Zanardi, Unser make quick exit on Saturday
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Defending champion Alex Zanardi, Jimmy Vasser and Al Unser Jr. made a quick exit from Portland International Raceway after Saturday’s rainy qualifying round for the Budweiser G.I. Joe’s 200.
The trio of drivers left the raceway infield by helicopter for a five-minute flight to Portland International Airport, where one of Roger Penske’s private jets was waiting to take them to Saturday afternoon’s International Race of Champions. The IROC race was held at Penske’s new California Speedway in Fontana.
Asked when the race starts, IROC spokesman Michael Knight said: ``When we get there.″
The IROC event featured drivers from CART, NASCAR, road racing and off-road racing.
The three Indy-car drivers were to return to Portland Saturday night and be ready for the race on Sunday.
If Unser or teammate Paul Tracy win Sunday, Penske won’t be on hand to celebrate the 100th career victory of his Indy-car career. Penske is staying for Sunday’s California 500 NASCAR race, the premiere event of his speedway’s inaugural weekend.
RELIABLE JIMMY: Jimmy Vasser will set a CART World Series record for consecutive race finishes if he completes all 98 laps in Sunday’s Budweiser-G.I. Joe’s 200.
Vasser, the defending PPG Cup champion, has finished the last 25 races, tying him with Al Unser Jr. for the record. In that stretch, the only race in which Vasser didn’t earn points was in Portland last year.
Unser has his own streak going, and it’s not a positive one. Unser, a three-time winner in Portland, hasn’t won in 25 races, tying the longest drought of his career. His last win was Sept. 3, 1995, in Vancouver.
He has struggled in Portland, too, qualifying 15th for Sunday’s race.
PARKER’S PROBLEMS: Parker Johnstone, who lives in nearby Brush Prairie, Wash., has had a rough weekend in Portland. He blew the transmissions out of both his cars on Friday, a problem that was eliminated when an old gearbox was used as a replacement on Saturday.
But Johnstone still had trouble. He slid off the track during the morning practice session, then was unsure whether to go with rain tires on the wet, but drying, track during the afternoon qualifying.
``We waited and watched the track through the first part of the session,″ he said, ``then I went out there with about 15 minutes to go on rain tires and choked the time because the track was really too dry for rain tires.″
Johnstone will start 19th Sunday after starting 20th and 25th in the two previous races.
WALLFLOWERS: Two drivers in Saturday’s slower qualifying session skidded on the wet track into the wall. Neither Michel Jourdain Jr. nor Juan Fangio II was injured and their cars were expected to be repaired in time for the race.
``I was being extremely careful and I was completely straight leaving the chicane heading into turn number one,″ Fangio said. ``I was just trying to clean the tires a little bit, in order to remove some of the oil, and just lost the back.″
Fangio’s No. 17 spot in the starting grid matches the best of the season for the Toyota engine. Max Papis qualified 17th in the season opener in Homestead, Fla.
Jourdain’s crash occurred on his first lap Saturday. He will start 22nd in the 28-car field.