It will be a swansong at Road America for three-time defending series champion Sebastien Bourdais, having earlier today confirmed his switch to Formula One for the following season. Today he continued to show his authority by registering the provisional pole here in Elkhart Lake, with a time nearly eight-tenths quicker than his nearest rival.
Though Bourdais thoroughly had the field's number, it was a surprise to him to be as quick as he was. "I don't know to be honest how we were that quick," he noted. "It was far from easy, but very much on the edge. The conditions were tricky, and the rubber isn't staying down."
The Frenchman has not won in three prior starts at the picturesque northern Wisconsin circuit, and looks to make this weekend the one where he reaches the top step of the podium. At Toro Rosso Bourdais finds himself affiliated with Red Bull, also with a team in the paddock, and part of an all-Sebastien "dream team" with German Sebastian Vettel in the other car.
Bourdais explained his lack of luck at this track. "We could go on and on and on," he mentioned. "We typically have quite surprising winners, and nobody gets lapped. It allows people to try things they otherwise couldn't. We've had dominant cars in the past, but there's yellow, and then I get a 12-second lead, and another yellow. Fastest overall doesn't mean everything at this track - it's not a huge deal."
First out was Simon Pagenaud in the Team Australia entry and consequently he was the first to find himself top of the pylon, at a time of 1:46.247. With times in the 1:43 range in pre-qualifying practice, this would easily be eclipsed. Bourdais ran a 1:45.725 and from there the pole began to be officially contested. Jan Heylen ran a half-second quicker to snatch the pole but almost instantaneously Robert Doornbos unseated him in his Minardi Team USA car, the first to dip into the 1:44 bracket.
The middle of the session saw a continuously-changing top five, mainly involving Jani, Wilson, Power and Graham Rahal. Most of the times registered before the final ten minutes and after each of the drivers' first runs would hold for the rest of the session.
There were very few changes later on in the session, the sun beating down on the 4.048 mile course with this occurring very late in the day - concluding at 6:30 p.m. local time. Mainly the rubber laid down, or lack thereof in some cases, was the main plague for the drivers.
"There's many compatibility issues with all the series here," Bourdais added in the post-qualifying press conference. "There's nothing that gets laid down, it's a live green track, which it shouldn't be. But no rubber is sticking."
"This afternoon we improved quite a bit, surprisingly," Jani added. "I didn't feel that comfortable because I was sliding around. I had quite a bit of understeer, and I can't find one second. If we can get rid of the understeer then we can improve to second."
The major improvements came courtesy of Ryan Dalziel, having a great return to the series after missing San Jose. With a time of 1:43.611 he jumped to 6th right at the end of the session, best by far for Pacific Coast Motorsports in a series qualifying session. No-one else improved but for a few positions.
With a late qualifying session there were a lot of stories that cropped up over the course of the day. A pair of cars featured dashing new liveries - black having been spiced up to outstanding new looks this weekend. Heylen's Conquest Racing entry sports a green-and-white livery to coincide with new title sponsor Grafiprint, a Belgian printing company. Meanwhile, Katherine Legge returns to the circuit where she had her catastrophic accident last year with a new purple and silver paint job. Sadly new schemes failed to translate to the timing and scoring, where Heylen and Legge wound up 15th and 17th.
It was a busy Friday for Pacific Coast Motorsports, specifically their junior team and young driver program. PCM Junior team members Carl Skerlong and David Garza of U.S. RaceTronics in the Champ Car Atlantic series, will get the opportunity to pilot the team's Champ Cars in a test later on this year. The ultimate goal is that one of them will be a CCWS Rookie-of-the-Year contender in 2008.
But the Atlantic machines will not be at rest either, as today Team USA Scholarship recipients and Californians Joel Miller, 19, and Patrick Barrett, 17, not only received that honor but will have the chance to test Skerlong and Garza's Atlantic cars. Clearly these are exciting times for the newest team in Champ Car racing.
With young stars on the rise, though, it has become official this is the penultimate Champ Car round for Bourdais in the States. After Elkhart the series heads to Europe for a pair of rounds and then makes traditional stops in Australia and Mexico, before concluding 2007 in December in Phoenix. After today's qualifying, it appears he wants to go out with a bang.