Day two of the San Jose Grand Prix weekend got underway today with two practices followed by the second round qualifying for the Champ Car World Series.
Justin Wilson set the fastest time, eclipsing that of provisional pole setter and two-time defending San Jose Grand Prix champion Sebastien Bourdais. Wilson starts next to his rival for Sunday's race. It was the sixth pole of Wilson's career in his fourth Champ Car season.
"It was a very difficult session", Wilson said of the run. "We were struggling. Had a pretty good lap early on, but after that we went downhill pretty quickly. We literally went back to yesterday's setup and it seemed to work well again."
Wilson's time of 49.039 seconds (105.932 mph) was six-hundredths better than Dan Clarke who nearly managed to catch Wilson on his last lap, with a 49.092 (105.818 mph). Champ Car series veteran Oriol Servia had the third best time of the day at 49.106 (105.787 mph), after briefly holding the pole in the waning moments.
Clarke, who had run as high as third here during last year's race, had it all working right today. "We just seem to have a good vibe here", Clarke said. "Everything is going well. Being top three for tomorrow, it allows you to do what you want to in the race: really work on strategy and not get tripped up by too many people."
Rookie Graham Rahal led the 17-car field out of the pits to start qualifying, followed by Alex Tagliani, Servia, Wilson and 'Speedy Dan.
Quickly Rahal established the fastest time of the weekend, besting Newman-Haas Lanigan Racing teammate Sebastien Bourdais with a flying 49.259 seconds (105.032 mph). Bourdais had set the provisional pole on Friday with a top time of 49.509 (105.926 mph).
Neal Jani took over the top spot from Rahal, lowering the time down to 49.191 (105.691 mph) on the 7-turn 1.5-mile downtown street circuit. Wilson let him enjoy it for about two laps until his own flyer on his seventh of fifteen laps topped the charts at 49.108 (105.783 mph).
With half the session complete, Wilson topped Rahal, Oriol Servia Paul Tracy and Bruno Junqueira. The top five drivers covered by only 2 tenths of a second difference between first and fifth.
Driving this year for Dale Coyne Racing, Junqueira drove his Panoz DP01 Ford Cosworth to 10th fastest on the afternoon after the dust settled. Junqueira looked like the Bruno of years gone by as he ran between fourth and sixth place before settling for a spot on the fifth row.
Of the young rookie drivers making their presence felt this year include Simon Pagenaud, who drives for Aussie Vineyards -- Team Australia; along side teammate Will Power. Pagenaud took nine best on the day, right behind fellow rookie Tristan Gommendy.
As the final seconds ticked down, Clarke, Servia and Bourdais set off on what would be their quickest laps.
Bourdais stopped the clocks at 49.180, while Clarke snared the second best time overall. Wilson finally took the best time for good with only two minutes left.
The San Jose street circuit is tight and very short compared to other street courses in the series. It will be an advantage to those who start up front and an uphill battle to the podium for those in the back of the field.
"The obvious advantage (of starting up front) is hopefully being first to the corner, and after that dictating the pace." Wilson said. "You know, you just get into a rhythm, start pulling away. Whereas in the past, you know, the last two years I started 9th and 12th.
Wilson claims one championship bonus point for the pole, and currently sits fourth in the championship with 165 points.