CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland: Thursday qualifying report

CART Champ Car World Series points leader Paul Tracy paces first qualifying run at U.S. Bank presents the Cleveland Grand Prix. CLEVELAND (July 3, 2003) -- CART Champ Car World Series points leader Paul Tracy ( ...

CART Champ Car World Series points leader Paul Tracy paces first qualifying run at U.S. Bank presents the Cleveland Grand Prix.

CLEVELAND (July 3, 2003) -- CART Champ Car World Series points leader Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has not won on the temporary road course at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport since 1993 but he showed Thursday that he still knows the fast way around the 2.106-mile circuit.

Tracy ripped off a blistering lap that was nearly a half-second ahead of the entire field as he paced Friday's opening qualifying session for Saturday night's U.S. Bank Presents The Cleveland Grand Prix. The series points leader hung a lap of 58.405 seconds (129.811 mph) to show the way, leading the session and guaranteeing himself a front-row starting spot for Round 9 of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.

The Canadian ran the day's best lap on his sixth orbit of the Cleveland circuit on a sunny afternoon that heated up the track and sent a number of drivers rolling through the various grassy areas of the circuit. In fact, each of the top three drivers on the day took turns running some unauthorized off-course laps before recovering to post fast times.

"I had a good lap going previous to that lap, and I got a wheel off the track," Tracy said. "I did a 360 coming out of turn four, the same place that (teammate) Pat (Carpentier) did it. So, you know, I had to just regroup and try to put the lap together. It was the last lap of my first set of tires."

Defending race champion Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was one of those that took flying spins on the green side of the racetrack, but rebounded to break the 59-second barrier in taking the second spot in provisional qualifying. Carpentier put up a time of 58.868 seconds (128.790 mph) to join his Player's/Forsythe teammate in the 58-second club on his 11th lap. He would try to better that effort but spun again in the middle section of the course and was unable to go any faster.

"We had another lap that was going really, really good," Carpentier said. "It seemed to be a little bit faster. I don't know if it would have been fast enough for the pole or not. But it ended up in a 360, quite a bit of dirt and sand and stuff like that."

The battle for third was fast and furious at the end of the qualifying session as Sebastien Bourdais (#2 McDonald's/Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) swapped the third spot three times in the final minutes of the session. Bourdais pipped Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) for third on his 12th lap only to see Servia slip past him on his last orbit. Bourdais then went back out on his next pass and moved to third for good with a lap of 59.163 seconds (128.148 mph).

Bourdais had a very eventful day in taking the third spot. He went off course early in the session, then survived a near-crash that resulted in a 360-degree spin that saw him make a great save to avoid sending his newly-liveried McDonald's car into the tire barrier.

"Yeah, it was very close to a crash actually because I just succeeded in keeping the front tires on the track," Bourdais said. "So basically the car rotated with the back on the grass, but still with a bit of grip on the front, so I didn't completely lost control of the car. I succeed in getting back on the track. But, yeah, it was very close. I've been a bit lucky on this."

Bourdais' lap demoted Servia to fourth while Milwaukee winner Jourdain would round out the top five. Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would end his day in the sixth spot after a lap of 59.247 seconds (127.966 mph).

Portland winner Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) started his session slowly but came back on his second stint to climb into the top five before the last flurry of action would drop the veteran to seventh on the grid with a time of 59.340 seconds (127.765 mph).

Track record holder Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) put up the eighth-best time on the day and then went hunting for some of his competitors after feeling that he had been blocked on his last flying laps. Vasser had been as high as second in the early part of the session before ending up eighth with a best effort of 59.382 seconds. After the session Carpentier admitted that may have hindered Vasser's progress and apologized.

"I came back on the track and I went to try one more time on the last lap, but I blocked Jimmy when I came back out of the grass, and blocked him quite a bit," Carpentier said. "So I apologize to Jimmy because I knew he was on his fast lap."

Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Darren Manning (#15 RAC/Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) would round out the top 10 with final qualifying set for Friday.

There will be a pair of practice sessions Thursday night to allow drivers to get acclimated to the lights that will shine on the track all weekend in the first nighttime road-course race in North American open-wheel history. The final grid for Saturday's race will be set with Friday night qualifying starting at 8:20 p.m. The final qualifying will be shown live on SPEED Channel Saturday night.

QUOTES FROM TOP THREE:

Paul Tracy: I think the track will get faster as we run on it more. It was much faster from this morning till now. I think at night it will get faster because the track temperature will be cooler, there will be more downforce. It should just get faster.

Patrick Carpentier: For sure I like this place. In Ohio we had good success last year, won here and won Mid-Ohio. But this year's very competitive. It's going to be a night race, so it's a little bit different. It's going to make things very interesting.

Sebastien Bourdais: The problem is basically when somebody goes off of the track, is carrying some dust on the line, and when you arrive on that, most of the time you spin off, so you put even more dust on the track and it gets worse and worse. So it's fairly difficult to manage that.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Sébastien Bourdais , Michel Jourdain