CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland: Saturday qualifying report

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA EARNS HIS FIRST BRIDGESTONE POLE POSITION SINCE 2004 BY LEADING HARD-FOUGHT CHAMP CAR QUALIFYING IN PORTLAND PORTLAND (June 17, 2006) -- Bruno Junqueira ( ...

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA EARNS HIS FIRST BRIDGESTONE POLE POSITION SINCE 2004 BY LEADING HARD-FOUGHT CHAMP CAR QUALIFYING IN PORTLAND

PORTLAND (June 17, 2006) -- Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has had more than his share of bad luck through the first four races of the 2006 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season, so the Brazilian decided to take luck out of the equation in today's final qualifying for the G.I. Joe's Presents The Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland.

Junqueira used his penultimate lap around the 1.964-mile road circuit to gain three spots and claim the Bridgestone Pole Position, winning a tight battle that saw the first three qualifiers covered by a microscopic .015 seconds. Junqueira's time of 57.631 seconds (122.684 mph) gave him his first pole of the year and his first since the 2004 season opener, besting A.J. Allmendinger (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) by .008 seconds, with points leader Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) another .007 behind in third.

The beginning of the session saw sun bathe the Portland track for the first time this weekend, and the action heated up to match the temperatures almost immediately. It took just three laps for last year's polesitter Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to top Friday's best speed and the Brit took command early, lowering the top time on three of his next four laps, becoming the first driver of the weekend to hit the 57-second range in the process.

With two sets of the red-rimmed alternate Bridgestone Potenzas at his disposal, Bourdais strapped the first set on and vaulted to the top of the order on his fourth pass, dropping Wilson back to third behind Bourdais and first-round leader Allmendinger.

The majority of the teams then went to Pit Lane for final adjustments and to get a fresh set of Bridgestones, setting the stage for a furious final 10 minutes.

Defending race winner Cristiano da Matta (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was the first to make a move, jumping into the third spot, only to see the former #10 driver drop him back as Allmendinger posted his best lap, taking the pole. The Californian then overshot the approach to the Festival Curves on his next lap, forcing him to go hard on the brakes and slide the tires, effectively ending any chance he had to post a better time. With his 57.639 in his pocket, Allmendinger retired to Pit Lane to sweat out the final few minutes knowing that Bourdais and Junqueira still had plenty of time to leapfrog him and take the pole.

Wilson dropped his best time to 57.818 on his next-to-last lap while Junqueira and Bourdais rolled off with their second set of alternate Bridgestone Potenzas bolted on to their Newman/Haas machines. Bourdais used two laps to get up to speed and eventually set a best time of 57.646 seconds (122.652 mph) to take the third spot, but while most eyes were on the man who has won each of the first four races of the year, Junqueira slowly started his climb up the order.

The Brazilian's eighth lap moved him into fourth and as Allmendinger watched from the relative safety of his Forsythe pits, Junqueira's next pass elevated him to the top spot with less than a minute left in the session.

"I was watching Bourdais' times and then I happened to catch Bruno's mid-lap time, I saw he was ahead of us at that point and I thought, 'Oh no'," Allmendinger said.

The late flurry dropped Wilson to fourth in the starting order for tomorrow's 105-lap race, while da Matta's time of 58.018 seconds (121.866 mph) slotted him in the fifth spot, marking his highest starting position of the 2006 campaign.

Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing -- HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) had the best qualifying performance of his young Champ Car career, with his top time of 58.214 seconds (121.455 mph) good enough for a sixth-place grid spot. Clarke was followed by Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year points leader Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) in seventh while Milwaukee podium-sitter Nelson Philippe (#4 Wellbox Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ended up in eighth.

Nicky Pastorelli (#8 Rocketsports Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) had his best-ever Champ Car qualifying result in today's sunny session, qualifying 11th with a time of 58.826 seconds (120.192 mph). His Rocketsports teammate Tonis Kasemets (#18 Flexovit Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will make his series debut in tomorrow's race, starting from the 18th position.

Tomorrow's 105-lap race will get the green flag at 12:30 p.m. local time (3:30 Eastern) and can be seen live on CBS Sports. In addition, fans can follow live via the Race Director feature available on the series' official website, www.champcar.ws.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE QUALIFIERS

Sebastien Bourdais: "I'm very happy for Bruno. I think he's been through an extremely rough time. It's good to see him back up there. The whole Newman/Haas team did its best to bring the whole thing together. I think we have a great package once again, both the McDonald's car and the Hole in the Wall Camp car are both performing very well. I think it's a perfect setup for us for the race."

A.J. Allmendinger: "I don't think I got everything out of it because I caught a little bit of traffic on the last couple laps. But, you know, I guess I took it at the end yesterday. I probably deserve to have it taken away from me today in the last lap."

Bruno Junqueira: "I'm quite happy with the result to be on the pole after such a long time. After my accident, it's the first time I'm on the pole, so I'm quite happy with that. Very happy with the work the whole Newman/Haas team did for me, especially after a very difficult weekend in Milwaukee, and a very difficult day yesterday. Very nice to come here, rebound and come off with the pole."

NOTEWORTHY

Today's qualifying session saw the first three qualifiers separated by .015 seconds, the closest session since the 2002 event at Chicago Motor Speedway when Dario Franchitti, Alex Tagliani and Cristiano da Matta also qualified within .015 seconds of each other.

Bruno Junqueira became the 15th different driver in the last 15 seasons to win a pole at Portland International Raceway. Emerson Fittipaldi (1992-93) is the last driver to win more than one pole at Portland.

Bruno Junqueira starts from pole tomorrow and has two runner-up finishes in Portland but has never led a Champ Car lap in Portland.

Dan Clarke's sixth-place qualifying result is the best for a Champ Car rookie since Andrew Ranger started fourth at Cleveland last year.

The command of 'Drivers Start Your Engines' tomorrow will be given via satellite from Afghanistan as members of the Oregon National Guard's 'Task Force Phoenix V' will give the command.

-ccws-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Bruno Junqueira , Alex Tagliani , Dario Franchitti , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Nelson Philippe , Andrew Ranger , Will Power , Tonis Kasemets , Nicky Pastorelli , Cristiano da Matta , Dan Clarke