CHAMPCAR/CART: Brands Hatch: Saturday qualifying report

CART points leader Paul Tracy tops first-day Champ Car World Series qualifying on tricky Brands Hatch circuit. BRANDS HATCH, England (May 3, 2003) -- In the last three seasons, nearly 50 percent of the races (30 of 62) in the CART Champ Car ...

CART points leader Paul Tracy tops first-day Champ Car World Series qualifying on tricky Brands Hatch circuit.

BRANDS HATCH, England (May 3, 2003) -- In the last three seasons, nearly 50 percent of the races (30 of 62) in the CART Champ Car World Series have been won by front-row starters -- a fact that is apparently not lost on series points leader Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

Tracy has earned a front-row starting spot in each of the first three races of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, and parlayed those starting spots into victories in St. Petersburg, Monterrey and Long Beach as he started his quest for his first series title by building a 26-point lead in the points.

The Canadian made it four-for-four in 2003 and established a new career standard Saturday in guaranteeing himself a front-row starting spot for Monday's London Champ Car Trophy event at Brands Hatch, doing so by leading first-round qualifying on the 1.192-mile Brands Hatch short circuit. Tracy went out and set the day's best time on the last of his four qualifying laps, putting up an effort of 37.006 seconds (115.960 mph) to lead the 19-car field.

"I guess I'm starting to impress myself a little bit," Tracy grinned. "The Player's guys have given me such a great car all year and we've had tremendous success so far. Hopefully we can keep it up."

Tracy, who led Saturday's morning practice sessions, used the last of his four laps in first-round qualifying to vault himself ahead of Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and into the top spot on the provisional grid. The effort gives the series points leader another digit to put on his total and widens his series edge to 27 points over Junqueira.

Junqueira and his Newman/Haas Racing teammate Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) filled the rest of the provisional podium, placing second and third on the day -- Junqueira coming in just .016 seconds behind the polesitter with Bourdais less than a tenth of a second behind his teammate.

"Right off the trailer, the car was very good in the first session," Junqueira said. "We were second fastest. I have never seen this track before. For the second session, did a change, but the car wasn't too good. And you kind of slip a little bit. Then came back on the change and did some other changes for qualifying, and the car was quite good in qualifying. I was able to put a good lap time, but not enough to catch Tracy. But I think with one night's sleep, I think about the track, I think tomorrow I'll drive a little bit better around here."

Bourdais led the rookie contingent with his third-place run as the Frenchman put up a best lap of 37.112 seconds (115.628 mph). Bourdais' best lap started a late-session flurry in which the pole changed hands four times after Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) finally took the top spot from Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Carpentier went out fifth in what turned out to be a chilly session and put up a time that would stand for pole through 11 drivers before Servia climbed to the top of the time sheets with a lap of 37.254 seconds (115.188 mph).

The hometown crowd nearly carried Darren Manning (#15 RAC Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) to his finest hour as a Champ Car driver as he ripped around the Brands Hatch circuit that he had navigated so successfully in Touring Cars. Manning, who led the very first practice session of the day, would threaten for the pole before contenting himself with the fifth-best time of the day, an effort that would earn the Brit his best Champ Car starting spot if it holds up in Sunday's final qualifying.

Carpentier would fall back to sixth with Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounding out the top-eight. Fernandez rallied to post the eighth-best time of the day after wrecking his primary car in the first practice of the day, hitting the tire barrier in Turn 10.

The final grid for Monday's 165-lap London Champ Car Trophy event will be set with second-round qualifying Sunday afternoon. The session gets underway at 1:45 p.m. local time (8:45 a.m. Eastern) and can be followed live on the official website of the series www.champcarworldseries.com

QUOTES FROM TOP THREE QUALIFIERS:

PAUL TRACY: Today was good. I wasn't really paying attention to the flag out there and I kind of missed how many laps that I did. I wasn't concentrating on how many laps I did. I thought I had one more lap. And then the team said, after the first turn, I had one more lap to go. You know, I thought I had two. And, you know, I really had to push hard in the last half of the lap to get the time.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think this track will be difficult for two reasons. Some of our races, it's difficult, some road courses, street courses, it's difficult physically because they are very long, and this one is going to be the same. But this racetrack has a little bit, because you don't have straight lines, a little bit like when you race in short ovals, that you have to pay attention 100 percent of the time. I think this race will be a combination of physical, will be really difficult, and the concentration will be difficult, as well. For sure, it's going to be physically and mentally a tough race.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: This track is very funny. It's obviously a very small track, but the corners are really good. When you are alone on the track, there is no way not to get fun. But the thing is, when you will be racing with 20 other cars, it's probably going to be a different deal.

NOTEWORTHY

* Paul Tracy guaranteed himself a front-row starting spot for Monday's race, marking the first time in his career that he has started in the front row for four consecutive races. He made three straight front-row starts to close out the 1994 season.

* Ryan Hunter-Reay did not post a time in the first qualifying session after the rookie spun on his way to taking the green flag for his run. He spun before he made it to the green flag, sending him to the back of the qualifying line, but he was unable to make a second run.

* Tiago Monteiro and Joel Camathias would make two separate outings during first-round qualifying as a miscommunication meant that both drivers only ran three qualifying laps in their first runs. They were allowed to go back out later in the session and run four warmup laps before completing their final qualifying lap. Both drivers would improve on that last lap, Monteiro moving up to 12th with Camathias taking the 17th spot.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Darren Manning , Joel Camathias , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Tiago Monteiro , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais