CHAMPCAR/CART: Canadian day at Mid-Ohio

Three Canadian drivers topped the order for today's qualifying session for the CART Champ Car World Series at the Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.

Paul Tracy took the championship point and the guaranteed front row starting position for Sunday's race with a fast time of 1:07.204 (120.957 mph.) After a tough weekend at Road America, he was happy to get back to form at the undulating Central Ohio road race circuit.

Paul Tracy.
Photo by Michael Kim.
"It's always important to respond to a challenge. I dominated for a few races and Bruno responded (with a win and a sweep of the points at Road America), while I made a mistake," said the Team Forsythe driver.

While many drivers had troubles with traffic on the tight circuit, Tracy was able to get a clear run to set his fast time, saying: "I had some traffic ahead of me (on his second set of tires) then a few guys went in and the last two or three laps I had were pretty clear."

Rocketsports Racing's Alex Tagliani was second fastest and he also credited a clear track ahead of him for his fast lap. "I had an OK lap on my first set (of tires) and got lucky on the second set and had a clear run."

Tracy's Forsythe teammate, defending race winner Patrick Carpentier, wasn't so lucky with traffic but still managed to record the third fastest time of today's session. Carpentier, in fact, had a couple of run-ins with other drivers during the session. He very nearly collected Max Papis when going slowly as he approached Mid-Ohio's Carousel turn. Papis locked up his brakes and nearly stalled while successfully avoiding contact with Carpentier, but the fast lap he had been on was spoiled.

"I screwed Max Papis a little just trying to get a clear lap. It was either him or me. Max is one of those guys, you know if you let him by, you won't get back past him," he explained.

Carpentier was able to avoid any penalty for that incident, but he was docked his fast lap for blocking Jimmy Vasser on another lap. His second-best lap was good enough to keep him in third spot, so the net effect of the penalty was minimal.

Of course, the traffic problems that many drivers faced were compounded as usual by most of the drivers waiting until very late in the session to go for their fast lap. The two Dale Coyne Racing cars of Gualter Salles and Geoff Boss had the 2.258-mile track to themselves for the first 10 minutes of the 35-minute qualifying session, while all the other drivers waited for the track to get faster. When those two drivers came in, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Adrian Fernandez went out for a few lonely laps and only then did the rest of the cars go out to make runs on their first set of tires.

When the session clock showed five minutes to go, the track was full with all the drivers trying to get their fast lap in. Tracy had already set his fast time and was coming in, but the rest of the field was fighting for clear space that very few found. A red flag with 2 minutes to go for a spin in the Carousel by Vasser ended the session early, frustrating many drivers that were on a flying lap.

Bruno Junqueira.
Photo by Michael Kim.
Points leader, Bruno Junqueira was one of those caught out and was only 11th fastest on the day. "I think we had a top-three car but we couldn't get a clear lap. During my second stint, I was on my first hot lap and the red flag came out. It was a very difficult session."

Sebastien Bourdais, who was runner-up to his Newman/Haas Racing teammate at Road America, managed to get sixth on the provisional grid (behind Mario Dominguez and Michel Jourdain, Jr.) today, but also ran afoul of the conditions.

"The timing of the red flag didn't help us today. I was on the final corner before the front straight (on his hot lap) when the red came out and I took it easy through the area. Even after backing off, the lap time would have put us in third, but it was disallowed."

The Champ Car World Series drivers go for the pole position and the final grid order tomorrow at 1:45 pm.