CHAMPCAR/CART: Laguna Seca: Friday report

Defending Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey Winner Patrick Carpentier Uses Momentum Gained in 2003 to Lead First Round Champ Car Qualifying at Laguna Seca MONTEREY, Calif. (September 10, 2004) -- Patrick Carpentier ( ...

Defending Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey Winner Patrick Carpentier Uses Momentum Gained in 2003 to Lead First Round Champ Car Qualifying at Laguna Seca

MONTEREY, Calif. (September 10, 2004) -- Patrick Carpentier (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) went wire-to-wire last year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to score his fourth career Champ Car victory, and took his first step toward repeating that feat by pacing first-round qualifying for Sunday's Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Carpentier led a qualifying session for the first time in the 2004 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford campaign, pacing the 18-car field after carding a top time of 1:09.918 (115.232 mph) around the 2.238-mile Laguna layout. The defending Laguna winner snapped off a pair of fast laps with five minutes to go in the session, then survived a harrowing trip through the dirt coming out of Turn Three to hold on to the first-day pole.

The French-Canadian pilot went slightly off-course coming out of Turn Three and dropped his left-side tires into the dirt, and found himself dangerously close to the section of concrete wall underneath the Bridgestone bridge. He corrected to avoid the wall and was able to keep the car out of danger, bringing it back on track just prior to the entrance on Turn Four, thus avoiding a red flag that would have cost him his polewinning time.

The last-minute flurry of activity punctuated a picture-perfect day in the Monterey hills as the morning fog burned off to reveal a crystal-clear sky with mild temperatures. The drivers took advantage immediately at the start of the 35-minute qualifying session, with six cars hitting the track at the drop of the green flag. The early action resulted in a session-long game of leapfrog at the top of the charts as six drivers held the first-day pole at one point in the action.

Defending series champion Paul Tracy (#1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) threatened early, vaulting into the top spot on his first set of tires after making a trip around the 11-turn circuit in 1:10.402 (114.440 mph). That time would last until the final five minutes of the session when Alex Tagliani (#8 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) shot to the head of the field. Carpentier topped Tagliani on his next pass, then set his eventual polewinning time on his next orbit.

Carpentier did manage to stay on top after his aforementioned save in Turn Three, but his gain was a brief loss for his Forsythe Championship Racing stablemate, as Tracy was on a flying lap behind Carpentier when he got caught in the shower of dust kicked up by Carpentier's wayward machine. Tracy was able to turn a better lap on his final pass however, snaring the third position on the charts with a best lap of 1:10.214 (114.746 mph).

Tracy would settle for third when series points leader Sebastien Bourdais (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) slipped past the defending series titlewinner on his penultimate lap. Bourdais hung a time of 1:10.130 (114.884 mph) on the board to claim the second spot and had one final lap to try and upend Carpentier, but was unable to find the extra speed he needed.

Carpentier's first-day pole locked him into a front-row starting spot and also gave him a championship point, moving the veteran into sole possession of fourth place in the season standings. His total of 182 moves him one point ahead of Tagliani with another point available to the leader of final qualifying. Tagliani ended the day in the fourth position after twice leading during the 35-minute qualifying, while 2003 Laguna runner-up Bruno Junqueira (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top five after finishing just .009 seconds behind Tagliani in the Friday session.

Junqueira took the fifth spot on the Friday grid by an even closer margin as the Newman/Haas Racing driver pipped Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) by just .005 seconds, while rookie points leader and hometown favorite A.J. Allmendinger (#10 BG Products/Red Bull Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) settled for seventh after making a best lap of 1:10.463 (114.341 mph).

Fellow Californian Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) slipped into the eighth spot while Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Rodolfo Lavin (#3 Corona Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top 10.

It was a rough day for the rookies in the field aside from the seventh-place Allmendinger. Of the six rookies in the Champ Car field, five of them made up the final five places on the Friday grid, although Guy Smith (#17 Rocketsports Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) had a time that would have put him 12th on the grid taken away after he went over his allotment of 15 qualifying laps. Smith ran 16 laps, which by rule meant that he would lose his fastest lap. He would end up finishing 16th during first-day qualifying after the penalty.

The final grid will be set Saturday with final qualifying for the Champ Cars in a session that takes the green flag at 1:45 Pacific Time.

QUOTES FROM TOP THREE QUALIFIERS:

PATRICK CARPENTIER (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "Today was very good. We had a mechanical issue in the morning. The car was fast during the afternoon, however, we decided to make a change and it was a bad one. So we re-set the car to the morning's set-up and the car was back to normal and fast. On the second stint during qualifying, we put on the option tire which helped a lot. I was running a little slow on my fast lap, but I was able to make the time up later on during that lap to post the time I did. I think the track will be faster tomorrow so we will see if we can get faster and hold on to the pole for the race."

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "I am pretty happy. Last year we struggled here, but this time the McDonald's car suits much better to my driving style. I am happy to be second because we are so close to the pole position. The track should be faster tomorrow and we will fight hard to earn the pole tomorrow."

PAUL TRACY (#1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "I am fairly pleased with our result today. On the first set of tires, we were able to post our quickest lap. During the second set, we put on the option tires and then waited. We waited too long looking for a gap because there was a lot of traffic out on the track. When I finally went out and got my tires to temp, I only had one lap to post a quicker time. I let Pat (Carpentier) get around me, then he went off the track which threw dust and rocks on my car and all over my helmet. I couldn't see for the next few turns, so I wasn't able to improve my time before the session came to an end."

-ccws-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Guy Smith , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Mario Dominguez , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger