CHAMPCAR/CART: Carpentier on inaugural Las Vegas pole

CHAMPCAR/CART: Carpentier on inaugural Las Vegas pole
Sep 26, 2004, 5:34 AM

Two Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford drivers who make their homes in the Las Vegas area will share the front row for Saturday night's Bridgestone 400 Presented by Corona on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway ...

Two Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford drivers who make their homes in the Las Vegas area will share the front row for Saturday night's Bridgestone 400 Presented by Corona on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval.

Patrick Carpentier, coming off a fine victory at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca two weeks ago took pole position for the race with his #7 Indeck /Forsythe Racing Lola/Ford-Cosworth/Bridgestone Champ Car in late afternoon time trials, posting a fast lap on his second of two time circuits at 206.186mph (26.190 seconds). The lap serves as a record as this is the first time the Champ cars have raced on this Las Vegas track.

"That worked out well," exhaled the transplanted French-Canadian veteran. "We changed the car a little bit from the initial practice with mechanical changes. It's pushing a little bit and it feels good. This is good momentum for our team and the guys did a good job on the car today.

"Everybody is flat out; once we run together there will be less aero push and we'll have to lift," he explained. By earning his first pole position of the season - and fifth of his stellar career - Carpentier moves into a tie for third place points with teammate and 2003 champion Paul Tracy.

Jimmy Vasser, who has made his home in the Las Vegas area for longer than most of his competitors starts second on the 18-car grid in his #12 Gulfstream Lola after turning his second lap of 205.495mph (26.278 seconds). In earning his first front-row start of the 2004 season, Champ Car's iron man, making his 216th start proclaimed, "I love oval racing. I got everything out of the car."

While he did have difficulties, he said, when he got "under somebody's gearbox keeping the car underneath me," Vasser thinks he knows what to do to make the car better in traffic for tomorrow night's race. "We put a good engine aside for the Las Vegas race and we're going to try and maximize our aero package to make the car free tomorrow night."

Point leader Sebastien Bourdais extended his streak of top-three starts to 13 consecutive grid slots of third or better in the #2 McDonald's Lola as he scooped up third position on the grid with his first timed lap of 205.323mph (26.300 seconds). "I was flat out," the Frenchman declared of his run.

"There was nothing else to take out of the car but we're just not fast enough. The team has done a very good job and we did make some changes from practice this afternoon to qualifying. We'll find out tonight how the car really works in traffic," he said.

Teammate Bruno Junqueira starts fourth in the #6 PacifiCare Lola after leading all testers during the two-day practice a month ago. Junqueira wasn't terribly pleased with his qualifying run of 205.245mph (26.310 seconds), stating it was simply, "Okay. The car feels really good but the engine feels really bad. This year the engines are not so consistent," according to Junqueira. "We'll change it before the race. This is a very nice track, but unfortunately we have too much downforce and we are going flat."

Michel Jourdain Jr., whose first Champ Car podium came on the 2-mile Michigan Speedway oval in 2001 has earned fifth on the grid with his #9 Gigante Lola with his first lap of 205.136mph (26.324 seconds). The Mexican, who also resides in the Las Vegas area admitted he was, "Very slow in the test. We made changes to the car today after practice and we're much faster without a tow. I think it will be a very busy race tomorrow night."

Fastest in practice, Rodolfo Lavin settled for sixth grid spot with his #3 Corona Lola, using his second timed lap of 205.019mph (26.339 seconds). "It was okay but I'm disappointed. We're about 2/10ths behind what we did this morning but we did what we could do," Lavin shrugged. "The race will be very, very tight and competitive," he declared with bright eyes.

Rookie A.J. Allmendinger, who actually stated he was way out of his league on the fast Milwaukee Mile has gotten accustomed to driving these big Champ cars on a fast, banked oval. He'll start the #10 Western Union Lola seventh after posting a fast lap of 204.840mph (26.362 seconds) today.

"I don't know if I can hold my breath for two hours," Allmendinger joked. "I also don't know if I'm comfortable on ovals in my first year of Champ Car competition; there's more than a couple of things I didn't know. I do know I'm more confident in the car now" than he was in June.

After dominating the Milwaukee Mile, Ryan Hunter-Reay is back to earth in his #4 Herdez Competition Lola with an eighth-place grid slot after lapping the 1.5-mile banks at 204.530mph (26.402 seconds) on his first of two tries. "I can't get any drag reduction," he wailed. "There's no straight- line speed in the car."

Teammate Mario Dominguez starts ninth with his #55 Herdez Competition Lola, based on his second lap of 203.866mph (26.488 seconds). The Mexican thought his tour was "pretty good. It was better than earlier today and we've got better setups from our engineers. We've been concentrating on running alone today."

Tenth on the grid goes to Roberto Gonzalez, as the Mexican rookie ran his #21 NII Holdings Lola to a lap of 203.168mph (26.579 seconds), a career best start. Gonzalez believes this first Champ Car race at Las Vegas will be "very tight. It'll be interesting to have our practice tonight to see how traffic works. I like this track better than Milwaukee," he said. "It's easier to drive and you're flat all the time."

Disappointed local resident Paul Tracy starts 11th in the #1 Indeck/Forsythe Lola after turning 202.672mph. "We'll see where we end up," he said after posting his lap, "because I think this will be a long, tactical race. We got out a bit late for qualifying so it was a bit of a thrash for the guys. The car was slow this morning," Tracy admitted after running 11th, "so we switched the motor. This engine has 800 miles on it and it's all we have to race."

Another Las Vegas racer staying at home this weekend, Alex Tagliani starts 12th in his #8 Johnson Controls Lola (202.149mph). "We've been making improvements to the car and we're looking for more speed. I have some drag on the straight that we need to reduce, but otherwise the car has good grip. We just need to gain some speed," a common complaint today.

Rookie Nelson Philippe makes his second oval start in the #14 Mi-Jack Lola in 13th position after posting a fast lap of 201.387mph. The young Frenchman thought his qualifying effort was "not bad, but we can do better." Asked about the track he said, "It makes it dizzier with banking here when you get out of the car!"

Guy Smith, who had Indy Lights battles on ovals during his career starts 14th after turning 201.080mph his #17 Rocketsports Lola. "We had a good test here," he revealed. "We actually put 15 turns of front wing in the car and I think we were pretty confused this morning. The car became driveable the last five laps of practice, but we didn't do too much in traffic. The car is close to where we should be."

When he came here to test, Justin Wilson ran a #34 Mi-Jack Reynard but, for race weekend he's back with his familiar Lola and lying 15th on the grid at 199.409mph. "We seem to be a little bit slow," Wilson said with tongue firmly in cheek. "This is very different from Milwaukee and our car is not too bad in traffic, just a little bit loose. We tested with the Reynard and I think the Lola is slightly better aerodynamically," he laughed.

Gaston Mazzacane's lap of 199.394mph in the #19 American Medical Response Lola was his first on a superspeedway. "We didn't make the test and we have to work on the car. We're completely flat in qualifying but tonight Oriol and me, we will work together" to make their cars work well.

An engine problem in practice relegated Mario Haberfeld to installation laps only in practice but he thought his car was "fine." Haberfeld, driving the #5 Cummins Reynard is the sole Reynard on the grid.

At least these 17 drivers had a better day than Oriol Servia, who never turned a lap in practice and was unable to take timed laps this evening. The Catalonian will start last and 18th in the #11 Lola after continuing engine problems stopped him from getting any time prior to evening practice.

Evening practice, which takes place between 8-9:30 tonight will tell who's ready for Saturday night's showdown, a 166-lap contest in which 37-lap mandatory maximum pit stop intervals have been set. After practicing and qualifying in the heat of the day, these 18 drivers and their teams will only now discover what they really have in hand for the Bridgestone 400 Presented by Corona.

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