CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Friday qualifying report

Paul Tracy's quest for third straight Champ Car World Series win will begin from front row after he leads Friday's first round Long Beach qualifying. LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 11, 2003) -- Paul Tracy ( ...

Paul Tracy's quest for third straight Champ Car World Series win will begin from front row after he leads Friday's first round Long Beach qualifying.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 11, 2003) -- Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is trying to become the first driver to start a season with three straight wins since 1971, and made his task a far sight easier Friday as he led the first round of qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, earning himself a front-row starting spot for Sunday's race.

Tracy flexed his muscle early on Friday as he led both of the morning practice sessions, then went out and made it stand up as he used the 13th of his 15 allotted laps to leapfrog to the top of the speed charts. Tracy got around the 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit in 1:10.126/102.561mph to lock up the lead position in Friday's first-round of qualifying. The Friday finish earned the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford points leader a guaranteed front-row starting spot regardless of what happens in final qualifying on Saturday.

Tracy used his big right foot and quick hands to pilot his car to the top of the time charts, but it was the rear wing of his car that helped keep him there. Tracy had posted the day's quickest time with five minutes to go in the session and had slowed in order to find some clear track for a last-ditch effort to further improve his time. But behind Tracy, Roberto Moreno (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was having no part of slowing down on his last lap, and heading unsuspectingly into Turn Eight, hit the rear of Tracy's car and went into the wall.

The crash brought out the red flag and ended the qualifying session while some drivers were on their last laps, preventing them from moving up on the provisional grid. More than 10 drivers were still on the track looking to make their final moves up the ladder when the red flag turned into a checker for the Moreno accident.

One of those caught out by the last-minute red flag was early-session leader Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who lost his spot at the top of the order when Tracy put up his best lap with scant minutes left to run. The Newman/Haas driver battled with traffic all day and feels that he has more to offer in Saturday's final qualifying.

"I really believe I could have been on pole if I could have gotten a clear lap," Junqueira said. "We left a lot on the table today. I had a very, very fast lap when the red flag came. Hopefully we will have another shot at pole tomorrow if it doesn't rain."

The Newman/Haas squad would have to settle for the second and third spots on the first-day grid as Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would snare the third position on the day with a lap of 1:09.242/102.319mph. Bourdais struggled to come to grips with the unfamiliar Long Beach layout in the morning practice sessions, but picked up the pace on his lessons in the qualifying and ended his day in the third spot. The polewinner in each of the first two races, Bourdais will look to become the first driver since 2002 titlist Cristiano da Matta to win three consecutive poles in Saturday's qualifying.

Tracy's Player's teammate Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) made it two teams in the first two rows as he and Tracy bookended the Newman/Haas cars of Junqueira and Bourdais. Carpentier made a late dash to vault into the fourth spot, carding a best lap of 1:09.406/102.078mph. Carpentier moved Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) down to fifth after the veteran driver had made a late move into the top five with a lap of 1:09.432/102.039.

The session started quickly with Carpentier leading a group of 12 cars that would run their first stint as soon as the green flag flew over the Long Beach streets. The second half of the field took up the chase soon after and Junqueira put up his best time right after the halfway mark of the 40-minute session had passed.

Everyone then pitted and took on new tires but no one would match the performance of the third-year Brazilian driver for the next 15 minutes until Tracy was able to vault to the forefront. The rest of the field would then be denied their chance to match Tracy when the red flag flew with a minute to run.

Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who has run second in each of the first two events, would put up the sixth-best time of the day while Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) made a late move to climb to seventh. Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Competition Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would make it nine Lolas in the top nine spots while Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) would lead the Reynard contingent while rounding out the top 10.

Saturday's final qualifying will set the final grid for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and will take the green flag at 1:45 Pacific Time. The qualifying session can be seen live on SPEED Channel, as will Sunday's Champ Car race.

TOP THREE QUALIFIERS QUOTES:

Paul Tracy: This is great for Team Player's and it's a good start for me. The car was good coming out this morning and Team Player's kept improving it everytime we went out. It's great to have the front row locked up for Sunday because we don't know what the weather is going to be like in the next couple of days.

Bruno Junqueira: The car was pretty good. The team made some changes for qualifying. I think the car was pretty good in the qualifying round on the first set of new tires. I was just a little bit in front of Paul. But on the second set of tires I did one lap, I got traffic, then I got a good lap, then I got traffic again. I had a very, very fast lap when the red flag came.

Sebastien Bourdais: Each corner, you need to push. You are always close to the wall. That's how a street course is. You really need to take your time and go step by step if you don't to make a mistake. If the rain is not coming, it will probably be a pretty good day for us on Saturday.

NOTEWORTHY:

* Sebastien Bourdais will be looking to become the first Champ Car rookie since Alex Zanardi to win three consecutive poles when he runs in final-round qualifying on Saturday. Zanardi won four straight poles to close out the 1996 campaign.

* Paul Tracy now has 44 championship points after winning a single point for leading Friday qualifying. The addition gives him a 12-point lead over Michel Jourdain Jr. in the title chase.

* Mario Dominguez was initially listed as 15th on the charts after stewards had penalized him of his fastest lap because of alleged blocking during qualifying. The stewards reviewed the case after the session and determined that Dominguez had not committed any penalties, and awarded him the ninth spot on the provisional grid.

* Experience was a key on the tricky Long Beach course on Friday as only Sebastien Bourdais was able to crack the top 10 on the first-round grid. The last eight spots on the result sheet for Friday were all occupied by rookie drivers.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Sébastien Bourdais , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain