CHAMPCAR/CART: St. Pete: Saturday final qualifying report

Newman/Haas rookie Sebastien Bourdais makes Champ Car history by winning Grand Prix of St. Petersburg pole in series debut. ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., (February 22, 2003) - Newman/Haas Racing's rookie Sebastien Bourdais ( ...

Newman/Haas rookie Sebastien Bourdais makes Champ Car history by winning Grand Prix of St. Petersburg pole in series debut.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., (February 22, 2003) - Newman/Haas Racing's rookie Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Newman/Haas Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) likely spent his formative years in France following the exploits of 1993 Champ Car World Series titlist Nigel Mansell - exploits that he then matched in Saturday's final qualifying for his first-ever Champ Car race.

Bourdais became the first rookie since Mansell to take the pole for his first CART race, claiming the top spot for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the race that will open the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Bourdais claimed the top spot with a fast lap of 1:00.928 (106.710 mph) to best the 19-car field.

"I think it's a big satisfaction. I mean, to be on the pole at the first event has not been a thing we saw very much," Bourdais said. "Definitely, as Paul (Tracy) said, the car and the team is very experienced. The package was very good. Even if I'm young, I'll still be pretty much full of experience with different cars, like endurance cars, sports cars, experience in F1. But, no, I feel very proud. I just hope it will continue like this. I remember that Nigel did the first pole in his first race, but he also won the championship, so what I can expect is to do the same."

The reigning FIA F3000 champion was not fazed by the rapidly-changing weather conditions, which went from bright sun in the morning to high winds and heavy cloud cover for the afternoon qualifying session. He held the pole for all but 60 seconds of the session after winning the provisional pole yesterday, giving it up briefly to Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola Bridgestone) before reclaiming it with the session's quickest trip around the 1.806-mile circuit less than a minute later.

The session would be a choppy one, with the gusty winds and the lower air pressure affecting the aerodynamic package, upping the ante on the drivers who could not cash in, as new Champ Car starter J.D. Wilbur found himself waving the red flag on five different occasions.

The first two of these scarlet banners would end up playing large parts in the way the standings would look at the end, as provisional qualifying podium sitters Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) each stopped the clock with on-track spins. The stoppages meant that both drivers would lose their best times of the session, negating laps that were good enough to put both drivers in the top four on the grid.

Tracy, who has not won a pole since the 2000 season but had three front-row starts last year, kept the pressure on the rookie by lowering his time to 1:01.476 (105.758 mph) but would not get any closer and have to settle for the second spot. The problems suffered by Servia and Junqueira would keep Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) on the qualifying podium with a third-place run as the polesitter for last year's season opener would be content with a time of 1:01.749 (105.291 mph).

"Yesterday, we didn't have any luck in qualifying," Fernandez said. "We had too much traffic in our first set. The second set, we never really put any laps with so many reds. This morning, the second qualifying, we waited more. It's just about luck really because you just never know when it's going to be right for you. But this time it worked for us. We had the right strategy. Maybe I needed a couple more laps to put together a better lap. Probably would have happened the same to everybody. But I'm happy for the performance."

Tracy will start on the outside of the front row with a partner right behind him as his Player's/Forsythe teammate Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will take the green flag from the fourth spot after carding a qualifying effort of 1:01.759 (105.274 mph). Tracy managed to snare the front-row spot despite having lost the services of his race engineer Kelly Loewen last week as the engineer abruptly quit the team prior to the opening weekend.

"We lost my engineer last Friday, he quit," Tracy said. "That was a little disappointing. Tony (Cicale) is my race weekend engineer, but he's not shop-based. My shop-based engineer, Kelly, quit last week, so we're actually kind of in a little - we were dropped in a little bit of a hole this weekend. On Friday afternoon, the crew chief was supposed to receive the starting setup, and there was no engineer around. We're looking for a replacement. We're talking to a few people. We have a couple weeks before the next race. We have some good options. I think it will be a good change for the team, as well."

Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) earned the fifth starting spot, the best of his time with Team Rahal. Jourdain had the best season of his career last year with Team Rahal but started no higher than sixth during his season. He will be joined in the third row by rookie Mario Haberfeld (#34 Mi-Jack/Conquest Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) who had his best session of the weekend and led the Reynard brigade with a sixth-place run.

Junqueira would end up seventh after losing his best lap because of the penalty while Servia will start behind him in ninth when the green flag drops on the 105-lap season opener tomorrow. The race will start at 1 p.m. Eastern Time and will be televised live on SPEED Channel.

TOP THREE QUALIFIER QUOTES:

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: "It feels really well. Actually, I think it was very difficult to expect a better result. The car has been great all through the weekend. For the moment, we are the really good car, really high downforce. It was a lot lower for this session, and it's been pretty good also. I haven't had a big problem since we started Friday morning, so it's really good. It's so good to start the season that way, after a long wait."

PAUL TRACY: "We made some changes overnight. The biggest issue we had yesterday was an engine problem yesterday, had to switch engines after the second practice. We missed the warm-up for qualifying, went out there, it went red, had a problem. Really disappointing yesterday. Today we did some setup change. Pat (Carpentier) was quite happy with his car, so we did some things to my car that he did. This morning the car was good."

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: "It takes time, especially after the two biggest accidents of my life. I couldn't do any go-karting, any type of driving, until the end of January. The type of exercises I was doing, it was very different from what I've used to. I was not building any muscle, things like that. I've been trying to make that deficit up as quick as possible in the last few weeks, but still it's difficult. I'm not a hundred percent there. I hope I can get into a rhythm tomorrow in the race, just get to the end. Apart from that, my speed is coming back. I've been trying to make no mistakes, just trying to take my time, not pressure myself to be there. I just want to have a good season, nothing out of the normal. The team is experienced. It's our third year. 99 percent of the people who are in Fernandez Racing are people that have been with us since the beginning. We're starting to get some consistency. I think that's very key.

Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Veteran racing teams such as Newman/Haas Racing, Player's/Forsythe Racing, Team Rahal, Patrick Racing and Walker Racing will compete with many new teams this year in pursuit of the Vanderbilt Cup. CART Champ Cars are thoroughbred racing machines that reach speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, showcasing the technical expertise of manufacturers such as Ford Motor Company, Lola Cars, Reynard Motorsport and Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC. The 19-race 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford will be broadcast by television partners CBS, and SPEED Channel. CART also owns and operates its top development series, the Toyota Atlantic Championship. Learn more about CART's open-wheel racing series at www.champcarworldseries.com.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mario Haberfeld , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Nigel Mansell , Sébastien Bourdais , Michel Jourdain