Bruno Junqueira came into this weekend's Grand Prix Americas Presented by needing to make up 18 points to grab a share of the lead in the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford standings, and made his first move on Friday as he shaved a point off of Paul Tracy's series lead.

Junqueira hung a blistering lap on the field to pace Friday's session on the newly revamped 1.15-mile Miami street circuit, besting the 19-car field with a lap of 45.024 seconds (91.951 mph). Junqueira's trip was more than a half-second faster than the rest of the field and guaranteed him a front-row starting spot for Sunday's 135-lap event. The Brazilian also earned a championship point for leading Friday's session, giving him 187 on the season and closing the gap to series leader Tracy to just 17 points.

A crash in the morning practice put Junqueira 16th on the speed sheets and therefore made him the fourth car to go out in the single-car qualifying session. Despite going out early in the session, Junqueira put up a time that the rest of the field would shoot at in vain as the second-best time of the day would end up being .662 seconds behind the Newman/Haas pilot.

The surprise of the day came after what most onlookers presumed was the end of qualifying. PK Racing rookie Mika Salo had his first qualifying erased by a Darren Manning spin, then went out for a second one-lap run to finish his stint. CART Champ Car Stewards, under the stipulation that only his final lap would count, then granted him another three-lap run. The Formula 1 veteran made the most of his opportunity and snapped off a top lap of 45.686 seconds (90.619 mph) to vault himself into the second spot on the Friday grid.

The second-place qualifying spot was the best result of the season for the first-year PK Racing squad and the best for the Finnish driver since he joined the series in relief of Max Papis for the Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver. The veteran of 110 F1 starts would join Sebastien Bourdais as the only rookies to make front-row starting spots this year if he can make the result stand up through Saturday's final qualifying.

Ironically, it was Bourdais that would be the first driver to get knocked back a spot by Salo as the rookie ended up in the third spot after a lap of 45.770 seconds (90.452 mph). Bourdais comes into the race weekend not only trying to hold on to his championship hopes, but also looking to seal the Rookie-of-the-Year title for Newman/Haas Racing. Bourdais can wrap up the rookie crown by placing third in Sunday's race or simply by earning seven more points over the weekend than closest competitor Manning.

Another driver still clinging to his title hopes is Team Rahal's Michel Jourdain Jr, who claimed the fourth spot in Friday's qualifying with a time of 46.033 seconds (89.935 mph). Jourdain had a rough time qualifying during last year's trip to Miami as he started 15th, but he was more than equal to the task on race day as he stormed through the field to place sixth. Jourdain stands 39 points behind Tracy with four races remaining.

Tracy had a day that was unrepresentative of his dominance throughout the season. The Player's/Forsythe pilot spun in the wet-weather morning practice, meaning that he would be the first car on track for Friday's session. He then went out and ran a 47.401-second lap on his second pass before a miscommunication with his team saw him pull into the pits instead of running a third lap. The miscue left the points leader 14th on the Friday time sheets, and also left the door ajar for Junqueira to make up a point on the lead.

Adrian Fernandez rounded out the top five in the first round of qualifying, carding a time of 46.306 seconds (89.405 mph) to take the fifth spot. His time slotted him into the provisional grid ahead of Oriol Servia as Servia, who is looking for a third consecutive podium finish, ended his day sixth after earning a time of 46.319 seconds (89.380 mph).

Alex Tagliani and Mario Dominguez filled the fourth row on the first-day grid while the American Spirit Team Johansson duo of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jimmy Vasser led the Reynard brigade by finishing ninth and 10th on the day, respectively.

Manning would recover from the spin that started Salo's strange odyssey and finish 13th in Friday's running while fellow rookie Mario Haberfeld would not be as fortunate, finishing 19th on the charts after brushing the wall on his first lap.

Everyone will get a chance to better their standing in Saturday's final qualifying as the grid for Sunday's race will be set with another single-car qualifying run.


BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I didn't really know because nobody ran on the track. First I have to thank all my team because I crashed this morning on the last corner and the car just went sideways on the inside wall, it was a pretty strange crash, but the team fixed it. That's a very difficult situation. I was the fourth guy to go out and the track still was a little bit wet in some corners. I know that it is really important to have a good qualifying result. I wasn't expecting to get the pole but maybe qualify in the top five. They did a nice job on the track but it is a lot different, the only thing that is the same is the turn around the fountain and maybe the left-hander after that. All of the other corners are different.

MIKA SALO: It helped me a lot. I had three extra laps. Yeah, it's difficult to go in to dry qualifying after a wet session in the morning. Our car is really good in the wet, but I have no idea about the dry. I'm still struggling with the qualifying. When you go out with cold tires it's not something that we are used to doing, but still something you need to get used to.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: The start of the day went very well. The car was great this morning, and we are, I think, a lot faster than a lot of the other guys. And then for qualifying, the car was pretty good and I made a mistake and didn't put the lap all together. But it was a good lap, I don't know, but I think I don't know what happened with Darren and Mika but it looks like he got three attempts. But we'll see tomorrow.



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