CHAMPCAR/CART: Tracy gets Friday bonus point in Mexico City

Points leader Paul Tracy garnered one more point toward the 2003 CART Champ Car World Series championship today when he set the fastest lap in the first round of qualifying session. The PF Racing Lola was clocked at 1:28.842, 112.893 miles per hour.

Paul Tracy.
Photo by CART/LAT Photographic.
"We're very happy with this provisional pole," Tracy said. "It gives us a much-needed point and puts us on the front row for the race. That's what we need to do. We're going to go at Saturday's qualifying with the same intensity and purpose, and fight for another point and the pole."

Second fastest was Tracy's nearest championship contender, Bruno Junqueira who was beaten by Tracy by a scant 0.063 seconds. The Newman/Haas Racing driver's best lap was 1:28.905 seconds (112.813 mph.).

"We were fast this morning," stated Junqueira. "We thought it would be perfect for qualifying after more rubber got put down on track. I think the track was slower in the afternoon. But I'm confident for the pole tomorrow."

Newman/Haas Racing rookie driver Sebastien Bourdais was third quickest in today's session. His best lap was 1:29.110 seconds (112.553 mph).

Bourdais talked about his first visit to the Mexico City circuit, "The track is hard right now due to some smaller bumps, not big ones, just smaller ones. It's tough inside the cockpit but we'll make some changes for tomorrow afternoon."

After the Denver and Miami street circuit one-at-a-time qualifying rounds, the all-skate qualifying returned at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. The "all-skate" is where each driver is limited to 15 total laps, including the in and out laps, the clock runs for 40 minutes.

Most of the teams waited out the first several minutes and everyone ended on-track in the final seven minutes until they hit their 15-lap mark.

Crowd favorite and championship contender, local home town driver Michel Jourdain, Jr. took to the track with 16 minutes into the session - the local home town driver smoked the tires leaving the pits causing a loud cheer from the stands.

Two minutes later, Junqueira entered the track, followed by Tracy. The bonus point for today's session is on the minds of the top three amigos. Top three with just over 15 minutes left were: Tracy, Junqueira, Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Jourdain.

The surprise was Vasser, who had been reported as being a bit under-the-weather. The veteran driver on the American Spirit Team Johansson driver was clocked at a time of 1:29.315 second (112.295 mph.) for fourth fastest at the checker flag.

In the final eight minutes, the mexican crowd rose to their feet to encourage Jourdain and the other local drivers. Even with the crowd behind him, the young mexican driver's best time at 1:29.387 seconds (112.204 mph.) netted him fifth fastest.

With three races remaining on the schedule, every point is precious. Both Jourdain and Junqueira will be trying for fast time with the bonus point tomorrow and the top spot for the two-day combined best times.

Junqueira had one moment on-track in the turn 4/5 complex, he got a bit sideways but was able to save it. Patrick Carpentier also saved his spin on-track and kept the engine running. Jourdain was not as lucky at turn 14 but did refire the Ford engine and was able to return to the action as the minutes winded down.

At one moment, the man who is guaranteed a front row start with the provisional pole, Tracy commented to his crew: "The rear is nervous under braking in that bumpy section entering the stadium, and the car seems really pitch sensitive. When I get off the throttle it gets really nervous at the rear."

It was later learned that Carpentier, Tracy's teammate, had also noticed and reported the same situation.

Rocketsports Racing had to make a last minute front wing adjustment, hoping to clear up the "push" that Alex Tagliani was experiencing.