Boys from Brazil invade front of Indy pack
Monday, May 13th 2002, 12:00 am
News On 6
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ First, there was Emerson Fittipaldi. Now there is a whole contingent of boys from Brazil, and most of them are at the front of the Indianapolis 500 field.
Bruno Junquiera led the pack by winning the pole on the first day of qualifying at Indianapolis, with a speed of 231.342 mph, and Brazilians captured four of the top five spots.
The second day of qualifying was rained out, leaving nine spots open for the final day _ May 19. It was the first time a full day of qualifying had been canceled since May 12, 1990.
But the talk of the weekend was the Brazilians' domination.
``I think it's really good for Brazil to show _ I think last year they finished one and two, and I finished fifth,'' Junqueira said. ``Let's see if another Brazilian can win the race.''
On Saturday, Junqueira showed he was ready by being the first to qualify and the fastest. That hadn't happened since Fittipaldi in 1990.
Junqueira's four-lap average was the best by a pole-winner since 1996. He became only the fourth pole-sitter to go faster than 230. Scott Brayton did it in 1995 and 1996, and Roberto Guerrero did it in 1992.
Junqueira also became the first Brazilian to win the pole since Fittipaldi in '90.
His countrymen fared almost as well on the 2 1/2-mile oval.
Raul Boesel, a backup driver for John Menard, took over the No. 2 car this week and put it on the front row. He qualified third with a speed of 230.613.
Last year's IRL rookie of the year, Felipe Giaffone, went 230.326 to take the fourth spot, and rookie Tony Kanaan was fifth at 230.253. Two other Brazilians, defending champion Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran, who finished one-two while driving for Roger Penske in 2001, also qualified for the race.
Castroneves will start on the inside of the fifth row after going just 229.052, far slower than his Friday lap of 232, the fastest of the week. De Ferran is 14th in the tentative lineup for the 33-car field.
That gave Brazil six of the first 24 qualifiers for the May 26 race, with the possibility of a seventh. Airton Dare, who drives for A.J. Foyt, failed to qualify Saturday.
Boesel, who will make his 13th Indy start _ one more than the other six Brazilians combined, said the reason for Brazil's success begins with an early focus on racing.
``I think there's a lot of incentive by parents because of the history, starting way back with Emerson,'' Boesel said.
Fittipaldi won the race in 1989 and 1993, when Boesel also produced his two highest Indianapolis finishes _ third in '89 and fourth in '93.
Only Robbie Buhl, whose late qualifying run broke up Brazil's bloc. Buhl went 231.033, putting himself between Junqueira and Boesel on the first row and within .309 of knocking Junqueira off the pole.
Five qualifiers topped 230 and the most surprising run of the day belonged to Buhl's teammate, Sarah Fisher, the third woman to race in the Indianapolis 500.
Fisher was without a sponsor and a car until the race at Nazareth, Pa., last month when she replaced the injured Buhl. After finishing fourth, Dreyer and Reinbold announced Wednesday that Fisher had found a sponsor and would stay on as Buhl's teammate.
Then Fisher went 229.439, easily the fastest of any woman qualifier at Indianapolis, to earn the ninth spot. She is the second woman, following Lyn St. James in 1995, to start in the first three rows and broke St. James previous record qualifying mark by more than 4 mph.
``There was still a little left that we could have taken out with trim, but that wasn't the point,'' Fisher said. ``We just wanted a steady, consistent car for qualifying, and it was perfect.''
Fisher joins Sam Hornish Jr., a two-time winner this season and the defending IRL points champ, and Scott Sharp, last year's pole-winner on the third row.
She was faster than four former champs _ Kenny Brack, Buddy Lazier, Al Unser Jr. and Castroneves. Another former champ, two-time winner Arie Luyendyk, failed to qualify on two attempts and stopped a third before taking the green flag Saturday.