CHAMPCAR/CART: Mexico City: Friday qualifying report

Bruno Junqueira Whittles another Point from Sebastien Bourdais' Champ Car Points Lead by Leading Friday Qualifying in Mexico City MEXICO CITY (November 5, 2004) -- Picking up where he left off in Australia, Bruno Junqueira ( ...

Bruno Junqueira Whittles another Point from Sebastien Bourdais' Champ Car Points Lead by Leading Friday Qualifying in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY (November 5, 2004) -- Picking up where he left off in Australia, Bruno Junqueira (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) turned in a strong performance when he most needed to have one Friday in Mexico City.

Needing to gather every point he can in order to improve his Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford title hopes, Junqueira grabbed the first one available this weekend, pacing first-round qualifying for Sunday's Gran Premio Telmex/Tecate Presented by Banamex. Trailing Newman/Haas teammate Sebastien Bourdais (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) by 22 points coming into the weekend, Junqueira lopped a single point off that advantage Friday after putting up a session-best time of 1:27.565 (114.539 mph/184.332 kph) around the 2.786-mile Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course.

The battle for the point, and the guaranteed front-row starting spot for Sunday's race that goes along with it, came down to the very last second of the 35-minute session as Bourdais and Junqueira fought bitterly for the first-day pole. Bourdais found himself atop the time charts as the pair began their last lap, but Junqueira vaulted ahead of his teammate with a quick time on his last pass of the session. Bourdais pushed hard behind him in an attempt to reclaim the spot but spun at the end of the final long straight and would have to settle for the second spot.

Bourdais was the last car to go out in the opening session but took just two laps to climb to the top of the speed sheets. He ran one more lap and rolled into the pits, seemingly content with a time of 1:27.822 (114.204 mph/183.793 kph). He and Junqueira both waited until there were just five minutes remaining in the session to go back out, Junqueira on the alternate Bridgestone Potenza tires and Bourdais on the standard shoes. Junqueira would use the alternate tires to great advantage in carding his top time, while Bourdais would be content with saving an extra set of alternate tires for Saturday's final qualifying.

The two top rookies in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year battle showed their considerable skills in their first days on the tricky Mexico City track as A.J. Allmendinger (#10 Western Union Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Justin Wilson (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ended the day in the third and fourth spots respectively in the session. Allmendinger posted a top lap of 1:27.858 (114.157 mph/183.717 kph) to take the third spot while Wilson was fourth with a time of 1:27.870 (114.141 mph/183.692 kph).

Allmendinger was second for a good portion of the session, but like many of the drivers in today's first qualifying, left a number of laps on the table. Allmendinger ran just eight of his 15 allotted trips in the session and was still less than three-tenths from the pole time. Wilson was also strong throughout the qualifying run despite never having seen the track before, despite running just nine laps.

Defending Mexico City winner Paul Tracy (#1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) made a late charge to move into the top five, running a best lap of 1:27.971 (114.010 mph/183.481 kph). His late leap moved him ahead of Roberto Gonzalez (#21 Nextel Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who had his best qualifying session of the 2004 season. Gonzalez, who turned heads all day by running in the top-five in practice, carded a quick time of 1:28.106 (113.836 mph/183.200 kph) to wind up sixth.

The action started quickly when the emerald banner waved to begin the session, with five drivers hitting the track immediately, led by local favorite Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). In all, 16 of the 19 cars had taken their first laps with just 11 minutes gone in the session with Allmendinger holding down the top spot.

Things ground to a halt five minutes later when Patrick Carpentier (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) brought out the session's only red flag when he stalled off course in Turn Six. Carpentier would eventually rejoin the fray and ended up 11th after being towed back on course by the Champ Car Safety Team. Bourdais led the field off Pit Lane when session restarted, and immediately vaulted to the top, where he would stay until the last minute of the qualifying run.

Alex Tagliani (#8 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) claimed the seventh spot, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), Jourdain and Oriol Servia (#11 YokeTV.com Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounding out the top 10. Michael Valiante (#15 Wildlife Conservation Network Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) finished 17th in his first-ever Champ Car qualifying session, running a best lap of 1:30.473 (110.857 mph/178.407 kph) The final grid for Sunday's 63-lap Champ Car season finale will be set with Saturday's qualifying run, which gets underway at 1:45 p.m. Central Time.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE QUALIFIERS:

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "I feel happy with today's result. It is important to get the pole, it is especially important to get the Championship point and be starting on the front row for the race on Sunday. The PacifiCare car was good this morning, so we did not make any changes for the afternoon. However, the car was not as good in the afternoon. We made some drastic changes and I went out pushing as hard as I could, making sure not to make any mistakes. This puts some pressure on Sebastien (Bourdais) for tomorrow. The car wasn't perfect today, so we will make changes to improve the car for tomorrow. We will try to work very hard to put it back on the pole tomorrow."

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "The McDonald's car is definitely looking very good. I think most of the front-runners have been running on the alternate tires that Bridgestone has brought along. They're definitely much faster. For the second run, definitely there is a lot left tomorrow. I knew it was going to be really hard to compete against Bruno, with the regular tires, and Bruno with the alternate tires, but I went for it. It was a very, very strong first run. I just laid the car very much on the edge, but didn't make it in the last turn at the end of the session; unfortunately I pushed to the limit."

A.J. ALLMENDINGER (#10 Western Union Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) : "I was pleased overall. First time here for myself and for the team. We've just been picking away a little bit during the practice session and during qualifying. I think there's still a lot left in myself and in the car. So overall, any time you can be in the Top 3 in this series, it's great. I think there's more tomorrow for us to have. As long as we continue the progress, I think we can be there."

-ccws-

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