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Ganassi doesn't mind lending a helping hand to Kite
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Chip Ganassi is bridging the open-wheel rivalry between CART and the Indy Racing League. He's also making some new friends.

Ganassi, a former driver whose race shop is barely more than a lap's distance from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was the only CART owner to bring his regular drivers to the Indianapolis 500.

Once Juan Montoya and Jimmy Vasser were safely in the lineup, Ganassi sold a backup car to the IRL's Blueprint Racing for Jimmy Kite, who had wrecked his own car before qualifications.

"With them coming in here from CART and them being the outcasts, it shows what a class act they are," Kite said. "I knew that was the only chance with one of our cars, because our backup was a '99. I've got to thank them for giving us the opportunity they didn't have to give us."

The 84th Indy 500 will be on Sunday. The track is closed until race day except for a final two-hour practice Thursday.

Kite, driving a car originally entered as a backup for Vasser, qualified at 220.718 mph, putting him on the inside of the ninth row.

"We had nothing but confidence coming into this race. All week long, the confidence was building," Kite said. "I'm just as confident to run the race in this (Ganassi) car."

Montoya, the defending CART series champion but a rookie at Indy, qualified on the middle of the front row, between defending IRL champion and pole-starter Greg Ray and Eliseo Salazar.

Vasser, the 1996 CART champion who drove at Indy for four years before the series' boycott of the IRL, qualified on the inside of the third row. The only other CART owner to enter Indy this year is Derrick Walker, who is running the IRL series with rookie Sarah Fisher but not his regular CART driver, Shinji Nakano.

Ganassi, who drove in the 500 five times in the early and mid-1980s, became a team owner by purchasing an interest in Patrick Racing in 1988. The team won the Indy 500 and the CART championship with driver Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989, and Ganassi became full owner of the team in 1990.

He has also fielded cars for Arie Luyendyk, Eddie Cheever, Michael Andretti and Alex Zanardi, who won CART championships in 1997 and 1998 before leaving for Formula One.

"Yeah, I'm certainly doing better at this owner stuff," Ganassi said. "It's nice to be able to give these young guys a chance. Our shop is three miles from here. Our team is based here and we've built up a lot of good relationships."

For a while, it appeared that several other CART teams would cross over to race at Indy, but expenses estimated at $1 million per team scared off all but Ganassi and Walker. A rumored reconciliation between the two series also never developed.

Cheever, who qualified on the inside of the fourth row, right behind Vasser, said he welcomed "with open arms" the rivals from CART.

"Nobody owns the Indianapolis 500 race. It is where the best of open-wheel racers come to compete," Cheever said. "They are the best in the other series and have come here to compete."

Fisher, 19, the youngest driver in the lineup, is the third woman to qualify at Indianapolis. She will start on the inside of the seventh row, right behind 1996 winner Buddy Lazier.

Lyn St. James, 53, the oldest driver, crashed on Saturday but qualified a backup car Sunday and will start from the middle of the 11th and final row. It is the first time two women are in the lineup at Indy.

"I am proud of Sarah Fisher," said St. James, who operates a driver development school Fisher attended four years ago. "Sarah started when she was 5 years old. ... She came the right way up. Society has changed the way parents think (about girls racing).

"She realized she had to go fast. But not all fast drivers come to Indy. What Sarah learned was she had to do more than go fast."
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