Brazilian clinches pole for Indy 500

Junqueira's 231.342 mph survives long wait

three countrymen in top 5, too

May 12, 2002|By Ed Hinton | Ed Hinton,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

INDIANAPOLIS - The pole for the Indy 500 was settled in the first five minutes of qualifying yesterday. Bruno Junqueira was first onto the track, went the fastest anyone would go all day, and that was that.

All that remained was "the longest seven hours of my life," the 25-year-old Brazilian said of waiting out all the attempts to surpass his four-lap average speed of 231.342 mph.

Robbie Buhl came closest, 231.033, and was the only American to break up a Brazilian sweep of four of the first five starting spots for the May 26 race - all at more than 230.

Veteran Raul Boesel was third fastest at 230.613, followed by Felipe Giaffone at 230.326 and Tony Kanaan at 230.253.

"This race is very big in Brazil," Junqueira said of the event that first piqued national interest there when Emerson Fittipaldi won it in 1989. "But four drivers in the top five will make it even bigger."

Paradoxically missing from even the top 10 were the two Brazilians who finished 1-2 in the 500 last year, winner Helio Castroneves and his Penske teammate, Gil de Ferran, who qualified 13th and 14th.

Castroneves, who'd been fastest in Friday's practice at more than 232 mph, couldn't understand what went wrong.

"Compared with what we've been doing all week, it's like, `Oh, boy, where did the speed go?' " he said.

"This is a track you can never predict - one that's very difficult to understand," he said of the storied rectangular facility built in 1909 for cars that ran about 70 mph. A chilly, bleak day with intermittent drizzle also kept teams guessing about the track surface.

"But I can't be disappointed," Castroneves added, "because we're in the race, and May 26 is going to be the day that counts."

Junqueira is the latest project driver in the de facto farm system in which team owner Chip Ganassi grooms young drivers for Britain's Williams Formula One team until team owner Frank Williams is ready to put them on the glamorous Grand Prix circuit.

The first such driver Ganassi brought to Indy was Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia in 1999. Montoya won the 500 easily, then went off to Europe with Williams the following year.

Ganassi's other two drivers suffered from changing track conditions even worse than the Penske drivers did. Canadian Jeff Ward was 15th at 228.557 mph, and 1999 Indy 500 winner Kenny Brack of Sweden had an even more disappointing run, 21st at 227.240.

Why the big drop-off from Junqueira to his teammates? "We just didn't give them the cars to get to the front," Ganassi said.

A Ganassi driver hadn't won the pole here since Arie Luyendyk in 1993, and the circumstances then were far less nerve-racking for Ganassi, he said.

"When we did it here with Luyendyk, it was at the end of the day - we were the hunters rather than the hunted," Ganassi said.

But this time, Junquiero was all done at 11:05 a.m., and the rest of the day was spent waiting and watching.

"It was really a long wait," said Junqueira. "I went to the motor home, I went to the truck, I went to the garage, I went to the pit lane, and went back again."

Sarah Fisher, 21, became the fastest female ever in the Indy 500, at 229. 439 - good enough for the ninth starting spot. Fisher outqualified every former 500 winner present, except for `98 victor Eddie Cheever, who was sixth fastest at 229.786.

Two-time 500 champion Al Unser Jr. was 12th, and `96 winner Buddy Lazier 20th.

Two-time winner Luyendyk failed to complete a qualifying run and will try again when qualifying resumes Sunday.

Ed Hinton is a reporter for The Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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