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Unser Jr., Penske go separate ways

Al Unser Jr. is out and Gil de Ferran and Greg Moore, two of the circuit's hottest free agents, are in for the next three years on Roger Penske's CART Indy-car racing team.

Penske announced Friday that he and Unser, who joined the team in 1994, will part ways at the end of the season. De Ferran and Moore each have signed three-year contracts to begin driving for Penske in 2000.

"We're excited about this," Penske said shortly after provisional qualifying for the Grand Prix of Detroit on Belle Isle. "Both of these guys have been pursued by other teams."

De Ferran had left the island in the Detroit River by the time Penske made the announcement. But the Brazilian had been asked in an interview Thursday about the possibility of leaving Walker Racing.

"I guess I feel fortunate there is some interest," De Ferran said. "I don't think I'm in a position to make an announcement, but I'm not concerned for my future."

De Ferran, 31, heads into Sunday's race in seventh place in the driver standings. Since joining CART in 1995, he has six poles and three victories.

Moore, the 24-year-old Canadian who has gained prominence with the Player's Forsythe team, won from the pole at the season-opener at Homestead.

"I feel bad for Al, but as a professional race car driver you've got to try to further your career however you can," Moore said in Indianapolis, where he drove in the season-ending IROC race Friday. "It's difficult to leave but on the other hand I think it's time for a change."

Moore is eighth in the standings heading into Sunday's race. Moore has five poles and five victories in four years of CART racing.

"I started talking to Roger and saw how excited he was about trying to turn the last couple of years around," Moore said. "I've never seen a team owner with that much intensity toward changing the way things are."

"They're both at the very top of their games," Penske said. "They're certainly the type of drivers we'd like to have driving for us."

Penske said the parting with Unser will be amicable. The two have had several talks about the situation this year.

Unser, who has 31 victories in 266 career starts, hasn't won in almost four years. In 10 races this season, his top finish is fifth at Cleveland. In his last start, he completed 206 of 250 laps before retiring with engine problems at Michigan Speedway, finishing 13th in the U.S. 500.

"We've had great success with Marlboro Team Penske," Unser said. "It really wasn't that hard of a decision, because Roger is a friend of mine and supports me. This is another corner we're taking."

Unser won CART driving titles in 1990 and 1994, but things have gone downhill since a brilliant 1994 season, his first with Penske, when he won a career-best eight races to match the season record set by Michael Andretti in 1991.

Unser finished second in the series championship in 1995 when he had four victories. But he hasn't won a CART race since Vancouver in 1995.

MORE CART: The two-year drought could be over for Paul Tracy. Still, he was praying for rain in Detroit.

Tracy won the provisional pole for the Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit, edging rookie sensation Juan Montoya for the prime starting spot.

Tracy, who last started on the pole at Milwaukee in 1997, had a lap of 113.716 mph over the 2.3-mile temporary road course on Belle Isle in the middle of the Detroit River.

Montoya, who leads the CART series championship race with 129 points, turned a lap in 113.573 mph in a bid for his fifth pole and fifth victory of the season.

Andretti, third in the championship standings with 107 points, had the third-fastest time with a lap of 113.509 mph. Moore was fourth at 113.440 mph.

Tracy said the threat of rain today played a major role in his team's approach.

"There's a big threat of rain, so we decided to go all out," he said. "If it doesn't rain (today), then we're going to have to improve, definitely."

The cars of Adrian Fernandez and Helio Castro-Neves made hard contact in Turn 2 in practice.

Fernandez, fifth in points with 95, will miss Sunday's race with a hairline fracture of his right wrist.

Despite major right-side damage to his primary Lola-Mercedes, Castro-Neves escaped injury.

SURGERY FOR SCHUMACHER: Ferrari said its driver, Michael Schumacher, needs an operation on his broken leg and it ruled out any chance the Formula 1 driver would return to racing in the next few weeks.

Schumacher's right leg was fractured in two places when his car crashed into a tire wall at the British Grand Prix on July 11. No date was determined for the surgery.

_ Times Staff Writer Tim Buckley contributed to this report.

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