CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston: Thursday qualifying report

CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston: Thursday qualifying report
May 12, 2006, 5:34 AM

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA SCORES TOP SPOT FOR FIRST CHAMP CAR QUALIFYING SESSION FOR GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON HOUSTON (May 11, 2006) - The 750hp turbocharged scream machines of the Champ Car World Series may be the fastest things to hit the area around the ...


HOUSTON (May 11, 2006) - The 750hp turbocharged scream machines of the Champ Car World Series may be the fastest things to hit the area around the Houston Astrodome since the Ryan Express pumped fastballs past major-league hitters in the 1980s, but on Thursday night, everyone on the roster had the ability to put triple digits on the radar gun.

Tonight on a picture-perfect evening in Houston, Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford points leader Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole in the Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was the latest to top the century mark, besting the field with a top lap of 59.617 seconds (102.051 mph) to pace first-round qualifying for Saturday's Grand Prix of Houston.

Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) actually posted the best lap around the 1.690- mile layout, which runs in front of the Astrodome and Reliant Stadium, and was more than a half-second faster than anything anyone else in the field could muster, but the result went for naught as the Newman/Haas Racing driver's car failed post-qualifying technical inspection. The violation meant that all of the two-time defending champion's times were disallowed, dropping him to the back of the first-day grid.

A choppy session that was halted by four red flags turned into a whirlwind of activity in the final few minutes, as the majority of the field circulated around the 11-turn course in search of quick times. Bourdais had supplanted his Newman/Haas Racing teammate Junqueira atop the time charts just before the last of the four red flags flew, this time for the car of rookie Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who deposited his car in the Turn Five tires.

The majority of the field raced back on course when the green flag waved with four minutes remaining in the session, but Bourdais appeared to put an end to the chase on his ninth lap, by stopping the clocks at would have been a new track record on the Reliant Park layout. Junqueira became the only other driver to get under the 60-second mark with a best lap of 59.617 seconds (102.051 mph), unknowingly at the time snaring the first-day pole as well as the championship point and the guaranteed front-row starting spot that goes with it.

Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) celebrated his new five-year deal with Forsythe Championship Racing by taking second in tonight's first round of qualifying, hanging a time of 60.032 seconds (101.346 mph) on the board. Tracy came away unscathed after what was reported to have been slight contact between himself and rookie Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) earlier in the session that resulted in wall contact for the first-year Champ Car driver. Clarke walked away unharmed from the incident, which was the second of the day's four red flags, but was unable to compete in the remainder of the session.

Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) used his final lap of the day to slide into the third spot on the first-day charts, actually tying A.J. Allmendinger (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) with a lap of 60.047 seconds (101.321 mph). Tagliani was scored in the third position by virtue of a quicker second-best lap. Allmendinger settled for fourth while Mario Dominguez (#7 Orgullo de Mexico Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top five.

Despite bringing out a red flag that cost him his fastest lap, Team Australia's Power was the fastest rookie of the day, qualifying eighth with a best time of 60.690 seconds (100.247 mph). His best lap that he gave back due to bringing out the red flag was an impressive 60.108 seconds, which would have put him fifth on the first-day grid.

Andrew Ranger (#27 Tide/Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was the only driver on the day to get in all of his allotted 15 qualifying laps, and ended the day in the 13th spot. Long Beach runner-up Wilson logged in with the sixth-best time, one spot ahead of Oriol Servia (#6 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

The final grid for Saturday's 115-lap event will be set by tomorrow's second round of qualifying, which will take place at 4 p.m. local time (5 p.m. Eastern Time). Fans can follow the action via Race Director on the official website of the Champ Car World Series, <> . In addition, there will be a 30-minute qualifying highlight show which will air on SPEED beginning at 12 a.m. Saturday morning.


Bruno Junqueira: I think it was an interesting qualifying session today, and tomorrow for sure when the grid positions are really decided it's going to be even more exciting, especially because it's going to be harder, so we don't know how much the track improved, how much the alternate tires is going to improve, so there's going to be a lot of things flying around. We'll see what happens tomorrow.

Paul Tracy: We improved from this morning. We were really struggling on the bumps, getting the car to be compliant, yet still be in control and have grip is the problem here. We made a lot of changes, changed shocks, changed springs, changed stiff setting, a lot of different things. The car wasn't very good in warmup still, and we made another change in qualifying which seemed to bring it to life. It's getting there, but we still have some work to do.

Alex Tagliani: It was a great team effort, it would have been interesting to see what Will could have done; he was doing really good early on. I'm very pleased with the effort of the team, the car is getting better and better. We keep working hard, and it's been a good weekend so far, so if we can keep that up for tomorrow, at the end of the day we will be better.


In leading today's qualifying, Bruno Junqueira scored his seventh championship point of the season. He qualified third in the season opener at Long Beach but ended up 15th after being victimized in a first-lap, first-turn incident.

Junqueira's performance earned him a front-row starting spot for Saturday's race, marking his first front-row start since last year's season opener in Long Beach.

Dale Coyne Racing's Jan Heylen (#11 Sonny's BBQ Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was the only driver not to turn a lap in today's qualifying session. Dan Clarke was officially scored as posting no time, after losing his only timed lap due to bringing out a red flag in the session.


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