Brazilian Bruno Junqueira of Target Chip Ganassi Racing has clinched the provisional pole in the first qualifying race of the Gold Coast Honda Indy 300, clocking a new track record of 1:31.515 (1:09.949mph) on his ninth lap.
In his second year in the CART Championship series, the Toyota/Lola driver picked up the pace to become the fastest qualifier for the day, and will return to the tracks again tomorrow for a second round to sustain his pole position for Sunday's race.
"It was a pretty exciting session for me because I waited a little bit to go to the track. When I went, on the first lap, there was a red flag. I went on the track, red flag again. Wait again, red flag. Then I changed, put on new tires and pushed as far as I could and I got a very good lap," said Junqueira.
When questioned on his strategic approach to the race, the Brazilian said, "I did my first lap very conservatively to guarantee a position. I slowed down in the chicanes. My style of driving can't really attack the chicanes and I have to give really hard to get a lap like this."
Junqueira (#5) finished ahead of Team KOOL Green's Paul Tracy (finishing with 1:31.575 on his seventh lap) and Target Chip Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon (1:32.143 on lap eight).
Qualifying second for the day, Canadian Paul Tracy, who won in Milwaukee earlier this year, is in the running to start in second position for the fourth time this year if he can back up his effort tomorrow.
The driver of the #26 Honda/Lola/Bridgestone finished with a speed of 109.877mph, exceeding the existing track record set by Dario Franchitti in 1999.
Tracy seemed pleased with his performance on the Surfers Paradise track, stating, "It was a great effort by the team. I went out with six minutes to go. I was able to do it right away, first set of tires. Bruno put a lap in with a minute or so to go."
"I feel I know where we can gain more time. There wasn't enough time for me to respond to Bruno's lap. We'll just have to go at it as hard as we can tomorrow and try to take it back," he said.
Tony Kanaan, Adrian Fernandez and Michel Jourdain Jr finished fifth through seventh respectively, with Kanaan reported slow on course between Turns 4 and 5, and Fernandez brushing the wall as he exited Turn 8.
Team Rahal's Jimmy Vasser finished up in eighth position, after stopping in Turn 1 with heavy damage to the machine and losing his fastest time of the session due to the delay.
"My fourth lap in the T car would have been my fifth but the rules say you lose your fastest lap of the session when you cause a red. I think we'll do better on Saturday," said Vasser. 2002 FedEx Championship series rookie Mario Dominguez (#55) was served a red flag signal and eight-minute stoppage after his vehicle took a head-on dive into the tire barrier just before Turn 1.
"Going into Turn 1, I just lost it under braking. I tried to turn right but unfortunately, I hit exactly perpendicular to the tire wall and did quite a bit of damage to the car. Luckily it was the practice session before qualifying so we were able to get the back up car out in time for qualifying," said Dominguez. In the morning practice session, reigning champion Cristiano da Matta of Newman Haas Racing had the fastest time at 1:32.977 (108.220mph/174.163km/h). Unable to emulate his performance in the qualifying race due to trouble in the chicane, da Matta could only manage a fourth place finish, but remains confident that he can still walk away the first two-time winner on the Gold Coast.
"At this point in the weekend, the car is better than it was here last year so we still hope to be the first two-time winner here. I really enjoy driving on this track and to be the first two-time winner here would be great," said da Matta.
"I was behind Kenny Brack and getting closer and closer and screwed up my lap time in the chicane. I would have had a 31.8 but that would have only been good enough for third -- we didn't have a car capable of beating Bruno's time. We'll have to work hard to come up with a better car for tomorrow," he said.
Under a revised procedure spreading the qualifying races over two days, the sessions for the event are divided into three segments: the first a 15 minute open practice; the second a ten minute down time with no cars running; and the final a 35 minute qualifying segment.