DENVER -- Michael Andretti and Bobby Rahal played showdown and Andretti pulled an ace to win the pole for today's Texaco-Havoline Grand Prix a little more than one minute before the end of yesterday's qualifying session.
Andretti set a track qualifying record with his lap of 79.631 mph, breaking the mark of 78.964 set by Teo Fabi last year in the inaugural event in the streets of downtown Denver.
Rahal went into the second of two days of time trials holding the provisional pole by virtue of a 78.747 mph lap he threw at the
field Friday. Andretti was the runner-up, well back at 78.146.
Things began slowly yesterday, with a power outage on the track shutting down the timing and scoring system five minutes into the 30-minute session. The power finally was restored after about 20 minutes.
Both Al Unser Jr., the defending race champion, and Emerson Fittipaldi moved past Andretti during the session, each holding the runner-up spot for a brief time.
But, when crunch time came on the 1.9-mile, 16-turn circuit, Andretti's Chevrolet-powered Lola was ready.
"It may not have been apparent in the times, but in the feel I knew we were making progress [during the session], and I expected to get it right with the last set [of qualifying tires],"
"Basically, it was a one-lap wonder," he added. "It just came together."
Rahal, whose first-day speed would have been good enough to hold the second position, gave it one last big effort, turning a lap of 79.395 in the final minute.
"We might have left a little late [out of the pits]," he said. "Usually, our third lap [on qualifying tires] is the fastest, but our second lap was it this time. We just ran out of time."
This was the fifth pole of the year for Andretti -- tying Rick Mears for the season lead -- and the 17th of his career. But, more important, it earned Andretti one point, cutting Rahal's PPG Cup lead to 23 going into today's 70-lap, 133-mile race.
Rahal, a two-time champion trying to keep Andretti from gaining his first title, said, "I guess if we're going to trade anything, we'll trade the one point [for winning the pole] for 20 [for winning the race]."
Looking ahead to the race, which has been shortened by 10 laps this year because of the relatively slow speeds on the tight, twisting street course, Andretti said: "The whole key to this race is trying to make the tires live. That's what we were working on [yesterday], and I believe we were making some good progress.
"The problems with overheating in the brakes and the engines is something that everybody has been working on since we ran here last year, so I don't think that is going to be a big problem, especially siNce the race is shorter.
"I'm still behind," Andretti added. "If Bobby's third and I'm second, I still have to go for the win because I have to get points."