CHAMPCAR/CART: Mexico City: Friday qualifying report

RUPSORT'S A.J. ALLMENDINGER BESTS FIELD BY MORE THAN A HALF-SECOND TO LEADS FIRST-DAY QUALIFYING AT CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES SEASON FINALE MEXICO CITY (November 4, 2005) -- The name atop the list in today's first-round Champ Car qualifying ...

RUPSORT'S A.J. ALLMENDINGER BESTS FIELD BY MORE THAN A HALF-SECOND TO LEADS FIRST-DAY QUALIFYING AT CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES SEASON FINALE

MEXICO CITY (November 4, 2005) -- The name atop the list in today's first-round Champ Car qualifying changed hands twelve times in a 35-minute session, but the man who ended the battle on the top rung of the ladder put himself there in convincing fashion on a sun-baked Friday in Mexico City.

A.J. Allmendinger (#10 Western Union Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) stunned the field with a top lap that was more than six-tenths of a second quicker than anyone else in the field as he paced first-round qualifying for Sunday's Gran Premio Tecate/Telmex Presented by Banamex. Allmendinger lapped the 2.786-mile Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course in 1:27.349 (114.822 mph), to lead the session, score a championship point and guarantee himself a front-row starting spot for Sunday's Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season finale.

The session was stalled by a pair of red flags that fouled many strategies up and down Pit Lane as only six of the 19 drivers ran as many as 10 of their allotted 15 qualifying laps. Allmendinger hung his best time on the last of his six laps, while second-placed Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) carded his top time of 1:27.962 (114.022 mph) on the fifth of the six laps that he ran in today's session.

Allmendinger took the lead early in the session, knocking his RuSPORT teammate Justin Wilson (#9 Intel Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) off of the top spot on his third trip around the 17-turn course. Tracy, who led both the morning practice and the pre-qualifying warmup sessions, wrested the lead from Allmendinger one minute before the first red flag of the day flew after Timo Glock (#8 DHL Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) spun at the entrance to Pit Lane.

The spin was unfortunate for a number of the contenders, including 2005 series champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and his Newman/Haas Racing teammate Oriol Servia (#2 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who had just gone on course for their first laps of the day. The red flag did afford a couple of teams the opportunity to strap on the alternate red-walled Bridgestone Potenzas for their next qualifying stints, and those that did saw immediate results.

Hometown favorite Mario Dominguez (#7 Roshfrans Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) needed just three minutes on the softer Bridgestones to steal the top position from his Forsythe Championship Racing teammate, stopping the clocks with a time of 1:28.314 (113.567 mph). The lead stayed with the Mexican hero for three minutes before stablemate Tracy knocked him off the pole with the lap that would eventually earn him the second spot.

Allmendinger then hung his polewinning lap on the field two minutes later, then saw his position clinched with a cloud of tire smoke when Andrew Ranger (#27 Mi-Jack/Tide Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) spun and stalled in Turn Nine. The spin sent the scarlet banner waving for the second time in the session, and put paid to the remainder of the qualifying as the incident could not be cleaned up in time to restart the session.

Wilson ended up in the fourth spot on the day with a best time of 1:28.564 (113.247 mph), while veteran Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) used the last of his six laps to slide into the fifth position with a time of 1:28.773 (112.980 mph). Vasser has climbed to sixth in the standings on the strength of two consecutive podium finishes, and is just two points behind Allmendinger in the battle for fifth.

Bourdais and Servia scored the sixth and seventh positions respectively on the time charts, despite the fact that they ran a total on nine laps between them. Ranger finished eighth on the day even with his red-flag spin while rookie Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ended his session in the ninth spot. Power, making just his second Champ Car start, punched the time card at 1:29.445 (112.131 mph) to nip Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year winner Glock, who placed 10th after a best time of 1:29.496 (112.068 mph).

Cristiano da Matta (#21 Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) landed in the 14th spot, but it could have been worse were it not for the quick work of the Champ Car Safety Team. Da Matta spun and had light impact with the tire barrier in Turn 14, but the safety workers were able to extricate him from the barrier and get him back on course without bringing out a red flag, thus saving the 2002 series champion from losing his fastest lap.

Homero Richards (#50 Nextel/HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ended up 19th on the grid as he looks to qualify for his first Champ Car race, running a fastest lap of 1:31.329 (109.818 mph).

The grid for Sunday's race will be set by tomorrow's second-round of qualifying, beginning at 12:45 Central Time. Fans can follow all of the action live via the Race Director Powered by Intel, available on the official website of the series, www.champcar.ws.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP TWO FINISHERS

Paul Tracy: "Not what we wanted. We have been struggling with grip a little bit, fighting the car. We made some changes through qualifying that made it better. First set of tires was good. We were quickest, but we needed to improve quite a bit. My second run, I had da Matta come out the pits in front of me. He was on it. I really had to trail him around on my quick lap. Probably cost me a little bit of time with the aerodynamic turbulence and backed off of him at the end of the lap to start another lap and it went red. So we need a little bit better luck and should be better tomorrow."

A.J. Allmendinger: "Yeah, I wasn't -- really didn't know what to do with the tires, either go with the black or the red and I was going to stick with the black tires, but once I saw Mario go out there on the red and he put up a lap, that was quicker than myself on the blacks and I was really worried about Paul since he was just a touch quicker than me with the black tires, and once I saw him go on the red, I knew I had to switch to have any chance at all. The car was amazing on the red tires. I think I could have been quicker on the second lap, once we got after that, the car was just smooth as can be. I think we need to work on the black tires a little bit, get the car a little bit more stable and quicker for the race. But overall, I am pleased."

NOTEWORTHY

Fabrizio Del Monte (#4 HVM/CTE Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was not cleared to drive in this weekend's race by the Champ Car Medical Staff due to a concussion suffered in a testing session yesterday in Mexico City. The team has elected not to put a relief driver in the #4 machine.

The Champ Car Two-Seater reached a new milestone on Thursday, hitting a top speed of 190.8 mph during a session at Mexico City. The car, driven in the session by Mario Dominguez, eclipsed its previous high by more than 10 mph.

-ccws-

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