CHAMPCAR/CART: Bourdais steals the Surfers pole from his teammate

CHAMPCAR/CART: Bourdais steals the Surfers pole from his teammate

Sebastien Bourdais, with a fast lap of 1:31.718 seconds (109.706 mph) in Newman/Haas Racing's Lola, won the pole today for Sunday's Lexmark Indy 300 on the Surfers Paradise street circuit in Queensland, Australia. This was the fifth pole of the...

Sebastien Bourdais, with a fast lap of 1:31.718 seconds (109.706 mph) in Newman/Haas Racing's Lola, won the pole today for Sunday's Lexmark Indy 300 on the Surfers Paradise street circuit in Queensland, Australia. This was the fifth pole of the 2003 Champ Car season for the fast Frenchman, another highlight in a year that has already earned him the Jim Trueman Rookie-of-the-Year trophy.

S?bastien Bourdais.
Photo by David Magahy.
Unfortunately for his Newman/Haas teammate, Bruno Junqueira, the point that Bourdais earned for being the fastest man of the final qualifying session was a point that Junqueira desperately needed in his quest to win the Vanderbilt Cup over points leader Paul Tracy. Junqueira is 28 points short of Tracy's championship-leading total of 226 and must reduce that gap to less than 22 points in tomorrow's 65-lap race to carry the fight over to next week's season finale at the California Speedway.

What that means for Tracy, who qualified the PF Racing Lola 3rd today at a time less than one-hundredth of a second slower than Junqueira, is that a finish of 3rd or better in the Surfers race can clinch for him his first CART championship after thirteen seasons of trying.

Paul Tracy.
Photo by David Magahy.
Tracy's determination to win the elusive prize is evident. He described a photo shoot from Saturday morning like this: "We took a photo this morning, me and Bruno and Michel in front of the Vanderbilt Cup. I have never seen the Cup up close before because it's always been in somebody else's hands. I didn't want to touch it because, you know, I don't think any of us touched it just because I thought it might be bad luck to put my hands on it too soon."

When that photo was taken, Michel Jourdain Jr. was a contender for that cup, but to win it he needed every available point left in the season, and he needed Tracy to score zero points over the two race stretch. When he didn't get the point today, his faint chance was gone. Jourdain has struggled to find a fast lap in the Team Rahal Lola this weekend and will start from 9th position on the grid.

Behind Bourdais and the two remaining title contenders, Alex Tagliani and Adrian Fernandez both continued their good weekends. Tagliani was second fastest in the Friday provisional qualifying session, but was stripped of his times when his Rocketsports Lola didn't make the minimum weight after the session. Despite that setback, he continued his speedy ways on the fast street course and qualified 4th today.

Adrian Fernandez.
Photo by Fernandez Racing.
Fernandez has also been fast all weekend, leading the time chart at some point in nearly every session on both days. His Fernandez Racing Lola was just a little bit off in the session that mattered though. "I brushed the wall slightly on my first set of tires and I don't know if that could have caused some of the problems I was having." he explained.

Oriol Servia will line up beside Fernandez on the grid, the Spaniard needing a good finish to break a disappointing stretch of sub-par races. Servia's Patrick Racing Lola was fastest in the short pre-qualifying warm-up practice, and he improved two positions today over his Friday qualifying run.

Herdez Racing teammates Roberto Moreno and Mario Dominguez will share row four tomorrow. Moreno equaled his qualifying position from Friday, and may have had the chance to improve today, but spoiled his run on his second set of tires with a spin. Dominguez, the winner here last year in one of the most bizarre Champ Car races ever, has struggled to find competitive speed all weekend, and had his best session at the right time.

Starting tenth will be Mika Salo in only his fourth Champ Car race for PK Racing. The Formula 1 veteran has been improving with every race and has turned around the rookie team that had struggled with its three previous pilots. He has made methodical progress this weekend, moving up the time sheet each session.

Patrick Carpentier, PF Racing's second driver, has been unable to approach his teammate's pace and qualified 11th. Carpentier is counting on setup help from Tracy and a typical Surfers race to help him tomorrow, commenting: "We'll take a look at Paul's set up for the race and work from there. The good thing is that with this track and race, anything can happen and usually does. In the past few races I have worked my way from a weak starting position to finish strongly. I'll be looking to do that in this race."

Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Photo by David Magahy.
Next in line is Ryan Hunter-Reay in the fastest of the Reynards. Hunter-Reay's American Spirit Team Johansson teammate Jimmy Vasser had been showing competitive speed all weekend, but only got in three laps this afternoon before electrical problems sent him to the garage for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, none of the other Reynards has shown enough speed, so RH-R's time, nearly 2 seconds off the pace, was the best of the bunch.

Tiago Monteiro, in the backup Fittipaldi-Dingman Racing car after a crash in the morning practice, was 13th. Walker Racing's Darren Manning was in 14th, and he detailed some of the frustration that the Reynard drivers were facing: "The chicanes are brutal! I have full lock through there I have so much understeer. We just can't seem to see our way through the problem."

Vasser had to settle for 15th, and he will have Mario Haberfeld alongside him at the start in the Conquest Reynard. The final three starters will be the two Dale Coyne Racing Lolas of Gualter Salles and Geoff Boss bracketing the second Walker Reynard of Rodolfo Lavin.

After a 10:45 am warmup session, the Champ Cars will take the green flag in the Lexmark Indy 300 Sunday afternoon at 2:35 pm. For US fans this means a late night on Saturday with a race start at 12:35 am EDT.

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Series INDYCAR