CHAMPCAR/CART: Surfers Paradise: Saturday qualifying report

85,741 Look on as Paul Tracy Steals Crown from Champ Car World Series Title Hopefuls, Taking Pole Position for Sunday's Battle in Surfers Paradise SURFERS PARADISE, Australia (October 23, 2004) -- All eyes were on Champ Car title protagonists ...

85,741 Look on as Paul Tracy Steals Crown from Champ Car World Series Title Hopefuls, Taking Pole Position for Sunday's Battle in Surfers Paradise

SURFERS PARADISE, Australia (October 23, 2004) -- All eyes were on Champ Car title protagonists Sebastien Bourdais (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Bruno Junqueira (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) on a brilliant Saturday in Surfers Paradise, Australia as the two fought for the pole for Sunday's Lexmark Indy 300.

But despite the watchful gaze of a Saturday-record 85,741 fans following all the action of the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, a man who knows every inch of the 2.795-mile Surfers Paradise circuit crept in and vanished with the top spot for Sunday's race.

Defending series champion Paul Tracy (#1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) stole the show on a sunny Saturday, posting a top lap of 1:33.556 (107.551 mph/173.085 kph) to earn his first Surfers Paradise pole. The pole was the third of the season for the defending Champ Car titlist as he capped a furious late-session duel with the day's best lap.

The veteran Tracy joined the championship hopefuls in a game of leapfrog that saw each member of the trio hold the pole during a span of two minutes. Bourdais, who had spent half of the session watching things develop from Pit Lane, climbed to the top on just his third lap, only to be bounced shortly after by Junqueira. The Brazilian held the top spot for less than 30 seconds before Tracy hung his best time on the field.

Junqueira's late run capped an eventful session for the Newman/Haas Racing driver. Determined to put in a run without having to worry about traffic, Junqueira led the field on track as soon as the green flag flew on the 35-minute session. He got up to speed right away, vaulting to pole on just his fourth lap and would hold the position just long enough to see his best lap of 1:33.737 (107.343 mph/172.751kph) register on his dashboard, but then watched it disappear as Tracy leapt to the top.

The best effort of 1:33.765 (107.311 mph/172.639 kph) for Bourdais was good for third on the day, but he will start on the outside of the front row after leading Friday qualifying. The series points leader will start from the front row for the 10th time this season and needs to score seven more points than Junqueira does on Saturday to clinch the series championship. He currently holds a 28-point lead on Junqueira, and needs to have a 35-point lead at the end of the day to seal his first Champ Car title.

The battle for the top spot all took place with nine minutes remaining in the session, but any late plans to steal the pole had to be tabled when hometown favorite David Besnard (#15 WPS Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) brought out a red flag with less than five minutes remaining. The scarlet banner effectively ended the session, as the track could not be cleared in time to get cars back on course.

The trio at the front will have a hungry rookie trying to make his presence felt in the first turn tomorrow as first-year points leader A.J. Allmendinger (#10 Western Union Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) earned the fourth starting spot with a time of 1:33.867 (107.194 mph/172.512 kph). Allmendinger has started in the top four in three of the year's last four events, and will be looking to clinch the Champ Car Rookie-of-the-Year title this weekend.

2002 Surfers winner Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the day's top five after carding a time of 1:34.076 (106.956 mph/172.129 kph). Dominguez will start in the top five for the eighth time this year as he looks to end the year in the top five for the first time in his three-year series career. His teammate and defending Australia winner Ryan Hunter-Reay (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will join him in the third row after making a trip through the concrete canyons of Surfers Paradise in 1:34.585 (106.381 mph/171.202 kph). The sixth spot is the best starting position for Hunter-Reay since he started on the outside of the front row at Road America in August.

Justin Wilson (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will have his rookie foe in sight at the start tomorrow, as the Brit starts seventh after posting a time of 1:34.611 (106.351 mph/171.155kph). Wilson needs to finish higher than Allmendinger to keep the young Californian from winning the rookie title, and will look to do so from his best starting position since he gridded seventh at Vancouver at the end of July.

1996 Australia winner Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will start eighth, while Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Alex Tagliani (#8 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top 10. Local favorite Besnard will start 17th after running into some difficulties in qualifying while Jarek Janis (#19 American Medical Response Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will make his Champ Car debut from the 16th position on the grid.

Tomorrow's 57-lap event gets underway at 2:30 local time and can be seen in the United States beginning at 4 p.m. on Spike TV.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE QUALIFIERS:

PAUL TRACY (#1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "It was good and bad luck for us this afternoon. We waited for ten minutes before heading out on our first stint, when we went out the red flag came out. When I headed back out, I ran into a lot of traffic. During my second stint, I had two good laps left on tires and fuel and I just pushed real hard. On that last lap, the tires were gone, and I knew there was nothing more I could do. I was lucky to put down a fast lap and even luckier to be on top when the red came out at the end of the session. It will be an interesting race tomorrow, we have three of the most aggressive drivers of the circuit starting out in front and we will all be charging very hard heading into the first corner."

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "It's a good thing to be fastest on Friday because you can still start on the front row no matter how your final qualifying goes. I made a mistake that the McDonald's team cost me the pole and that is disappointing. I locked up the right front in the last turn of my fastest lap and nearly put the car in the wall. You walk a fine line between being a chicken and being too hungry and I was too hungry today. I think it will be mathematically pretty difficult to pick up seven points on Bruno in the race because he is going to be so close. If the championship goes to Mexico City, I'm fine with that."

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "I enjoyed qualifying; I think we put on a good show. I was fastest then someone beat my time. I moved back up then someone beat it again. I was very happy with the PacifiCare car today but I left a little bit on the table. I was on a very good, mega lap and hit the tires and it cost me some time. It's a shame that the red flag ended the session with three minutes to go. It's a shame that the red flag ended the session. I need to finish in front of Sebastien but I'm going to try to win the race. I'm not thinking about the championship; I'm just thinking about getting the best result in the race.

NOTEWORTHY

* Paul Tracy's pole is the 22nd of his illustrious career. He is fourth on the Champ Car Modern Era (1979-present) list for poles won and is eighth on the all-time list. His 22 leaves him one shy of tying Johnny Rutherford for seventh on the all-time list.

* Saturday's attendance of 85,741 is a new event record for the Champ Car race in Surfers Paradise and boosts the three-day attendance figure to 202,262. Attendance on each of the three days of this year's event has improved over last year's numbers.

* Tracy's pole means that Danny Sullivan's Modern Era record for poles in a season (9), is safe for another season. Sebastien Bourdais has seven poles this season and still has one chance to join Sullivan, Rick Mears and Mario and Michael Andretti as the only drivers to win eight poles in a season.

* Team owner Dale Coyne was recognized by the City of Los Angeles today as the city issued a proclamation to Coyne, commending him for his efforts in bringing safety aspects of motorsports to the members of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Coyne has long enlisted firefighters in his pits when Champ Cars run on the West Coast.

* Jimmy Vasser presented PKV Racing team owner Kevin Kalkhoven with a special helmet painted by fabled designer Troy Lee today commemorating the team's efforts at Surfers Paradise. Vasser will wear the helmet in tomorrow's race, then will give it to Kalkhoven upon conclusion of the event.

-ccws-

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