CHAMPCAR/CART: Surfers Paradise: Friday qualifying report

WILL POWER BECOMES FIRST AUSTRALIAN TO LEAD CHAMP CAR QUALIFYING IN SURFERS PARADISE SURFERS PARADISE, Australia (October 20, 2006) -- Usually the brightest stars in the Australian sky are consigned to the Southern Cross, which occupies such a...

WILL POWER BECOMES FIRST AUSTRALIAN TO LEAD CHAMP CAR QUALIFYING IN SURFERS PARADISE

SURFERS PARADISE, Australia (October 20, 2006) -- Usually the brightest stars in the Australian sky are consigned to the Southern Cross, which occupies such a stature Down Under that it is featured on the nation's flag.

Today a new star was born on a sunny Friday in Surfers Paradise, as Australia's own Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) became the first native-born driver to lead a Champ Car qualifying session in the 16-year history of the Lexmark Indy 300. Power blistered the 2.795-mile street course in 1:31.403 (110.084 mph/177.162 kph) to wrest the first-day pole away from two-time series champion and defending Surfers Paradise champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

Power becomes the first Australian driver ever to start in the front row for a race on the Gold Coast, and also earned a championship point for leading Friday's qualifying, stretching his lead in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year standings to eight points over Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing -- HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

Power showed his strength early in the session, vaulting to the top of the time charts on just his third lap. As usually happens in Champ Car qualifying sessions, the early leader was shuffled back when the series' powerbrokers hit the track, and Power immediately fell to second as Bourdais posted his best lap of the day on his third orbit of the 12-turn street course.

But Power fought right back, retaking the pole on his fifth pass only to see Bourdais leapfrog him one lap later. Power answered the challenge on his next time by and reclaimed the point again, but was quickly overtaken by Bourdais and his Newman/Haas Racing teammate Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

The field took a break at the halfway point of the session as the red flag flew to retrieve the stricken car of Andreas Wirth (#19 Sonny's Bar-B-Q Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), giving everyone the chance to bolt on the red-walled alternate Bridgestone Potenzas for the final stint of the day.

The final stint saw the 14 available cars hit the track, and times started dropping as the tire temperatures went up. Bourdais carded his quickest time of the day with a clocking of 1:31.774 (109.639 mph/176.446 kph). He was quickly shunted aside by Forsythe Championship Racing's A.J. Allmendinger (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who dropped in a lap of 1:31.677 to momentarily score him the pole, but that would be short-lived.

Power flashed by the flagstand to post what would be his pole-winning time on his 11th lap, and then joined the rest of his Team Australia squad in celebrating one minute later as an Allmendinger crash ended the session two minutes early. Allmendinger impacted the Turn Seven wall with two minutes left in the session, not only robbing the field of a chance to run down Power, but also costing himself the second spot in the session. The five-time racewinner was penalized with the loss of his fastest lap for bringing out the red flag, dropping him back to fifth in the final order.

Bourdais was promoted to second behind Power, while Junqueira carded a time of 1:32.265 (109.055 mph/175.507 kph) to score the third spot. 2005 Australian polesitter Oriol Servia (#6 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ended his day in the fourth spot with Allmendinger and Nelson Philippe (#4 Wellbox CTE Racing -- HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) taking the fifth and sixth positions respectively.

Clarke, who is chasing Power for the rookie points lead, ended his day in seventh, one spot ahead of Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Rocketsports stablemates Mario Dominguez (#8 Pemex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Antonio Pizzonia (#18 Lexington Energy Services Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top 10.

The 18-car field was trimmed to 14 for today's qualifying due to a number of factors that are not expected to impact Sunday's starting grid. Ryan Briscoe (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) did not participate after an accident in pre-qualifying practice, while Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) suffered a similar fate in the morning practice, forcing his Forsythe squad to spend the afternoon performing repairs.

Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was unable to participate after injuring his wrist during the pre-qualifying practice. His absence denied him the opportunity to stay in the hunt for the 2006 series championship as he was mathematically eliminated from championship contention. Katherine Legge (#20 Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) did not participate in the session due to an engine problem. She did run in the morning practice however, posting the 15th-best time of the 18 drivers.

The final grid for Sunday's Lexmark Indy 300 will be set with second-round qualifying tomorrow beginning at 2 p.m. local time. Fans can follow along via the Race Director feature on the official website of the Champ Car World Series, www.champcar.ws.

QUOTES FROM TOP THREE QUALIFIERS

Will Power: Yeah, it feels great obviously. Yeah, we went out on the black tires and had a reasonable lap. Then we sat and waited, put the red tires on, found a lot more grip with that. I was pushing really hard, although the car still wasn't ideal. Yeah, we arrived on pole position. Obviously the track will run all weekend and tomorrow will be quicker so we'll have a shot at the real pole position. Yeah, I'm looking forward to it.

Sebastien Bourdais: I escaped a very scary moment in the first chicane and thought I was going to crash it but made it. But that was actually my quickest lap. So when I went back out after we decided with Craig (Hampson) to switch to the alternate tires, it was looking good. We ran a good first lap. I made a small adjustment in the car and went into turn one and that was that.

Bruno Junqueira: I felt the red tires were a little bit better, but I didn't have much left on the set of tires, so kind of frustrated at the loss because of that. But I think they are maybe three times faster, four times. For sure, they are faster. They have more natural grip, and I like it. We have another one tomorrow to try to improve our position.

NOTEWORTHY

* Will Power guarantees himself a front-row starting spot for Sunday's race, marking the best starting spot ever for an Australian driver for the Champ Car event in Surfers Paradise. Power himself held the previous mark, with an 11th-place grid position last season.

* Power's front-row starting spot in Australia, along with Dan Clarke's pole in Road America, marks the first time that rookies have started in the front row of consecutive Champ Car races since Sebastien Bourdais (Road America) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Mid-Ohio) in 2003.

-credit: ccws

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Antonio Pizzonia , Justin Wilson , Bruno Junqueira , Alex Tagliani , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Katherine Legge , Ryan Briscoe , Nelson Philippe , Will Power , Andreas Wirth , Dan Clarke