CHAMPCAR/CART: Junqueira jams in Long Beach on Friday

The battle between Bruno Junqueira and Paul Tracy is on again through the streets of Long Beach as this duo, combatants to the final round of last year's Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford went to work in preliminary qualifying for the 30th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Bruno Junqueira.
Photo by Todd Corzett.
When the 40-minute session ended, it was Junqueira on top in the #6 PacifiCare Lola/Ford-Cosworth/Bridgestone machine with a lap on the 1.968- mile, 11-turn street circuit of 68.973 seconds (102.808mph). Earning the first point of the year Junqueira joked, "Is the banquet tonight?" Crediting his Newman/Haas Racing team, the Brazilian noted, "The team did a great job today. The car was really good and, even with traffic, the time was there."

2003 Champ Car titleholder Tracy was second with a tour of 69.156 seconds (102.447mph) in the #1 Indeck Lola on a warm, sunny and windy afternoon. "Everybody was on track the last nine minutes," after a red flag to tow in Tarso Marques' stricken #19 AMR Lola when the Brazilian made contact with the Turn 8 wall. "I'm pleased with how the day went but still felt I could go quite a bit quicker. When we switched tires, there was just too much traffic" to post a better lap. Tracy held the fastest time until only four minutes remained in the session.

Alex Tagliani nabbed the third-quickest lap of 69.450 seconds (102.013mph) for his #8 Johnson Controls Lola team on Tag's 10th of 12 laps taken during the session. He thought the run was just "okay, but it's good for our team to be up front at the start of the season. We made a major change after practice this morning and I think we'll go back to what we had this morning. I'm confident we can do better," Tagliani declared.

The #55 Herdez Competition Lola driven by Mario Dominguez snagged the fourth best speed today, as the third-year veteran logged a lap of 69.458 seconds (201.001mph) on his 11th of 14 laps. New teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay was fifth in the #4 Herdez Lola at 69.613 seconds (101.774mph).

After lagging toward the rear of the time sheets much of the session, Patrick Carpentier nailed the sixth best lap in his #7 Indeck Lola at 69.730 seconds (101.603mph) on his 10th of 12 total laps around this tricky track.

A.J. Allmendinger.
Photo by Todd Corzett.
Rookie A.J. Allmendinger, the reigning Toyota Atlantic champion held third place until the very last minutes, when others beat his lap of 69.905 seconds (101.349mph), but the young American was "very, very pleased because we started off with a car I felt comfortable in and we're making small adjustments and improvements." He ended up in seventh place for the day in the #10 BG Products/Red Bull Lola.

Rodolfo Lavin was among those to use the "option" tire Bridgestone brought to Long Beach, a circuit where they are able to run a softer tire anyway. Lavin's lap of 69.953 seconds (101.279mph) elevated the #3 Corona Lola to eighth place at the end of time trials.

Sebastien Bourdais' third lap (of 10) in the #2 McDonald's Lola earned the Frenchman ninth place on the provisional grid at 70.033 seconds (101.164mph). After the red flag, Bourdais was unable to get a clear lap and, while "the car is not bad at all, I just couldn't use it," he said. "When you slow [for traffic], the tires pick up debris and it takes a lap to clean them. Jimmy Vasser rounded out the top ten with his lap of 70.056 seconds (101.131mph) in the #12 Gulfstream-sponsored Lola from PKV Racing.

Rookie Justin Wilson tried out the option tire on his #34 Mi-Jack Lola and it helped the Briton to 11th on Friday's time sheets. Michel Jourdain Jr., making his first start in the #9 Gigante Lola run by RuSPORT Racing claimed 12th place, and the Mexican - last year's Long Beach polesitter - knows, "We're still a little far away from the front and from where we want to be, but I'm happy to be here."

Mario Haberfeld, who joined Walker Racing just last week, was 13th in the team's #5 Cummins Inc. Reynard, followed by Oriol Servia, introduced as the driver of Dale Coyne's #11 YokeTV.com this morning was 14th, yet flunked technical inspection and was placed 18th instead. Rookie Alex Sperafico took 15th in the #14 Mi-Jack Reynard, while 17-year-old Nelson Philippe was 16th in the LeasePlan Lola from Rocketsports. Roberto Gonzalez (#21 NII Holdings Lola and Marques rounded out the field.

A good crowd turned out on this picture-perfect Friday afternoon to serenade the 18 Champ Car drivers with enthusiastic cheers. With the top seven drivers separated by less than a second and all but Marques within three seconds on this tight, unforgiving course.

Junqueira is guaranteed a front row start due to his lock on provisional qualifying, while Tracy and the balance of the 18-car field have another day to post a quick lap. "I don't think the Championship will be between me and Paul this year," Junqueira stated. "There are ten drivers here capable of winning races."

Final qualifying is at 1:45PM PDT tomorrow and will set the field for the 30th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday at 1PM local time. The race runs 81 laps or 105 minutes and is being broadcast by Spike TV at 4PM EDT.