The second qualifying session of the weekend in the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford was dominated by Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais when he turned in a record setting pole position lap of 1:06.886 (105.924 mph) in preparation for the 32nd Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Undaunted by competition from Newman Haas teammate Bruno Junqueira and the teams of RuSport and Forsythe, Bourdais held off all comers to claim an inside front row start and second championship point. Bourdais qualified first on Friday and has been the front-runner in all practice sessions.
"I think the whole McDonald's team made a great effort and it showed in the performance." The two-time defending series champion said. "The car was great, not really much to complain about.
Justin Wilson of RuSPORT made perhaps the most significant improvement from the previous qualifying round. His time of 1:07.208 (105.416 mph) moved him up from seventh to second next to Bourdais.
"From here, hopefully we can have a good race." Said the British native. "We want to make sure we get on the podium on the first event and start the season off well. That's a great way to kick off this season."
Six drivers broke the previous track record of 1:07.485 established by Paul Tracy in 2005 including Bourdais, Wilson, Junqueira 1:07.225 (105.389 mph), A.J. Almendinger 1:07.249 (105.352 mph), Mario Dominguez 1:07.301 (105.270 mph) and Tracy himself 1:07.408 (105.103 mph).
In part, the widening of Turn One may have helped a bit since the turn is wider than in previous years. The result is less braking and more speed carried through the corner leading up to the signature fountain turn.
The Newman Haas duo waited until the rest of the group took the track for the final qualifying session. Dominguez held the top time for several laps but eventually would fall down the list in the waning moments.
Bourdais ran just six of his allotted 15 laps, shattering the record twice before bringing his Lola Ford into the pits with time still on the clock. The pole-winning time was the 19th of his career.
"When we pitted after the first run, it was like, boy, we've got 5/10ths on the field." Bourdais said. "It's a tough call. You want to look good for the race, so you are always tempted to try to save tires. In the meantime, you are a hero if it works and you are a dumb-ass if it doesn't."
With just 5 minutes remaining, Wilson, Junqueira and Almendinger made their moves, bolting past Dominguez, Tracy and Oriol Servia. Qualifying ended prematurely with just over two minutes to go when six drivers were hung out to dry at the hairpin. No cars suffered any significant damage but the course was blocked enough to halt the session.
Rounding out the top ten were Canadian Alex Tagliani in seventh, followed by Servia, rookie Will Power and 2002 series champion Christiano da Matta.
Katherine Legge, making her first start in Champ Cars for PKV racing, will start from the back row after her 15th place qualifying effort on Friday. It was disappointing for the three-time Formula Atlantic winner, now competing in the top series.
Legge, who made history last season when she became the first female driver to win a major U.S. open-wheeled event, was not pleased with the result but is looking forward to Sunday's 32nd Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
"Obviously, I am disappointed." Legge said. "It is a learning process for me, but the Optium -- PKV Racing team has been very supportive."