CHAMPCAR/CART: Road America: Saturday qualifying report

ROOKIE DAN CLARKE GETS HELP FROM MOTHER NATURE AT ROAD AMERICA, SCORES FIRST POLE OF YOUNG CHAMP CAR CAREER ELKHART LAKE, Wis.(September 23, 2006) -- Champ Car rookie Dan Clarke ( ...

ROOKIE DAN CLARKE GETS HELP FROM MOTHER NATURE AT ROAD AMERICA, SCORES FIRST POLE OF YOUNG CHAMP CAR CAREER

ELKHART LAKE, Wis.(September 23, 2006) -- Champ Car rookie Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing -- HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) wasn't taking any chances Saturday at Road America, despite the fact that persistent rains appeared to have handed him the first Bridgestone Pole Position of his young Champ Car career.

His Friday time of 1:55.123 (126.585 mph) was the best effort of first-round qualifying for the Champ Car Grand Prix of Road America, and each drop of rain that fell on the 4.048-mile Elkhart Lake circuit made it less and less likely that anyone could approach his Friday time.

But while Clarke's CTE Racing -- HVM teammates were beginning to celebrate, Clarke stayed strapped into his 750hp Champ Car, readying himself to go out and defend his position if the need arose.

"With about 15 minutes left in the session, my guys started taking their helmets off and talking about what we had done," Clarke recalled. "I just stayed in the car because it might have stopped raining and gotten drier and you never know what can happen."

In the end, the rains got harder, the track got wetter and the times got slower, meaning that Clarke never had to turn a lap to win his first Champ Car pole. Clarke became the first series rookie since 2003 to win a Bridgestone Pole Position, and gave his CTE Racing -- HVM squad its first pole in two years with Friday's performance.

But despite the fact that no one was going to better their Friday times because of the rain, there was still a reason for most of the field to venture on track as a championship point and a spot on the outside of the front row would be awarded to today's fastest qualifier.

Needing no more motivation than that, most of the field ventured out onto what was becoming an increasingly-wet race track, with the hopes of getting quick laps on the board as each drop of rain made the track slower. The point was important for many of the drivers on the grid, but vastly more so for the trio of drivers fighting for the 2006 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford title. Two-time defending series champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) carried a 62-point lead into the weekend, with A.J. Allmendinger (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) making their last-ditch efforts to stay in the hunt.

Allmendinger was the first to make his move to the top of the speed sheets, but Bourdais threw the gauntlet down one lap later, carding a time that was four seconds ahead of the field at that time. The defending champ ran just five laps in the session, but his fourth one stopped the clocks at 2:06.460 (122.517 mph), dropping his best time again by a full second and giving the rest of the field something to shoot at.

Wilson ran the second-most laps of the session as he chased Bourdais, but was still a half-second behind the Frenchman as time ticked off the clock. But despite Clarke's determination that things could change, only the frequency of the rain ever did as harder rains soaked the track and prevented anyone else from upending the series champion.

Bourdais earned a starting spot on the outside of the front row with his performance today, but more importantly he scored a championship point, boosting his lead to 63 over Allmendinger and Wilson. The boost means that Bourdais needs only to score seven more points than his pursuers in order to match Ted Horn as the only Champ Car driver ever to win three consecutive championships.

The remainder of the field will lineup according to Friday's first-round times, with Mi-Jack Conquest Racing rookie Charles Zwolsman (#34 Mi-Jack Conquest Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) earning a career-best third-place starting spot. Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who comes into the weekend on a streak of three consecutive Road America podiums, will start alongside Zwolsman in the second row.

Allmendinger and Wilson will start their pursuit of Bourdais from the third row with Allmendinger starting fifth and Wilson sixth. The result breaks a season-long streak that had seen Allmendinger start fourth or better in every race. Rookies will make up the fourth row as Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year points leader as Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Katherine Legge (#20 Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will start seventh and eighth respectively. Andrew Ranger (#27 WalMart/Tide Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) earned his sixth consecutive top-10 starting spot by gridding ninth while two-time Road America winner Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounds out the top 10.

Tomorrow's Champ Car Grand Prix of Road America gets underway tomorrow at 1 p.m. Central Time (2 p.m. Eastern) and can be seen live on SPEED. Fans can follow all of the action via the Race Director feature, available of the official website of the Champ Car World Series -- www.champcar.ws.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE QUALIFIERS

Dan Clarke #14 CTE Racing --HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone-- "It feels really good. You're right, it's great for the team 'cause I think it really signifies that they're on the up, we all are together. We strained to have some really good results this year, now we've got a pole award to add to that, a nice sticker to put on the car. We've had some pretty good starts this year. I mean, Portland we got into second place by the first corner. I'm confident that we can get a good start and still be in the race. It's going to be a two-hour race. Really got to nail down and work on our strategies now. We've got warmup to do that tomorrow, as well. It's going to be a different ballgame tomorrow. "

Sebastien Bourdais #1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone-- "That was quite a hell of a session. Just glad it turned out this way because yesterday was pretty frustrating. We had probably the fastest car in the morning session. It was wet. We were fairly happy. We parked it. Then it dried all the way. Just hats off to the McDonald's team. They decided it was going to be good enough on dries. I didn't really think it was going to be. On the last lap they got us.We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. It surely feels good to start from the first row. That point is also very important. We'll see how it shakes out tomorrow."

Charles Zwolsman #34 Mi-Jack Conquest Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone -- "At the start, you always have to anticipate what happens there. You have a million of preparations in your head for every scenario. Out there you just got to go with what feels right, just see what happens."

NOTEWORTHY

Dan Clarke is the first rookie to score a Champ Car pole since Sebastien Bourdais scored the pole at Surfers Paradise in his rookie season of 2003.

Clarke is also the first CTE Racing -- HVM driver to win a Champ Car pole since Ryan Hunter-Reay won from pole at the Milwaukee Mile in 2004.

Rookies Dan Clarke and Charles Zwolsman are starting in the top three for Sunday's race, marking the first time since 2003 that two rookies have started in the top three. The last time it happened was at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course when Ryan Hunter-Reay gridded second ahead of third-placed Sebastien Bourdais.

Katherine Legge will start eighth on Sunday, matching the best grid position of her young career. She started eighth in Milwaukee in June, but today's result is her best on a Champ Car road course.

-credit: ccws

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Alex Tagliani , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Katherine Legge , Andrew Ranger , Charles Zwolsman , Will Power , Dan Clarke
Teams Conquest Racing , HART