CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland: Friday report

Defending Series Champ Paul Tracy Scores His First Pole of the Season in Pacing Qualifying for the U.S. Bank Presents The Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland CLEVELAND (July 2, 2004) -- Youth was served Friday in final qualifying for Saturday's...

Defending Series Champ Paul Tracy Scores His First Pole of the Season in Pacing Qualifying for the U.S. Bank Presents The Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland

CLEVELAND (July 2, 2004) -- Youth was served Friday in final qualifying for Saturday's U.S. Bank Presents The Champ Car Grand Prix as three of the top four spots on the starting grid went to relative newcomers to the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, but in the end it was the experience of reigning series champion Paul Tracy (#1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) that carried the day.

Tracy scored his first pole of the season on a warm Cleveland afternoon, getting around the 2.106-mile Burke Lakefront Airport layout in 57.546 seconds (131.749 mph). Tracy's pole is his second on the Cleveland layout and the 20th of his career, making him only the ninth driver in the all-time history of Champ Car racing to win 20 poles. Among the Modern Era drivers (1979-present), Tracy moves into fourth on the list, jumping ahead of former series champion Danny Sullivan.

Tracy's pole run put him ahead of a trio of young lions that make up the top two rows for Saturday's 97-lap event. Rookie points leader and 2001 FIA International F3000 champion Justin Wilson (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) earned the best starting spot of his young career and the first front-row spot for the Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing team after carding a best lap of 57.954 seconds (130.821 mph). Wilson held the pole briefly during the session as he used his seventh lap to vault to the top of the charts, and then used the last of his 15 laps to score the second spot on the grid.

Behind him comes the 2002 FIA International F3000 champion and reigning Champ Car Rookie of the Year Sebastien Bourdais (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who rebounded from a Thursday penalty that cost him a front-row starting spot to snare the third position on the grid. As he did on Thursday, Bourdais used a late-session lap to post his best time, completing a lap in 58.034 seconds (130.641 mph) to take the third spot.

Another young driver with impressive credentials will complete Row Two for Saturday's event as 2003 Toyota Atlantic Championship titlewinner A.J. Allmendinger (#10 BG Products/Red Bull Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) scored the best qualifying result of his Champ Car career. The Californian carded a best lap of 58.142 seconds (130.398 mph) to claim the fourth spot on the starting grid, marking not only the best starting spot of his rookie season, but also the best for the two-car RuSPORT team, which made the move from Atlantics to Champ Car this year with Allmendinger.

As was the case yesterday, the fans that lined the grandstands saw plenty of action as the pole changed hands between Wilson, Tracy and Alex Tagliani (#8 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) in the first half of the session. Oriol Servia (#11 Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) slowed the session briefly after a broken drive shaft left him just shy of making the entrance to Pit Lane. The green flag flew again with 10 minutes left on the clock and Tracy wasted no time at all in snapping off the lap that would eventually give him the pole.

Allmendinger narrowly avoided losing his prime starting spot with a spin as he came through the high-speed Turn 10 -- a turn that resulted in a number of 360-degree trips on Friday -- but was able to right his ship and avoid bringing out the scarlet banner that would have cost him his fastest lap. Ryan Hunter-Reay (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was not as lucky however, as he would narrowly avoid contact with the Turn Eight wall only to stall in the grass. The stall would end any further attempts to dislodge Tracy from the pole position as the spin came with just two minutes remaining in the session.

Tagliani would score the fifth starting spot on the day with a best effort of 58.156 seconds (130.367 mph), giving the Rocketsports Racing pilot the best grid position of his five Cleveland starts. He will be joined on the third row by series points leader Bruno Junqueira (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who will grid sixth after carding a best lap of 58.226 seconds (130.210 mph).

The other penalized driver from Thursday's qualifying session ended up improving his lot for tomorrow's event as Patrick Carpentier (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) climbed to seventh with a best lap of 58.353 (129.926 mph), while Michel Jourdain Jr. matched his season-best qualifying effort with an eighth-place run. Hunter-Reay fell to ninth after losing his fastest lap for bringing out the red flag while veteran Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will make his 188th consecutive Champ Car start from the 10th position, marking the fifth time in as many races that he will start in the top 10.

Tomorrow's 97-lap event will be the 23rd running of the Champ Cars on the temporary Burke Lakefront Airport circuit. The race will begin at 5 p.m. Eastern Time and can be seen live on HDNet as well as through the Race Director feature on the official website of the Champ Car World Series The race will also be broadcast on a tape-delayed basis on SpikeTV Sunday at 4 p.m. Eastern Time.


PAUL TRACY (#1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) "This feels great (about earning his first pole this season). We have had a good weekend, the car has been quick every session. Everything was just timed perfectly today. We waited a bit before going out in hopes to get a clear track. I had five good laps, then the red flag came out, it worked out perfectly for us. The Indeck car and Bridgestone tires are real good, I look forward to tomorrow."

JUSTIN WILSON (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) "I am very pleased with our result today. We have been quick most of the weekend and the Mi-Jack car is good. We are really making great progress as a team, each weekend we are getting stronger and stronger."

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) "Today was not good. I made a bad judgment call during this morning requesting a change on the McDonald's car. It was a mistake because I did not like the car at all this afternoon and we still ran into problems with the red flag coming out. However, the only one to blame is myself. It is how it is, but I guess it could be worse."


* Paul Tracy vaulted past 1988 series champion Danny Sullivan and 1940-41 titlewinner Rex Mays and into eighth place on the all-time Champ Car pole list, tying 1976 champion Gordon Johncock with 20.

* Tracy needs to lead just 83 of the 97 laps tomorrow to tie Emerson Fittipaldi for the most laps led in Cleveland. Fittipaldi led 241 laps around Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport circuit en route to six podium finishes.


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Danny Sullivan , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Gordon Johncock , Michel Jourdain