Later Loses Car in Crash

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dan Gurney’s Santa Ana-based All American Racers had an up-and-down day.

Rookie driver Alex Barron crashed after qualifying, but because the damage was so extensive, officials will allow Barron to use his backup car today without penalty.

Before the new Eagle chassis’ rear gave way and Barron crashed going into Turn 2, he reached 230.430 mph, good enough for 15th--the best qualifying position for AAR with a Toyota engine. Barron qualified ahead of series champion Alex Zanardi, Bryan Herta and rookie of the year Tony Kanaan. Barron’s time (31.699 seconds) on the two-mile oval missed the top 10 by 0.08 seconds.

“As it was, we were the fastest Toyota qualifier,” Gurney said. “Arciero-Wells Racing has some well-prepared Reynard cars, and when you can beat them, it’s indicative the car is pretty decent.

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"[The crash] is a setback, but with just a tiny bit of luck, we’ll be OK. The setups on these cars are pretty delicate on a high-speed oval. You can miss by one-twelfth of a turn on a spring strut and you may lose 3-4 mph, and a comfortable car can become pretty unfriendly.”

Barron had a sore knee, but was cleared to race today. Vincenzo Sospiri (224.543 mph), Gurney’s other driver, qualified 26th in the 28-car field.

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It was a disappointing day for Rancho Santa Margarita-based Arciero-Wells Racing. Orange’s Robby Gordon (228.170 mph) qualified 22nd, even though team manager Richard Buck said Gordon “was flat out [on the accelerator], so we’ll have to take a good look at the data.” Newport Beach’s Max Papis (227.452) was 24th.

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“Max’s warmup lap was 228.5 but he picked up a huge push on his first lap,” Buck said. “We went [immediately] after [Barron’s] crash, and that’s where it took place in Turn 2. We felt both cars were real good--that’s why I’m disappointed in today.”

Papis won the Budweiser Accelerator Award for having the greatest increase in speed from his first qualifying lap to his second. A donation to charity of $1,000 will be made in his name.

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Shigeaki Hattori of Laguna Niguel finished ninth in the Indy Lights Championship race. He won two races this season and finished 14th overall.

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