ELKHART LAKE, Wis., (August 1, 2003) -- The 4.048-mile Road America circuit has been very good to Bruno Junqueira ( ...
ELKHART LAKE, Wis., (August 1, 2003) -- The 4.048-mile Road America circuit has been very good to Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) in his CART Champ Car career, having yielded the Brazilian's first-ever Champ Car victory in 2001 along with a podium finish from the pole last season.
The trend continued on a warm and humid Friday afternoon in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin as Junqueira ran away from the field to lead the first round of qualifying for Sunday's Mario Andretti Grand Prix at Road America Presented by Briggs & Stratton. Last year's polesitter was nearly a full second quicker than the entire 19-car field on the day as he hung a time of 1:43.917 (140.235 mph) to lead the way.
Junqueira led the morning practice session and felt so good about his car that he eschewed the opportunity to go out in the 10-minute warmup session that leads into Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford qualifying. He carded a time that would have been six-tenths of a second quicker than everyone with 15 minutes left in the session, and then for good measure, he lit the scoreboards with his blistering 1:43.917 on his final lap of qualifying.
The effort would guarantee Junqueira a front-row starting spot for Sunday's 60-lap event, marking the third consecutive event where the Newman/Haas Racing pilot would lead the first-round of qualifying. He also earned a championship point for leading qualifying, giving him 142 on the year and closing his gap from points leader Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to 19 points.
Junqueira led a Newman/Haas 1-2 sweep of qualifying as his teammate and rookie points leader Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) used his final flying lap to best Tracy by .003 seconds for the second position on the Friday grid. Bourdais' best lap of 1:44.722 (139.157 mph) ended a flurry of activity among the top seven drivers in the final two minutes of qualifying and vaulted him to second ahead of five other drivers that had all been in the top three during the last 120 seconds of the day.
After flat-spotting his tires on the first stint and then running out of fuel on his last lap, Tracy would have to settle for the third spot with a time of 1:44.725 (139.153 mph), a time that was .01 seconds faster than that of fourth-placed Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Fernandez is another driver that has had great success at Road America, having posted top-five finishes in four of the last five trips to the Wisconsin road course.
Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), Darren Manning (#15 RAC/Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) would finish fifth, sixth and seventh respectively after each spending a brief time in the top three at the end of the session. Three Reynard drivers would finish the session in the top 10 with rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) taking the ninth spot.
Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would end his day in the eighth spot and narrowly avoided disaster on his final lap, when he hooked a wheel in the dirt and spun in Turn 14. He would not be penalized for the spin however, as his off-road run came after the checkered flag had already flown on the session.
A pair of other drivers were not as lucky in escaping trouble, with Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Mario Haberfeld (#34 Mi-Jack/Conquest Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) getting sidelined before the Friday grid-setting ever began. The 10-minute session ended after both cars were involved in an incident in Turn 13, which started when Tiago Monteiro (#7 Fittipaldi-Dingman Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) slowed on the right side of the track.
Haberfeld had seen Monteiro's dilemma and eased out of the throttle himself, but Tagliani did not see the situation developing and ran over the back of Haberfeld's car. The Rocketsports Racing car of Tagliani got airborne and ripped most of the left side bodywork off of the car, but he landed right-side up and was uninjured. Both Tagliani and Haberfeld declined to roll out their backup cars for the qualifying session, electing instead to sit out the qualifying and keep their spare cars in the hauler.
Roberto Moreno (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) also sat the session out as his Herdez machine came down with drivetrain trouble soon after the session began. Moreno ran one out lap and discovered a skip in the power going to the wheels, so the Brazilian was forced to bring the car onto Pit Lane for a diagnosis, which revealed the trouble that would end his day.
The final grid for the Mario Andretti Grand Prix at Road America Presented by Briggs & Stratton will be set with final qualifying tomorrow, beginning at 2:45 p.m. Eastern Time. Saturday's practice session and qualifying can both be seen on HDNet.
QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE DRIVERS:
Bruno Junqueira: "The PacifiCare car was very good since the first outing this morning. I was able to run faster than everybody. I feel really confident. The balance of the car wasn't good as on the test, because on the test I lapped much faster than today. But I think that was more the track being dirty because of the heavy rain yesterday, last night, than anything.
Sebastien Bourdais: "We still have to find something, for sure. Bruno is way quicker than us. I think he had even a better lap. But I don't know. I think this Newman/Haas Lilly crew did a great job again. There is a one and two. We're going to try to keep that for tomorrow."
Paul Tracy: "We had a little bit of imbalance in the car. We're still searching for the right setup. So having a few problems out there. But, you know, we're third. If you find just a small gain in performance, it can be quite a lot of lap time. We know where our problems are. We'll just try to improve it for tomorrow and make another run at it."
* Bruno Junqueira will be looking to become the first driver since Michael Andretti in 1998-99 to repeat as a polesitter at Road America. Bruno started on pole last season before finishing third behind Cristiano da Matta and Alex Tagliani.
* The Dale Coyne Racing pair of Gualter Salles and Geoff Boss qualified 15th and 16th today, places that would be season bests for both drivers if they hold up through tomorrow's qualifying.
* Alex Tagliani did not attempt to qualify on Friday but will run Saturday as he attempts to keep his streak alive that has seen him qualify in the top three in each of his three previous Road America starts.