CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Saturday qualifying report

Michel Jourdain Jr. earns the first Champ Car World Series pole of his eight-year career, takes Team Rahal ride to top spot on Streets of Long Beach. LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 12, 2003) -- Team Rahal came into Long Beach as the defending ...

Michel Jourdain Jr. earns the first Champ Car World Series pole of his eight-year career, takes Team Rahal ride to top spot on Streets of Long Beach.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 12, 2003) -- Team Rahal came into Long Beach as the defending polesitter and had won a pair of poles in previous seasons, but had always done so with the two-car team fielded out of its Hilliard, Ohio shop.

Team Rahal rolled into town this year with just one car, leaving the burden of defending its 2002 pole squarely on the shoulders of Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) -- a driver that had never had a front-row starting spot in his 122 previous starts in the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.

But Jourdain rose to the challenge and joined Jimmy Vasser and Bryan Herta as Team Rahal drivers to earn Long Beach poles as the Mexican driver snapped off a quick lap of 1:08.177/103.918mph to top the speed sheets for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and earn his first-ever Champ Car pole. Jourdain's effort was nearly a full two-tenths of a second quicker than anyone else in the 19-car field and gave him the premier starting spot ahead of championship points leader Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

"I mean, it's great. I mean, the whole weekend, the car seemed very good," Jourdain said. "We just needed to get a couple of changes. Yesterday in qualifying, we thought we had a very competitive car. We made a change in the middle. We made a change yesterday, it didn't work. Today we made a little change in the middle, and it worked pretty good. It's great. It's a very long race tomorrow. Many things can happen. But I'm just very happy. I think we have a very good car on old tires, new tires. We just have to hopefully stay in the front all day long and get my first win, too."

Jourdain had been quick in Saturday's practice, showing signs of improving his sixth-place qualifying effort from Friday, and showed a brief glimpse early as he joined held down the top spot, in a brief flurry that saw Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), Adrian Fernandez (#51 Fernandez Racing Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), and Jourdain all exchange the pole in a time span of less than a minute.

Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would move to the point two minutes later however as his Rocketsports Racing team overcame a switch of chief engineers to be strong for the second consecutive race. Tagliani claimed the top spot with an effort of 1:08.371/103.623mph that would hold up for nearly 14 minutes -- an eternity during a final qualifying session.

The front half of the grid would then head for Pit Lane after Tagliani leap rogged to the top spot and put on new shoes as they waited for the track to clear. It appeared that new tires would not be enough to catch the Canadian however as a few drivers would approach Tagliani's time as the tires heated up but no one would surpass him as the sand in the timing hourglass started to run out.

But with a scant three minutes remaining on the clock, Jourdain stormed to the top of the time charts with an orbit of the 1.968-mile street course at 1:08.177/103.918mph. With time running out, Jourdain then rolled into Pit Lane to watch as the final few cars fired their last bullets, looking to knock off the Mexican driver that was looking for the first pole in what would be his 123rd career start.

One of those gunslingers left on the range was the biggest gun of the early season as Tracy had come back on track after spending nearly 20 minutes repairing the toe-in on his car after he brushed the wall on his first stint.

Tracy was able to put two fast laps up before the 40-minute session expired but could do no better than 1:08.7 as his tires were still coming up to temperature as the clock ran out, keeping the series points leader in the second spot -- a spot he earned by virtue of his leading the Friday qualifying session. The front row spot is the third in as many races for the points leader, making him the only driver to start in the front row in each of the year's first three races.

"We got out at the very end with two and a half minutes to go. I never really got a chance to really make a good run," Tracy said. "But I was able to do my first flying lap, an eight-seven (1:08.7) out of the pits. I'm disappointed in myself really because I felt we had a car that we could back up what we did yesterday, but I made a mistake early. It was frustrating."

Tagliani would have to be contented with a spot on the inside of the second row for the second consecutive race, earning his best-ever Long Beach starting spot. He will be joined in the second row by Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who will be making his best start of the season, while Junqueira's teammate Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) saw his string of two consecutive poles to start the season snapped by Jourdain as the Frenchman will take the green flag on Sunday from the fifth spot on the grid.

Carpentier and Fernandez would end up sixth and seventh after their brief flirtations with the top spot while Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would place eighth. Roberto Moreno (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) earned his best grid position of the young season with a ninth-place run while rookie Darren Manning (#15 RAC/U.S. Air Force Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) earned his first-ever Champ Car top-10 grid spot.

Sunday's 90-lap Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will take the green flag at 1 p.m. Pacific Time and can be seen live on SPEED Channel

Top three qualifiers quotes follow:

Michel Jourdain Jr.: Is the best feeling, you know. Two years ago we were here, and 30 seconds to go in the session, and I still had pole position, then they took it away from me. It was worth it for today. Many times I've been so close. I mean, Team Rahal, last year since I came on board, they've given -- finally I've reached pole, I can be in press conference, and I'm in the middle. Hopefully tomorrow it's the same.

Paul Tracy: It wasn't really our strategy. I went out in the middle of the session to give it a go. On my second lap, I hit the wall and bent the toe link on the car. I was a little bit upset with myself. It took a long time for us to change it. We had to go get the piece from the truck. We got out at the very end with two and a half minutes to go. I never really got a chance to really make a good run.

Alex Tagliani: We've been running good the first two races, and we've continued, tried to stay basic, don't try to change that much. I don't think we have the resource to change that much anyway. It's been going really well. I mean, I can't complain about the results we had. I can't complain about the way the guys are working. It's really nice to see them working that well together. A good result like this is good for the whole team.

NOTEWORTHY:

* Paul Tracy will start on the front row for tomorrow's race, marking the third consecutive race that he has done so. He has not qualified in the front row for three consecutive races since 1994, when he ended the year with three front-row starts.

* Michel Jourdain Jr. ran 122 starts before winning his first Champ Car pole today at Long Beach. The only series driver to go longer before winning his first pole was the late Scott Brayton, who won the 1995 Indianapolis 500 in the last of his 148 Champ Car starts.

* Darren Manning earned his first top-10 starting position of his young Champ Car career and also led the Reynard contingent with his 10th-place run.

* Both Mario Haberfeld and Tiago Monteiro from Fittipaldi-Dingman Racing threw out their Friday qualifying times, in order to qualify their backup cars on Saturday. Both improved their times, but while Haberfeld stayed in 15th place, Monteiro fell from 13th on Friday to 16th on Saturday.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mario Haberfeld , Darren Manning , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Tiago Monteiro , Sébastien Bourdais , Michel Jourdain