SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS SCORES FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP POINT OF 2006 CHAMP CAR SEASON BY LEADING FRIDAY QUALIFYING FOR TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH
LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 7, 2006) -- Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
It took just 30 minutes for two-time defending Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to resume his place at the top of the point standings, as the Frenchman claimed the first available point of the 2006 season by leading Friday qualifying at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Bourdais earned the first point of the year and guaranteed himself a front-row starting spot for Sunday's season opener after posting a best lap of 1:07.675 (104.689 mph) to lead Friday qualifying at the 1.968-mile street circuit in Long Beach. Bourdais' fast lap ended a furious game of leapfrog atop the time charts, ending a chase that saw six different drivers hold the pole at various times throughout the 30-minute outing.
Bourdais headed a 1-2 Newman/Haas Racing sweep on a sunny Long Beach Friday, besting his teammate Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole in the Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) by 0.066 seconds. Junqueira, who ran his first Champ Car session since his devastating accident in last year's Indianapolis 500, hung up a time of 1:07.741 (104.587 mph) on just his fifth lap of the year, slipping into the second spot.
Four-time Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) showed his customary speed on the Southern California streets, ending his day in the third spot despite the fact that he banged the wall and shredded his right-rear tire with six minutes to go in the session. Tracy's best lap of 1:07.947 (104.270 mph) was the last of the 18-car field to card a time in the 67-second range on the day.
All three drivers swapped the lead furiously through the final 10 minutes of the session with Tracy the first to show his muscle. Tracy jumped ahead of the surprising Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to take the lead in the session but his reign at the top lasted less than 30 seconds before Junqueira flashed to the top. Tracy re-took the lead on his next pass but Junqueira again wrested the top position away before Tracy got to the end of the front straight.
Bourdais then climbed to the top with what would eventually be his session-leading lap just as Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream/Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) slid into the tire barrier in Turn Eight. Vasser's spin did not immediately end the session however, as cars continued to circulate. Seeing this, Tracy tried to use his red-walled Bridgestone Potenza option tires to reclaim the point from Bourdais. His effort would come up short however, as the four-time LBGP winner slid the left-rear of his car into the concrete barrier coming out of Turn Nine.
The red flag then waved as the Champ Car Safety Team was dispatched to retrieve Vasser's stricken car, ending the session three minutes early. The red flag would cost Vasser his fastest lap time of the session, but would not drop him down in the qualifying order, as he ended his day in the 13th position.
A.J. Allmendinger (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) snared the fourth spot on the day, posting the best qualifying effort of his three Long Beach trips. Allmendinger got around the 11-turn course in 1:08.030 (104.142 mph) to finish fourth, one position ahead of Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who stopped the clocks at 1:08.102 (104.032 mph).
Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) finished sixth in the opening session after turning a best lap of 1:08.318 (103.703 mph), putting him one spot ahead of Power, who is in line for his best-ever Champ Car starting spot if he can back up today's performance in tomorrow's final qualifying.
Dale Coyne Racing's Cristiano da Matta (#19 Sonny's BBQ Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) gave his new machine a strong ride, ending his day in the eighth spot, putting him one slot ahead of Oriol Servia (#6 Gulfstream/Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Rookie Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing-HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top 10 in his first-ever Champ Car session, placing 10th with a time of 1:08.766 (103.028 mph).
Power and Clarke were the only rookies in the top 10 today, leading a six-person group of first-year drivers in their debut sessions. Antonio Pizzonia (#8 Rotax/Rocketsports Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Katherine Legge (#20 Gulfstream/Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) finished 14th and 15th respectively in their sessions.
The final grid will be set with Saturday's final qualifying session, which gets underway at 2 p.m. Pacific Time, 5 p.m. Eastern. Fans can follow the action via Champ Car's Race Director feature, as well as through the live timing and scoring features available on the official website of the Champ Car World Series, www.champcar.ws.
QUOTES FROM TOP THREE QUALIFIERS:
Sebastien Bourdais #1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone - "The track may have been as good as it's ever been here and the Bridgestone Potenzas worked very well for me today. I've never been fast in the first session in Long Beach so this is a new thing for us. We may be able to get into the 1:06 range tomorrow if we keep improving."
Bruno Junqueira #2 Newman/Haas Racing Ford-Cosworth/Bridgestone/Lola -- "It feels great to be back here and to have found some speed on the first day. The changes to Turn One made the corner a lot faster but it may have taken a passing opportunity away because the braking zone is a bit shorter now. But the track is good and I really love racing here."
Paul Tracy #3 INDECK Ford-Cosworth/Bridgestone/Lola -- "I was pushing really hard, we went out on the Bridgestone option tire and they came in really quickly for me and the car felt good. It just slipped a little on me and I hit the wall. I'm an old guy, I am pushing hard to keep up with these young guys!"
* After the day's first session, the Champ Cars are less than two-tenths of a second off of the Long Beach track record of 1:07.485 (104.983 mph) set last year by Paul Tracy.
* Will Power led today's rookie class by placing seventh in the first qualifying session. Only two rookies qualified in the top 10 for last year's Long Beach event, led by eventual Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year Award winner Timo Glock.
* The polesitter for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has failed to win the race in each of the last four seasons. Helio Castroneves was the last polesitter to win in Long Beach, taking the checkers in 2001.
* Paul Tracy leads all active Champ Car drivers with four Long Beach wins, although none of them have come from the pole.