CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Friday qualifying report

THREE-TIME CHAMP CAR RUNNER-UP BRUNO JUNQUEIRA TAKES EARLY 2005 ADVANTAGE BY LEADING FIRST-DAY QUALIFYING AT TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 8, 2005) -- Newman/Haas Racing's Bruno Junqueira ( ...

THREE-TIME CHAMP CAR RUNNER-UP BRUNO JUNQUEIRA TAKES EARLY 2005 ADVANTAGE BY LEADING FIRST-DAY QUALIFYING AT TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 8, 2005) -- Newman/Haas Racing's Bruno Junqueira (#2 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) fired the first shot of the 2005 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season on a brilliant Friday in Long Beach, scoring the first point of the season by leading the opening day of Champ Car qualifying.

Junqueira negotiated the 1.968-mile Long Beach street course in 1:08.342 (103.667 mph) to snare the provisional pole for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, scoring a championship point and guaranteeing himself a front-row starting spot for Sunday's race. The defending Long Beach polesitter was less than a second off the five-year old track record set by Gil de Ferran on the first day of qualifying, taking the top spot by .152 seconds over two-time defending Long Beach Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

The 35-minute qualifying session started in tentative fashion as a handful of rookie drivers slithered out of the pits to turn their initial qualifying laps. It took 10 minutes for the rookies to entice their veteran counterparts to join the fray, but once they did, the times dropped in rapid fashion.

Second-year driver Justin Wilson (#9 SanDisk Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) jumped to the top of the charts on just his third lap, but was soon eclipsed by a freight train of drivers that started with teammate A.J. Allmendinger (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and ended with the eventual polewinning lap of Junqueira, which came with 16 minutes remaining in the session.

As can happen in the Champ Car World Series, the strategy for the qualifying session was scrambled when starter J.D. Wilbur unfurled the scarlet banner in response to an incident involving rookie Fabrizio del Monte (#41 Konica/Minolta Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Del Monte, who joined the first-year Jensen Motorsports squad for the 2005 lidlifter, spun in Turn Eight to bring out the red flag, sending everyone back to Pit Lane while the Champ Car Safety Team set everything back in order.

The course went green with six minutes remaining, allowing the 19-car field just enough time to run a warmup lap or two before taking their final shots at Junqueira's top time. Tracy would come the closest on the day, turning a best lap of 1:08.494 (103.437 mph) after putting on his alternate Bridgestone Potenzas in an effort to steal the first-day pole, but ran up on traffic on his final pass and had to settle for the second spot.

Bourdais would end up in the third spot after a best lap of 1:08.736 (103.073 mph) while Wilson was the last driver on the day to break into the 1:08 range, carding a top time of 1:08.884 (102.851 mph). The top five was rounded out by a strong effort from Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who carried his new Team Australia Racing mount to the fifth position with a best lap of 1:09.056 (102.595 mph).

Another veteran Champ Car driver that switched teams in the offseason had a strong showing as new Forsythe Championship Racing pilot Mario Dominguez (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) came in just .002 seconds behind Tagliani to claim the sixth spot. Rookie Andrew Ranger (#27 Mi-Jack/Tide Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) provided the biggest surprise of the day, taking the seventh position in his very first Champ Car qualifying session, posting a quick lap of 1:09.416 (102.063 mph).

Reigning Roshfrans Rookie of the Year Allmendinger was next with the rookie duo from HVM Inc. following closely behind as Ronnie Bremer (#55 HVM Inc. Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Bjorn Wirdheim (#4 HVM Inc Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) took the ninth and tenth spots respectively on the first day grid. Bremer, who finished fourth in the Toyota Atlantic event in Long Beach a year ago, was ninth with a top time of 1:09.514 (101.919mph) while Wirdheim was a tenth of a second back after a best lap of 1:09.619 (101.765mph).

2002 Champ Car titlewinner Cristiano da Matta (#21 Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ended his day in the 11th spot in his first qualifying run since returning to the Champ Car World Series, while rookie Timo Glock (#8 Deutsch POST Speed Academy Global Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was 12th.

The final qualifying session to set the grid for Sunday's race will take place Saturday afternoon, beginning at 2 p.m. Pacific Time.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP-THREE QUALIFIERS:

Sebastien Bourdais: Well, I'm pretty happy. It's the first time I think I go under 1:09 or something like that here, so I thought it was going to be pretty good. Realistically, Bruno historically has been very fast here, a bit faster than I have. We made up last year during the race, but I think he's going to be a very strong contender here. PT has won a lot of races here, too. We've got two tough guys to beat here on the front. We're going to work on it. The McDonald's car was pretty good. All in all I only got to do two days of testing before the start of the season. It's like everything is going a bit too fast here and I'm not feeling all that ready. Hopefully everything is going to fall into place during the weekend.

Paul Tracy: Really the first run I didn't get the best of the lap. I left a little bit. The second run, when we went out at the end, I put the red tires on because we knew we had to at least have a try at it. I felt that I could go better if I got the right opportunity, so we decided to go. I had a good lap going. I caught Cristiano at the end of the back straightaway, finished the lap, and I lost the time. I only went a couple 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 just have to take your chances.

Bruno Junqueira: We worked really hard over the winter. I think the whole PacifiCare Newman/Haas team worked really, really hard to try to improve my car. The mechanics are working harder in every aspect. Myself, I'm trying to learn. With the experience, I'm trying to get better and better as a driver, in all aspects, being faster, more consistent, everything. So it's really nice to show already in the first day that our work seems to be going forward. It's very good to get the pole on the first day. I think the car straight out of the box was really fast today. I didn't change much, just some minor adjustments. I'm quite happy with the results. It's really important for myself, for the Newman/Haas team, and especially PacifiCare that is based very close to Long Beach - that means it's their home race - to get the provisional pole is very nice.

-ccws-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Gil de Ferran , Bruno Junqueira , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Bjorn Wirdheim , Ronnie Bremer , Andrew Ranger , Timo Glock , Cristiano da Matta