A nasty electrical gremlin ruined final qualifying in Surfers Paradise for American Spirit Team Johansson's Jimmy Vasser as the 1996 Gold Coast winner fell from fifth to fifteenth on the grid.

It was Vasser's rookie teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay who suffered from mechanical issues on Friday while learning the tricky but fast 2.795-mile Australian street circuit, but it was Vasser who was bit hard when it mattered most in Saturday's final qualifying period.

Fast all weekend, Vasser provisionally qualified fifth on Friday, looking to better that effort in Saturday's, naturally quicker final session, when an electrical short circuit annoyingly rendered the #12 Reynard-Ford inoperable after just his second lap in final qualifying. With a swap to the back-up machine not an option due to Champ Car regulations, Vasser could only sit on the ASTJ pit wall and watch his name gradually slip down the order.

As expected, Saturday's times were much faster, and Vasser became the only driver in the 19-car field to have to revert to his provisional qualifying mark. Friday's 1:34.266secs effort, placed Vasser only 15th on the grid for Sunday's 65-lap Lexmark Indy 300.

"Obviously my car should have been prepared better," vented a frustrated Vasser. "My second lap out there was four tenths off of my best lap yesterday and I know I had a high 31 (1:31) in that thing today. On my third lap something happened to Tracy in front of me and then I had smoke flowing in the cockpit. The car felt great, Ed (Nathman) worked really hard and gave me a great car and his effort was wasted."

On the flip side of the coin, Hunter-Reay and his crew made gains overnight and the young Floridian steadily improved his overall package throughout the day. Setting his fastest time of the whole weekend in final qualifying, Hunter-Reay's 1:33.542secs effort not only moved him four places on the grid to 12th spot, it proved quicker than any other Reynard chassis and gave RHR a new career-best street circuit mark.

"It was a good session because we made big gains from yesterday," smiled Hunter-Reay. "We applied some information from the 12 (car) side and that helped us out. The bad thing was I could have gone quicker on my second run and I got stuck in traffic. I think I've got a good racecar and if things go our way it could be a good day for us tomorrow."

ASTJ team manager Graham Taylor took responsibility for Vasser's failure, which prompted an uncharacteristic outburst from the 1996 CART Champion.

"Yet again we shot Jimmy in the foot," he stated. "He's had a very good pace all weekend and we feel he would have set a very competitive lap time today, had he had the chance.

"Ryan found his rhythm today. We feel he should have gone faster on his second set of tires, but he will none the less start 12th, the fastest Reynard."



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