CHAMPCAR/CART: Junqueira takes Long Beach provisional pole

Sunny Southern California skies greeted the opening round of qualifying today, as the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford opened the 2005 season at the 31st running of the Long Beach Grand Prix. Bruno Junqueira claimed the first point of 2005...

Sunny Southern California skies greeted the opening round of qualifying today, as the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford opened the 2005 season at the 31st running of the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Bruno Junqueira claimed the first point of 2005 when he knocked out a lap of 1:08.342, 103.667 mph to claim the provisional pole. Right on his heels was 4-time Long Beach winner, Canadian Paul Tracy, who's time of 1:08.494, 103.437 mph was just a quarter second ahead of third place Bourdais. Rounding out the top five were Justin Wilson followed by Alex Tagliani.

"It feels really good. Long Beach always is a very good track for me," Junqueira said. "Very happy too, after a long off-season, being so close to winning the championship, I know that this year I have to do better than last year. So I feel really good."

Bourdais set the quickest lap early in the session, but was bested by Junqueira, who on his forth lap set the quickest time of the day.

Fabrizio del Monte brought out a red flag 20 minutes into qualifying after spinning in turn eight, stopping the progress of many that had just come out for a few laps after holding back in the pits to let others complete their runs. After nearly ten minutes and with just five minutes remaining, the cars returned to the circuit but there were few improvements.

"I had a good lap going (at the end)", Tracy said. "I caught Christiano (da Matta) at the end of the back straightaway, finished the lap, and I lost the time. I only went a couple of hundredths quicker than my original lap. I was up almost two and a half tenths. A little bit frustrating, but that's life. That's qualifying at Long Beach with five minutes to go. You have to take your chances."

Rookie Andrew Ranger made his mark on the field by establishing the fastest time amongst the freshman group, his best effort at 1:09.416, 102.063 mph. His seventh place qualifying spot places him squarely between Tracy's teammate Mario Dominguez and A.J. Allmendinger.

After winning the Championship in 2004 and Rookie title in 2003, Bourdais has his sites set on a team effort and a second title.

"I guess it's the only thing I can do, Bourdais said laughing. "It's a big challenge and it's the first time I come back into the series as a defender of the championship. Every one has stepped up and it's a professional series. You can't go very much further except if you go into Formula One, but that's a different story."

No less than seven rookie drivers are vying this season for Roshfrans Rookie Of The Year honors.

2004 Rookie of the Year Allmendinger teams with runner-up Wilson this season at RuSport. Allmendinger was the first American-born driver to capture the rookie title in the past 13 seasons.

Wilson's spot on the outside was a much improved result from his 11th best here last year.

"It was a reasonable day, qualifying 4th." Wilson said afterwards. "It was a shame things got a bit messy towards the end, but it was the same for everybody really. Were going to make the most of it and get on with it. The team has done a good job getting us on the right track."

Returning this season to Champ Car after a two-year hiatus in Formula One racing for Toyota, da Matta will sit along side stable-mate and former series champion Jimmy Vasser to present Newman Haas and Forsythe Racing with another potent foe competing for the championship.

Junqueira, with a very small lead in this year's championship battle, knows he must continue to mature as a driver if he wants to wear the crown of Champion.

"I mean you have to try and do everything a little bit better." Junqueira said shyly. "For sure the last two years I was close on the championship. I was very close to win but I didn't. I have to improve in all aspects myself as a driver to try to win. But it's really important to take one race at a time."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Paul Tracy , Mario Dominguez , A.J. Allmendinger , Andrew Ranger , Fabrizio del Monte