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Unser on the Mark to Win Pole

November 11, 1990|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DEL MAR — When Al Unser Jr., reached his trailer Saturday afternoon, he was besieged by autograph seekers. Little wonder, Unser has become the biggest thing ever at the International Motor Sports Assn. Camel Grand Prix of Greater San Diego at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Unser led an assault on the track record that had the previous mark dropping like a bad heavyweight boxing champion.

Unser's new Chevrolet-powered Spice SE90P, which he is driving for Julian Randles' Spice USA team, roared around the 1.62-mile course at an average of 94.828 m.p.h., nearly four miles per hour faster than Wayne Taylor's 1989 mark of 90.831 in a Pontiac Spice. It took Unser 1 minute 0.744 seconds to negotiate the tricky 10-turn course. He clocked 1:01.080 on his first qualifying lap (94.303 m.p.h.)

"I missed the downshift into Turn 1 (on the first lap) and it upset me, so I decided to just go for it," Unser said.

Go for it he did, along with everyone else in the single-car qualifying that determined the top eight starting positions for today's 2 p.m. race.

Seven drivers bettered Taylor's mark, and the only driver who didn't--Nissan's Chip Robinson--had unofficially broken it earlier in the day in open qualifying.

Robinson was first in single-car qualifying and clocked 91.330 m.p.h. Then James Weaver began the progression of topping Taylor's mark. In a Porsche 962C, he clocked 92.250. Then Martin Brundle, driving a Jaguar XJR-10, ran 92.704. Then Jaguar teammate Davy Jones ran 92.861, a speed which would withstand challenges by Taylor in a Chevy Spice (92.398) and Rocky Moran in a Toyota Eagle (92.135 before crashing).

GT championship points leader Geoff Brabham broke Jones' mark at 93.199, then Unser treated that like Rodney Dangerfield.

"I don't know if a car can be perfect," Unser said, "but as close as you can get is Spice at Del Mar."

This is the first pole for the Indy car champion in 19 Camel GT Series career starts. However, Unser won't be in the car when the green flag drops. Spice teammate John Cochran, the second-fastest driver to Unser during Friday's practices, will start.

In the race within the race, Robinson's quest for catching Brabham for the GT championship did not get any easier. Brabham is starting in a Nissan GTP ZX-T on the first row alongside the Spice car; Robinson is starting outside in the fourth row on a course that is so tight, passing is difficult and dangerous.

Brabham needs to finish 70% of the race to win the $150,000 GT championship, but he plans to take the cautious road.

"Even if you're in the lead, you can never be feel too comfortable because you don't know what's around the next corner," Brabham said.

That was evident Saturday when Moran and Fermin Velez crashed, and in Friday's GTO/GTU qualifying when Chuck Kendall hit the wall at Turn 4 and was plowed into--in high gear--by Pete Halsmer and Don Swanson.

Auto Racing Notes

ESPN will televise today's GTP race live at 2 p.m. . . . The pole position for today's 30-minute Barber-Saab Pro Series (12:30 p.m.) was earned by series champion Rob Wilson, the race's defending champion, who broke 1989 GT champion Robbie Buhl's qualifying track record. Wilson's 81.202 m.p.h. beat Buhl's 81.020. Wilson set an IMSA record with his seventh pole of the year, bettering Buhl's mark of six. Although he has raced only three years in the Barber-Saab Series, Wilson set a record for career victories (10) and poles (10). He is expected to move on to the Aussie Roo Camel GTP in 1991. . . . Alongside Wilson on the front row is Encinitas' Nick Kunewalder (80.215 m.p.h.), whose previous best start had been fourth. Three-time race winner Johnny Robinson of England is starting third. . . . Parker Johnstone set a track record (85.194 m.p.h.) in Camel Lights qualifying. The race runs concurrent with the GTPs. . . . Camel Lights champion Tomas Lopez will not be competing; Fermin Velez crashed the Buick Spice during practice.

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