Bruno Junqueira won the provisional pole for the Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise on Friday afternoon. Junqueira had time left on the clock after he took the top spot away from Alex Tagliani in the weekend's first qualifying session, so he ran an even faster lap (1:32.708 seconds, 108.534 mph) to guarantee the place. The single point is crucial for the Newman/Haas driver as he fights to stay in the battle for the Champ Car title with PF Racing's Paul Tracy. Junqueira now is 28 points behind the Canadian driver with only 44 points left on the table. He made it clear what he plans to do: "I hope to get out of this weekend close enough to Tracy to have a chance at winning the championship. That is my goal."
Like Junqueira, Tracy is attempting to win his first CART championship and he can clinch the Vanderbilt Cup with a win on Sunday. A second place finish will also get him to that goal, but that, of course, is not in his plan. Although Tracy was the fastest in the morning practice session, he clipped a barrier wall early in the afternoon practice and was done after only three laps. His qualifying time was only good enough for fifth on the Friday chart.
Tracy will want to improve his grid position in the second round of qualifying on Saturday, and hopes to take the other qualifying point by going fastest then. In contrast to Junqueira's mood, Tracy wasn't happy with his day. "There's a lot of work to be done overnight to find the right balance and setup but I know my guys are on it. It's disappointing because all year we've been very close in times to Bruno and Sebastien and today we are a second off." he lamented.
The only other Championship contender, Michel Jourdain Jr., was mired in 9th position, his long-shot hopes looking less and less likely. Jourdain will need to score nearly every remaining point available - and hope that Tracy scores none - here and in the Fontana finale to win the Champ Car crown.
Junqueira's teammate, Champ Car's 2003 Rookie of the Year Sebastien Bourdais, nearly made it a Newman/Haas Racing 1-2, as he fell just short (0.056 seconds) of Tagliani's fastest time. Tagliani was consistently fast all day, recording a top-four time in each of today's four sessions.
The 2001 Surfers winner, Adrian Fernandez has also been fast all weekend, turning the top time in the Friday afternoon practice session, but he fell to fourth in the session that counted.
Jimmy Vasser was one of the few Reynard-mounted drivers not suffering through transmission troubles so far this weekend and was sixth fastest. Roberto Moreno and Oriol Servia were each just a few hundredths of a second slower than Vasser in seventh and eighth positions. Tracy's PF Racing teammate, Patrick Carpentier rounded out the top ten for the day.
Second round qualifying begins at 2:05 pm local time on Saturday afternoon (12:05 am EDT Saturday morning.)