CHAMPCAR/CART: Junqueira bags pole at Long Beach

Rain squalls determined the final grid for Sunday's 30th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach today, as wet weather arrived at the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street circuit about the same time as morning practice for race ...

Rain squalls determined the final grid for Sunday's 30th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach today, as wet weather arrived at the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street circuit about the same time as morning practice for race #1 of the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.

Bruno Junqueira maintained pole position, resting on his Friday lap of 68.913 seconds (102.808mph) in the #6 PacifiCare Lola/Ford- Cosworth/Bridgestone racer. It is his eighth pole position in the Brazilian's 58th Champ Car start. "This is the best way to start the season," Junqueira said. "Newman/Haas did a good job over the winter to prepare for this season. I was very lucky yesterday to get a good lap," he advised.

Junqueira's teammate Sebastien Bourdais, who had a tough time in provisional qualifying yesterday, was one of only two drivers to improve from Friday time trials, hoisting his #2 McDonald's Lola to a tour of 69.800 seconds (101.501mph) on a drying track. For his quick eighth and final lap, Bourdais earned a point and stakes his claim outside the front row.

"I am still pretty angry about yesterday," Bourdais stressed after being blocked by Patrick Carpentier. "The big traffic jams cause a lot of trouble" in these qualifying sessions. Does he think there will be paybacks in this first race of the year? It could happen, but Bourdais is just "very, very upset since yesterday. I carried that to the last few minutes," when he set his fast lap.

It's an all-Canadian second row for Paul Tracy in the #1 Indeck Lola and Alex Tagliani, driving the #8 Johnson Controls Lola. Tracy agreed, "The track was not as good as yesterday. There was a big puddle going into the fountain turn, but the last ten minutes the track dried pretty well," he said.

Tagliani took only nine tours of the track in this afternoon's session and wasn't overly pleased. "The car can be faster," Tag declared, but the second row is okay for us. The braking and turning could be better and we really need to find more speed."

Teammates Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Lola) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (#4 Herdez Lola) occupy row #3. Dominguez declared himself "pretty happy with our result today. We had the pole for a while but just at the end there Sebastien got me by four-thousandths of a second." Hunter-Reay, on the other hand was "pretty bummed out with my result. It has been crazy weather-wise today, and I have only done a handful of laps."

Patrick Carpentier, despite causing one of the stoppages during final qualifying keeps his inside slot on row #4, using yesterday's quick lap in the #7 Indeck Lola. The Canadian veteran went into the Turn 1 runoff and stalled, then two minutes later went into the Turn 9 tire wall. Despite the front damage to his Lola, Carpentier returned to the pits under power.

Rookie A.J. Allmendinger qualified eighth and was fifth today in the #10 BG Products/Red Bull Lola and called it, "A tough session. Even though I only got about four laps in, I think we made progress. I feel pretty comfortable in the car and I think we've got a good race car, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

Rodolfo Lavin earned ninth on the grid for his #3 Corona Lola, again based on Friday time trials. "It was a tough run today," Lavin said. "We didn't do any laps this morning because it was raining and there was no sense in risking the car. This afternoon's qualifying was tough. I just couldn't go any quicker."

Jimmy Vasser retained tenth grid spot for his #12 Gulfstream Lola and noted, "The drying track really made for a difficult session. With practice washed out this morning," the 1996 Champ Car titleholder reasoned, "the weather didn't really help us out much."

Rookie Justin Wilson spent a good deal of time learning where the numerous runoff areas are on the Long Beach city street circuit. He'll line up 11th for tomorrow's race in the #34 Mi-Jack Lola from Conquest Racing. Explaining his off-course excursions the Briton noted, "I locked up at one point and headed down the access road. Then I stalled when I spun around, so that was quite frustrating. With the weather [today], it was quite tricky."

Once again, Michel Jourdain Jr. had "a terrible day today," and will bring the #9 Gigante Lola to the green flags in 12th place. "We made some changes from yesterday and we could have been better, but the session just didn't go that way. We're not where we want to be for starting tomorrow," said last year's Long Beach polesitter, but it's a very long race."

Mario Haberfeld was first on the circuit for today's final time trials, taking his laps after nearly 15 minutes of the 40-minute session had run. Keeping his nose clean, sophomore Champ Car driver Haberfeld starts 13th in the #5 Cummins Reynard, one of only two Reynard cars in the field.

Rookie Alex Sperafico, driving the #14 Mi-Jack Reynard lines up in 14th place for his first Champ Car contest. French rookie Nelson Philippe holds 15th on the grid in his #17 LeasePlan Lola and was actually ninth quickest this afternoon. "I'm feeling better about the car. The handling and response are more to my liking after we made some adjustments."

Rookie Roberto Gonzalez holds down the 16th slot for his #21 NII Holdings Lola and said, "We made a lot of changes overnight, but couldn't really test them in practice. It was frustrating because part of qualifying was wet as well." After his disqualification yesterday, Oriol Servia became the second driver to improve his qualifying speed by logging 71.930 seconds (98.496mph) in the #11 Lola. Teammate Tarso Marques holds the final slot on the grid in his #19 American Medical Response Lola.

The nasty weather is expected to clear in time for tomorrow's 1PM EDT start for the 30th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. With the softer option tire available for use during the 81-lap contest and the new 60- second push-to-pass button for drivers to use for passing opportunities, strategy becomes an even more important part of the race.

"There are a lot of changes to competition this year, but that's just part of it," Tracy said of the push-to-pass. "We don't know yet how long the softer tires will last and it's just another part of strategy. I just hope the yellows fall our way." Bourdais, too, is "hoping we can get the 'magic yellow' to win the race. With push-to-pass, you still need to be close to the guy in front," he admitted. "It's not an after-burner."

How will strategy and traffic play out in the first Champ Car World Series event of 2004? There's only one way to find out: watch the 30th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mario Haberfeld , Justin Wilson , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Tarso Marques , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Rodolfo Lavin , Roberto Gonzalez , Alex Sperafico , Nelson Philippe , Michel Jourdain
Teams Conquest Racing