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Herta Claims Fifth Career Pole

June 20, 1998

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Another pole for Bryan Herta, another chance for that elusive first victory.

The 28-year-old from New Albany, Ohio, captured his fifth career pole Saturday, breaking Dario Franchitti’s day-old track record in the bright sunshine of Portland International Raceway.

Herta earned the pole for Sunday’s Budweiser-G.I. Joe’s 200 in his Reynard Ford with a fast lap of 58.358 seconds (121.341 mph) on the nine-turn, 1.967-mile course, the first road layout on the Championship Auto Racing Teams circuit this season.

Franchitti, who held the provisional pole after Friday’s first round of qualifying, was second Saturday in a Reynard Honda and will start alongside Herta in the first row. Franchitti had a top time of 58.447 (121.156 mph). Scott Pruett, who started from the pole in Portland last year, qualified third in a Reynard Ford at 58.645 (120.747 mph), by far his best starting position of the season.

In his fourth full CART season, Herta knows the time has come for a win. The pressure mounts with every fast qualifying time.

``I don’t see there could be any more, and I put the pressure on myself. Nobody else is putting any pressure on me,″ Herta said. ``I don’t know how to describe it. The desire to win a race is big, and then as you get close and you don’t win, that just builds up on you.

``Before you can sit there and say `I’m going to challenge for the championship’ or anything like that you’ve got to win your first race. It’s just the next step for me. I’ve said this before but I want to do this because I’m good enough to do it, and I think you have to win to prove you’re good enough to do it.″

Herta has come agonizingly close, losing three times after being overtaken on the last two laps. Twice, Alex Zanardi was the one who beat him late in the race, overtaking him with a lap to go two years ago at Laguna Seca and with two laps to go this year at Long Beach. Herta has three seconds and three thirds in 63 CART races.

Zanardi, a three-time winner this year and the FedEx Series points leader, could be Herta’s nemesis again Sunday. After a miserable 18th place finish in Friday’s qualifying, he shot up to the No. 5 position on Saturday, one spot behind his Marlboro Team Penske teammate Jimmy Vasser, who moved up from 10th.

Zanardi switched to his backup car after a minor accident in Saturday morning’s practice.

``Fortunately, I crashed my primary car and had to go to my backup car,″ he said. ``In just a few laps, it was apparent that there must be something wrong with the primary car, because the backup was so much better off the trailer.″

Franchitti felt he had the car to win the pole but blamed himself for two steering mistakes on his last two laps. He ran out of fuel on the course with just under eight minutes to go.

It appeared in both cases that he was headed for a fast lap that might have given him the pole. But it wasn’t to be.

``It’s a long race tomorrow. It’s going to be about tires and fuel,″ Franchitti said.

With temperatures expected to reach the mid-80s Sunday, the drivers were expecting a grueling race, with its series of sharp right turns.

``We’re expecting it to be a physical race,″ Herta said. ``It’s going to be hot. And we don’t normally go right very often. With the ovals it’s always a hard left. But here we have a lot right turns and you’re muscles in your neck and so forth aren’t used to it.″

Franchitti’s Kool Team Green teammate Paul Tracy had to sit out Saturday’s qualifying under an unprecedented CART ruling after his crash with Michel Jourdain Jr. on Friday. Tracy, relying solely on his fastest lap before that crash, slipped to 20th in the starting grid.

Herta was helped when Christian Fittipaldi ran out of fuel on the track with just over two minutes left in Saturday’s session. That triggered a red flag and spoiled any chance for anyone, most notably Vasser, to make a last grab for the pole.

Herta, Bobby Rahal’s teammate on Team Rahal, had tested in Portland in April and ran under 58 seconds, so he was optimistic about this week.

``I just came here on a mission,″ he said. ``I just had my mind set on getting the pole here based on the test we had here.″

Now, he has his sights on the $240,000 bonus he would get if he wins Sunday’s race from the pole.

That, he said, would ``break my duck in style.″

Rahal, retiring from racing after this season, said he knows Herta’s time is coming.

``It’s definitely his turn to win,″ Rahal said. ``And when that happens, look out. He’ll be tough to beat everywhere.″

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