Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford driver Bruno Junqueira inherited the provisional pole this evening from his teammate Sebastien Bourdais after the defending series champion failed a post-qualifying technical inspection.
By virtue of claiming the top spot, Junqueira is guaranteed a front row starting position and one valuable championship point.
Responding deftly to everything that was thrown in front of him, Bourdais had bested a field of 15 drivers to take top honors before the inspection. His time of 59.110 seconds was to establish a new track record on the circuit's maiden event, but that honor now rests with Junqueira and his time of 59.617.
"Obviously the McDonald's car was awesome today", Bourdais said."It was an eventful qualifying session with all the red flags. The layout is nice, the facility is awesome but it's a regret they didn't do more grinding. It's so bumpy out there so I'm very happy to secure a front row start. It's very important, especially here. We are starting off on a good note and hopefully we can keep progressing in this direction."
Junqueira will now attempt to hold off Bourdais, who, with two successive series championships under his belt, will be chomping at the bit tomorrow for second round qualifying action around Houston's twisty 1.69-mile, nine-turn street circuit.
You could have thrown a blanket over the next six competitors. Canadian Paul Tracy ending up second best at 1:00.032, followed by RuSPORT Racing's A.J. Allmendinger just a fraction behind at 1:00.047, Alex Tagliani who also turned a 1:00.047, Mario Dominguez with 1:00.134, Justin Wilson's 1:00.149 and Oriol Servia's 1:00.268.
Only eight minutes into the first qualifying round, rookie Nicky Pastorelli brought out the first red flag with a crash. The rookie was fine but the incident would cost him his fastest lap as a penalty.
Early on, it was Junqueira who held the top spot. Bourdais and Tracy had barely warmed up their tires when the Red Flag came out, but as soon as the track was cleared it was like releasing a heard of wild bulls. Within a matter of moments Bourdais was topping the charts, and Tracy was not far behind.
"Being second fastest (now first) is good after the problems we had in the first (practice) session", said Junqueira, now in his fourth season with Newman Haas."Something broke on the car; it was not a perfect situation since we needed to learn the new course. In qualifying it was a gamble to go so early. I had only one flying lap before the first red flag came out and was P1. Then I had to wait and went back out but another came out. It was hard to get into a rhythm with all the red flags. I was second when we went out for our last try but I got behind traffic. Tomorrow I have to work a little harder to get closer to Sebastien."
Rookie driver Will Power, who had been running as high as third, managed to throw his fast lap out the window when he, too, found the barriers. That shunt dropped him down the charts to finish eighth. Nelson Philippe was ninth, and former series champion Christiano Da Matta posted the tenth-fastest time.
Bourdais had the field by more than half a second when another Red Flag came out, again for Pastorelli. When the green flag flew once more, Junqueira closed the gap to just over a tenth. This proved to only insight the two-time series champion to lay down the gauntlet.
With less than five minutes to go, Bourdais put up a time for all to beat, clearing his previous best by over three tenths of a second. When the checkered flew to bring the day to an end it was the Newman Haas boys at the top once again. For the technical violation, though, Bourdais was relegated to last place and all of his times were wiped clean.
Friday's qualifying round was held in the evening in preparation for the 8 pm local time start on Sunday. Saturday's qualifying session begins at 5 pm local time and will determine the final front row starting position along with placement of the remaining teams based on the fast time from either round.