CHAMPCAR/CART: Bourdais' late effort wins Laguna pole

Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais solidified his place on the pole for Sunday's Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey, leading a charge of foreign drivers to the front of the grid during Champ Car World Series qualifying on Saturday.

S?bastien Bourdais.
Photo by Todd Corzett.
It came right down to the wire, as it had in the previous day's qualifying round, when Patrick Carpentier took the top spot within minutes of the checkered flag.

For Bourdais it was his fourth straight pole and seventh this season; no driver has had this much consistency since Juan Montoya accomplished the feat during the 2000 campaign. Bourdais' best lap time of 1:09.358, 116.163 mph was the quickest qualifying lap here in the past four years.

"I was just very happy to be able to put two laps together at the very end", Bourdais said. "During the first part of qualifying, I went off (track) a couple of time with the front wheels so I put in a little more rear brake bias. It was not the ideal situation, but we're on pole and that's really what matters."

Carpentier's provisional pole setting lap on Friday of 1:09.918 guaranteed him a front row starting spot regardless of what happened Saturday. That accomplishment jumbled the times from Saturday, causing drivers to fall from pole to third even though their times may have been better.

San Francisco native Jimmy Vasser, and Hollister's A. J. Allmendinger who lives about 30 minutes from the circuit, led a California effort with both drivers breaking through the 1:10 barrier early in an effort Carpentier on the front row.

Most of the front runners from Friday's first round qualifying remained it he pits for the first 10 minutes Saturday while others took to the circuit to get in their laps. Once those few came in for adjustments, the Forsythe and Newman / Haas pilots jumped out to put on a show for the Laguna Seca crowd.

With less than five minutes remaining, Tracy snared pole with his backup car. His time of 109:515, 115.900 mph ended up being second fastest of the day, and the Canadian will start behind teammate Carpentier in third.

"We changed the setup on the car. We put Pat's (Carpentier) setup on, and I had to get use to that on the first set of tires; then with the second set I really had a go at it." Tracy said. "We didn't have two shots at it, really just one so we're pretty happy."

"I probably could have gotten more out of it", Tracy said later. We had to switch cars and do a lot of things to get ready for qualifying, the end result was good. We'll just keep working on this setup, I think the car is better."

It didn't take long at that point for Bourdais to pick up the challenge, and he did it by eclipsing Tracy's effort by almost two tenths, bringing home his Bridgestone-shod Lola with the fastest time not only once but twice in succession.

Battling for the rookie points championship, Allmendinger eventually put his car on the second row with fourth best. Allmendinger's closest competitor for rookie honors is England's Justin Wilson who just couldn't seem to find the speed he needed on Laguna's tough road course. His best lap places him down the charts in the sixteenth position.

"I'm really happy with the car; it was amazing." Allmendinger said. "My engineers and my whole crew just did an awesome job. I know I could've been second-fastest today, and I think I could have been a contender for the pole, but I got caught up in some slower traffic and my rhythm got disturbed."

Down the list from fifth through tenth spot were Michel Jourdain, Alex Tagliani, Ryan Hunter Reay, Bourdais' teammate Bruno Junqueira in eighth, Vasser and Dominguez. Carpentier lowered his time down three-tenths of a second to 1:09.605, fourth best on the day.

The series title is coming down to these last few races. Bourdais knows that he must have good, solid, points-gaining finishes if he is to secure the title. Junqueira looks to be the only driver close enough in his mirrors to make a challenge.