It's final: Unser has pole for first time at Indy 500

May 16, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS — INDIANAPOLIS -- Emerson Fittipaldi had just completed his final qualifying run for the Indianapolis 500 yesterday. As he walked toward his team's garage, his teammate, Al Unser Jr., was coming the other way.

"I'm happy for you," Fittipaldi told Unser. "And I'm happy for me. I'm on the front row, too."

For two weeks, Fittipaldi had been favored to win the pole for the Indianapolis 500.

His best speed in practice was recorded at 230 mph. But it is Unser who will be in the No. 1 spot for the May 29 race.

Unser had claimed the provisional pole Saturday, with a four-lap qualifying average of 228.011 mph in his Marlboro Penske/Mercedes V8, and it stood up.

Fittipaldi was in the group of drivers forced by rain to wait until yesterday for their shot at the pole.

Warm, windy weather made the track slower than it had been Saturday.

"The conditions were not good," Fittipaldi said. "After the first lap [227.987], I knew it would be very tough."

Fittipaldi averaged 227.303, good enough to put him on the outside of the front row.

Brazilian Raul Boesel, in his Duracell Charger (227.618), will start in the middle.

This is first time Unser has captured the pole in this or any other 500 race.

"This means a great deal to me and the team and Mercedes, who hadn't been here since 1915," said Unser. "Now the first time they're back, they get the pole. Our team has two cars on the front row and for myself, I'd say I was really lucky."

Mario Andretti, in qualifying for his last Indy 500, found his Kmart Texaco Havoline Newman/Haas Racing Lola also effected by the weather.

"I almost hit the first-turn wall a little bit in the morning practice, because of the conditions," said Andretti, who wound up on the outside of the third row with 223.503 mph. "I know I had a real shot at the front row Saturday. But today [yesterday] there was no fooling ourselves. I wanted clouds, but how are you going to order that? I ordered. No one answered.

"The system is not fair to set the field, because the conditions can change from day to day. But we've got to live with it. Probably, with so many cars, it can't be made fair."

Fittipaldi said his car was put so out of balance by the hot, windy weather that he was afraid he

wouldn't even make the front row. "I radioed to Roger [Penske, team owner] to ask if we could call it off and wait until later this afternoon," Fittipaldi said. "But he said no. He said we had to go now. It was our only chance and we went."

NOTES: The rear-end of Scott Goodyear's Lola/Ford Cosworth XB came loose coming out of Turn 4 during late afternoon practice. He spun, slammed hard into the wall leading into the pits, ricocheted into the inside pit wall, bounced off and hit it again. He was taken to Methodist Hospital for X-rays of his back. He was later released in good condition. He will have a checkup today before resuming practice . . . . When Fittipaldi took the third spot in the starting field yesterday, Lyn St. James, who qualified at 224.154 mph, was pushed from fifth to sixth, the outside of Row 2. That meant PPG Indy Car champion Nigel Mansell, who had been bumped one spot by St. James on Saturday, will start on the inside of Row 3.

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