CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland: Friday qualifying report

CART Champ Car World Series points leader Michel Jourdain Jr. holds off American Spirit onslaught to lead Friday qualifying for Portland G.I. Joe's 200. PORTLAND -- (June 20, 2003) -- The American contingent in the CART Champ Car World Series...

CART Champ Car World Series points leader Michel Jourdain Jr. holds off American Spirit onslaught to lead Friday qualifying for Portland G.I. Joe's 200.

PORTLAND -- (June 20, 2003) -- The American contingent in the CART Champ Car World Series made its strongest advance of the 2003 season as the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford headed to Oregon for the G.I. Joe's 200, but it would not be enough to upend the series points leader as Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would lead Friday qualifying at Portland International Raceway.

Jourdain shook off the disappointment of last week's run at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca where he lost his pole position due to a technical violation, and came out running hard on Friday, storming to the provisional pole with a best lap of 59.397 seconds (119.339 mph) around the 1.969-mile road course. The run guarantees Jourdain a front-row starting spot for Sunday's CART Champ Car event and also gives the Team Rahal driver another championship point, adding to his series-leading total of 90 -- giving him a seven-point lead heading into the eighth race of the year.

"It feels good to be at the top of the charts and hopefully we can follow that up by getting another point tomorrow," Jourdain said. "We tested here and we learned a lot about the car and it will be nice to know that we can go out and run hard tomorrow and not worry because we already have a front-row spot. But Sunday is the important day and hopefully we can keep doing well."

The American Spirit Team Johansson squad of Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) ended the session holding down the second and third qualifying spots in what was easily the best performance of the year for the startup team, but Hunter-Reay's day was ruined soon after the press conference as his car failed post-qualifying technical inspection.

The rookie would be sent to the back of the grid after the inspection, but his veteran stablemate Vasser would survive tech and move into the second spot on the provisional grid. The 1996 series champion put up a lap of 59.433 seconds (119.267 mph) to snare the second position on the day, posting his best qualifying effort of the 2003 season and the best for a Reynard driver through the first eight races of the year.

Vasser went out early in what was a tricky session at Portland as the rains came and went throughout the day. The morning practice ended under a curtain of raindrops but the clouds abated somewhat before the 40-minute qualifying run. But the heavy clouds threatened to drop their watery cargo as the session started, sparking a handful of drivers to head out as soon as the green flag dropped.

Among those early runners was the red-white-and-blue car of Vasser, who had his allotment of 15 laps in the bank before half of the field had even started their second stints. But Vasser made good use of the clear track that he had and put up some strong laps in the Reynard, eventually slotting in behind Jourdain -- and his rookie teammate for a brief period of time.

"We're very pleased. We thought we might have a pretty good car here," Vasser said. "Ryan tested here and was good and we were pretty optimistic about our chances. It was a little tricky trying to play the raindrops but we were able to get some good laps in."

After the first part of the session saw five different leaders top the charts as the times dropped into the 59-second range, Vasser vaulted into the top spot on his penultimate lap, only to see Jourdain leapfrog him and take the point 60 seconds later. With his day done after his 15 laps had expired, Vasser sat back to watch the remainder of the session, but would not see any serious challengers to his position emerge.

Intermittent rain showers started to fall again with 10 minutes remaining in the session, but it would not stop the carousel in the top five spots. Darren Manning (#15 RAC/Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would vault into the top five as the session wound down with a couple of challengers still holding laps in their pockets.

One of those with laps to run was three-time 2003 race winner and morning practice leader Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who was less than a half-second off the lead with five minutes to run. But Tracy would encounter the slower car of Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) on the final turn of the course, and would punt Tagliani off course, sending both cars rumbling through the grass. Tracy continued on without a front wing assembly, but the red flag flew as the Simple Green Champ Car Safety Team went out to retrieve the stricken car of Tagliani. But the rains fell harder as the work went on, prompting Chief Steward Chris Kniefel to call an early end to the session, stopping it three minutes early as the 25 minutes of guaranteed green-flag time had been satisfied.

The premature end allowed Jourdain to keep the top spot and would eventually give Vasser the second position ahead of Servia, Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Manning. Fernandez had been running in the top five for much of the session before ending up fourth and blamed -- as did Hunter-Reay -- Tracy for ending his run at the Friday pole position.

"We had a good lap going there toward the end and I was blocked by [Paul] Tracy," Fernandez said. "I don't know if Paul was making a gap because someone was in front of him or not, but he should have let me by because he wouldn't lose anything there. It's frustrating because we were a tenth off [our lap time at that point] and maybe we could have ended up second."

The final grid will be set Saturday afternoon with a final 40-minute qualifying session which begins at 1:45 Pacific Time. The final session can be seen on SPEED Channel beginning at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time.


MICHEL JOURDAIN JR. "The car was really great. Since we came to the test here it has been very good. We learned some things at Laguna Seca about the car and it feels very good. It is a good feeling knowing we go into tomorrow with a guaranteed front row spot, but the key is Sunday and hopefully we came get a strong finish and score some more points."

JIMMY VASSER "We're very pleased. We thought we might have a pretty good car here. Ryan tested here and was good and we were pretty optimistic. It was a little tricky trying to play the rain drops, but we are pleased with how the car has run today."

ORIOL SERVIA "The Visteon/Patrick Racing car was very good on the first set of tires. In fact, I thought we could have had a pole time during the first stint, but we got a red flag. On the second set, I don't know what happened, but we started to get a little bit of a push. The good thing is that we have been competitive all day and we learned a few things, which will help us for tomorrow's final qualifying. At Laguna Seca were spent the whole time searching for the setup. Here it is just a matter of fine-tuning the car."


* Paul Tracy, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani and Mario Haberfeld all lost their best times of the day after causing red-flag stoppages during qualifying. Tracy lost a lap of 59.714 seconds, Tagliani dropped a 59.775, Carpentier lost a lap of 60.064 with Haberfeld having to settle for 16th place with a top time of 60.695 after losing his fastest lap. Of the four, only Carpentier would lose any places in the order, dropping two spots in the provisional order.

* Max Papis made his first qualifying run of the season and his first with PK Racing in the team's #27 Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. Papis went out early in the qualifying session but saved enough to make a late run, jumping up to the 10th spot on the day with a lap time of 59.989 seconds (118.162 mph).

* Today's second-place qualifying run for Vasser is the best for a Reynard driver since Patrick Carpentier won the pole at Mid-Ohio last season -- a race that he would go on to win.


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Mario Haberfeld , Darren Manning , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Michel Jourdain