Ailing Fernandez fastest in provisional qualifying

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The Independent Online

As shaky as Adrian Fernandez felt on Friday, he figured it was going to be a good day on the racetrack.

"It seems like every time I feel sick, I do something good on the track," Fernandez said after taking the provisional pole for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in California. "I was really sick when I won in Japan (in 1998)."

The Mexican driver toured the 1.968-mile (3.166-kilometre), 11-turn city street circuit in 1 minute, 8.636 seconds, a speed of 103.223 mph (166.085 kph). If he can stay out front in the final round of time trials on Saturday, Fernandez will wrap up his second career pole and his first on a street course.

"This is strange," Fernandez said. "On Wednesday, I ate something and had an allergic reaction or something. All my body had red spots on it and I had to stay in my room all day yesterday. I felt miserable.

"To top it off, I was getting a cold, too. This morning, I went to see the doctor and he told me I will be fine. Right now, my body is aching. But when I get in the race car, I feel fine."

His physical problems certainly weren't noticeable as he drove his Ford-powered Patrick Racing Reynard around the track, leading both the morning practice and the 30-minute qualifying session on the cool, cloudy day.

Brazil's Gil de Ferran, who won the pole at the season-opening race in Homestead, Florida, was close behind at 103.212 mph (166.068 kph) in a Penske Racing Reynard-Honda, followed by the Reynard-Ford of Homestead winner Max Papis at 103.130 mph (165.936 kph).

All three of the fast drivers said they enjoyed the latest version of the constantly changing Long Beach track, which winds around the Convention Center and along Long Beach harbour.

The construction of an aquarium forced a series of changes to the track in 1999 and again this year. The latest changes lengthens the track slightly and completely changes one section, adding a short straightaway and three new turns.

"The track is definitely better than it's ever been," Fernandez said. "The new section gives us more opportunity to pass. And it's more challenging, not just right-left, right-left."

de Ferran, who has won the pole twice in the five years he has raced here, said, "It's significantly different than it was last year."

"One section of the track is the same since I've been coming here. The part around the fountain (in front of the aquarium) we had to learn last year. This year, we had to learn three new corners. It's just a matter of adjusting," he said.

Papis said, "Definitely passing is going to be better. And you have some time to enjoy the track. Last year, it was just on the power and then off in just a few seconds. It was like riding a toboggan."

Fernandez, who took part earlier in the day in the announcement of a new CART race in Monterrey, Mexico next March, was all smiles after his qualifying effort, despite his physical discomfort.

Roberto Moreno, Papis' teammate who finished second in Homestead, was fourth at 102.905 mph (165.574 kph), followed by former series champion Jimmy Vasser at 102.724 mph (165.282 kph).

Juan Montoya, the defending race and series champion, who won the pole last week for the snow-postponed race in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, was eighth on Friday at 102.549 mph (165.001 kph).

Provisional qualifying on Friday from The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, with driver, nationality, type of car, time in seconds:

1. Adrian Fernandez, Mexico, Ford Reynard, 1 minute, 8.636 seconds, 103.223 mph (166.085 kph). 2. Gil de Ferran, Brazil, Honda Reynard, 1:08.643 3. Max Papis, Italy, Ford Reynard, 1:08.698. 4. Roberto Moreno, Brazil, Ford Reynard, 1:08.848. 5. Jimmy Vasser, United States, Toyota Lola, 1:08.969. 6. Dario Franchitti, Scotland, Honda Reynard, 1:09.009. 7. Helio Castro-Neves, Brazil, Honda Reynard, 1:09.057. 8. Juan Montoya, Colombia, Toyota Lola, 1:09.087. 9. Bryan Herta, United States, Honda Reynard, 1:09.157. 10. Tony Kanaan, Brazil, Mercedes Reynard, 1:09.194. 11. Cristiano da Matta, Brazil, Toyota Reynard, 1:09.266. 12. Christian Fittipaldi, Brazil, Ford Lola, 1:09.290. 13. Noberto Fontana, Argentina, Toyota Reynard, 1:09.334. 14. Michael Andretti, United States, Ford Lola, 1:09.463. 15. Paul Tracy, Canada, Honda Reynard, 1:09.516. 16. Alex Tagliani, Canada, Ford Reynard, 1:09.596. 17. Mauricio Gugelmin, Brazil, Mercedes Reynard, 1:09.644. 18. Mark Blundell, Britain, Mercedes Reynard, 1:09.852. 19. Memo Gidley, United States, Ford Reynard, 1:10.106. 20. Oriol Servia, Spain, Toyota Reynard, 1:10.275. 21. Kenny Brack, Sweden, Ford Reynard, 1:10.459. 22. Michel Jourdain Jr., Mexico, Mercedes Lola, 1:01.014. 23. Gualter Salles, Brazil, Ford Lola, 1:01.036. 24. Luiz Garcia Jr., Brazil, Mercedes Reynard, 1:03.718. 25. Takuya Kurosawa, Japan, Ford Lola, 1:03.263.