Paul Tracy widens points lead as three CART Champ Car title hopefuls lead the way in first round of qualifying for Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante in Mexico City. MEXICO CITY (October 10, 2003) -- The 2003 Champ Car championship points race is...
Paul Tracy widens points lead as three CART Champ Car title hopefuls lead the way in first round of qualifying for Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante in Mexico City.
MEXICO CITY (October 10, 2003) -- The 2003 Champ Car championship points race is shaping up to be every bit as close as the nail-biting finishes that the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford had in 1999 and 2000, and the title hopefuls showed their fight during Friday's first round of qualifying for the Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante Presented by Banamex/Visa.
The four drivers that still have championship aspirations with three races remaining were all in the top five in the first round of qualifying, but the gap between them only got wider as points leader Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) paced the Friday session. Tracy's best lap of 1:28.842 (112.893 mph) earned him his 205th championship point on the season and pushed him out to a 14-point lead over closest competitor Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
Tracy ran his session-leading time on just his fifth lap of the day and surprisingly saw his effort hold up throughout the entire 40 minutes of qualifying. The lengthy 2.786-mile Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez track, along with the demands put on the tires by the altitude-induced lack of downforce, meant that most teams would fall far short of completing their allotment of 15 laps and kept everyone from firing all of their shots at Tracy.
Junqueira, who won the pole for last year's Mexico City event, came up a scant six-hundredths of a second short of taking Friday honors, settling for second with a time of 1:28.905 (112.813 mph). Like Tracy, Junqueira posted his best time early in the session, but would be unable to make up the ground needed to claim the first-day pole. His teammate Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would have similar success, taking the third spot in the opening round of qualifying after posting a time of 1:29.110 (112.553 mph). Bourdais, who could clinch the series Rookie-of-the-Year title this weekend, was one of the few drivers that was able to find speed late in the run as his best lap came with less than five minutes on the clock.
The Reynard runners have reasons for optimism heading into tomorrow's final qualifying as four of the top nine drivers in the first session were piloting the Reynard chassis. Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) came up just two-tenths short of making the first-day podium with a time of 1:29.315 (112.295 mph). Vasser is coming off of one of his top runs of the year two weeks ago in Miami when the 1996 CART champion came from 11th on the grid to finish fourth.
The other protagonist in the title drama came home in the fifth spot today as Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante/Office Depot Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) carded a time of 1:29.387 (112.204 mph) to round out the top five. A pair of Reynards would follow Jourdain across the stripe as Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 Gonher de Mexico Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) took the sixth spot ahead of Darren Manning (#15 RAC/Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone).
Manning's seventh-place performance belied his morning speed as the Brit led both of the morning practice sessions. His top lap of the second practice would hold up as the best time of the day, but he could not match the effort during the qualifying session and placed seventh with a time of 1:29.580 (111.962 mph), leaving him almost a full tenth behind Hunter-Reay's 1:29.498 (112.065 mph).
Patrick Carpentier (#32 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) survived a brief off-course excursion during the session to post the eighth-best time of the day, while rookie Tiago Monteiro (#7 Fittipaldi-Dingman Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) placed ninth. Monteiro was another that showed his speed early, running in the top five of both practice sessions, and will be looking for his third consecutive top-10 starting spot tomorrow.
Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top 10 while hometown hero and Miami winner Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was the last driver to break the 90-second barrier on the tricky surface, posting a time of 1:29.890 (111.576 mph).
Luis Diaz (#25 Sun/Telcel/Motorola Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) gave a good account of himself in his first Champ Car qualifying session of the year, finishing 15th in the 20-car field with a time of 1:30.478 (110.851 mph). Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) came back from missing the entire second practice session with engine woes to place 14th while Miami podium-sitter Mika Salo (#27 PK Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would end up 16th. Roberto Gonzalez (#4 Herdez/Nextel Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ran his first Champ Car session since the season opener at St. Petersburg today as Herdez Competition fields an all-Mexican two-car team. Gonzalez, who started the year with Dale Coyne Racing, finished 18th in the session.
The final grid will be set in Saturday's second round of qualifying, which will take place at 1:45 p.m. local time. That session will finalize the starting spots for Sunday's 70-lap Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante Presented by Banamex/Visa, which can be seen live in the United States on SPEED Channel beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern time.
QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS:
PAUL TRACY (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "We're very happy with this provisional pole. It gives us a much-needed point and puts us on the front row for the race. That's what we need to do. My first stint was much better than the second. I got the fastest time in that first outing then the track got very slippery and I just wasn't able to improve. I know there are still improvements we can make on the car. We're going to go at Saturday's qualifying with the same intensity and purpose, and fight for another point and the pole."
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "It wasn't what I expected that's for sure. I didn't get a point and Paul did. We were fast this morning but thought it would be prefect for qualifying after more rubber got put down on track. I think the track was slower in the afternoon and we got stuck behind [Patrick] Carpentier for a while. But I'm confident for the pole tomorrow. We are better at this point than we were last year here, so I think we can go even faster."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "We worked on a few setups to make sure we wouldn't mess up anything this weekend. Bruno's car was better so we used his setup. The track is hard right now due to some smaller bumps, not big ones, just smaller ones. It's tough inside the cockpit but we'll make some changes for tomorrow afternoon."
* By earning a championship point in Friday qualifying, Paul Tracy boosts his season total to 205. In the 20 seasons that CART Champ Car has used its current points system, Tracy's 205 points would be good enough to claim the championship in 14 of those years.
* With three races to run, Bruno Junqueira is just nine points shy of the 200-point mark, which would make them only the third tandem in series history to top the 200-point mark. Juan Montoya and Dario Franchitti each tied for the 1999 title with 212 points, while Michael Andretti (234) and Bobby Rahal (200) each broke the barrier in 1991. Michel Jourdain is just 29 points under the 200-point mark as well, which would mark the first time ever that three drivers would have earned 200 points.