Bruno Junqueira needs every point he can get if he intends to remain in the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford title chase, and went out early on Friday to take the first one available, leading Friday qualifying for the Lexmark Indy 300 at Surfers Paradise, Australia.

Junqueira, who missed out of last year's Australia pole by a scant .01 to eventual series champion Cristiano da Matta, gave himself a wide cushion to work with during Friday's first round of qualifying, besting the 19-car field by a full half-second after putting up a top lap of 1:32.708secs (108.534 mph/174.669 kph). The quick lap came as the chequered flag had waved on the field and came despite the fact that Junqueira's previous lap had been good enough to put him on the pole. But with the memory of last year's denial fresh in his mind, he took his final lap with even more fervor and thrilled the crowd of 60,874 by putting up the fastest lap of the day.

Junqueira guaranteed himself his eighth front-row starting spot of the season by leading the Friday session, and more importantly claimed a championship point for the effort, moving himself to within 28 points of series leader Paul Tracy. Tracy seemed to be a threat for the pole in the early going after leading the first practice session, but crashed just three laps into the second session and would end his qualifying run in the fourth spot. The 26-time Champ Car race winner had one final lap to catch Junqueira, but would shortcut a corner which cost him his lap time and forced him to settle for fourth on the charts with a top lap of 1:34.161secs (106.860 mph/171.973 kph).

Junqueira's lap dropped Alex Tagliani to the second spot after the French-Canadian had led much of the session. Tagliani, who has already won two poles on the year, was second in the first round of qualifying with a best lap of 1:33.265secs (107.886 mph/173.625 kph).

The session started quickly as a large set of afternoon clouds rolled in, quickly obscuring all traces of the bright sun that had bathed the 2.795-mile Surfers Paradise street course earlier in the day. The threat of rain sent cars scurrying off of Pit Lane as soon as the green flag waved to start the 40-minute qualifying run, but times would stay out of the 1:33 range for the first few minutes of the run. Junqueira took to the top of the charts as the first to break the 1:33 barrier, but Tagliani would better that on just his sixth lap, and would hold the point until Junqueira's late-session runs upended him. The day got worse for Tagliani soon after the checkered flag flew as his car would fail the post-session inspection procedure after being found below the minimum weight requirements. His second-place time was disallowed but he will get another chance to qualify in Saturday's final round.

Junqueira's Newman/Haas Racing teammate Sebastien Bourdais would end his day in the third spot after carding a best run of 1:33.321secs (107.821 mph/173.521 kph), but would be promoted to second after Tagliani's violation. Bourdais has started in the top six in a Champ Car rookie record of 11 consecutive races and clinched the series' Rookie-of-the-Year title a week ago, and is preparing for his first-ever Surfers Paradise start.

One of four former Surfers winners in the field, Adrian Fernandez used his years of Surfers experience to put himself in third place after posting a best lap of 1:33.668secs (107.422 mph/172.878 kph) to slot in ahead of the series points leader. Tracy, the 1995 Australia winner, would vault to fourth with Tagliani's foul while '96 race champ Jimmy Vasser led the Reynard contingent with a best trip of 1:34.266secs (106.741 mph/171.782 kph) to claim the fifth spot on the speed sheets.

After spending one race watching Roberto Gonzalez pilot his racecar, Roberto Moreno showed why he has been a part of the Champ Car series for parts of three decades, taking his mount to the sixth spot on the charts with a best lap of 1:34.313 (106.687 mph/171.696 kph). Oriol Servia came home in the seventh position while Michel Jourdain Jr, Patrick Carpentier and Miami winner Mario Dominguez rounded out the top 10.

The final grid will be set with Saturday's second round of qualifying.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone):
"This is a really important weekend for me. Today was a good day for me. The PacifiCare car was very good. There weren't a lot of people on track and we were afraid of rain early in the session. I went out and did a 1:33.4 in the first stint, but [Paul] Tracy slowed down in front of me I think and then I had to pit. So we waited until eight or nine minutes to go and I put down a 1:33.1. I lost the pole to Cristiano [da Matta] here last year by .01-seconds and I didn't want that to happen again. I hope to get out of this weekend close enough to Tracy to have a chance at winning the championship. That is my goal."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone):
"This afternoon the weather was just perfect. The course is beautiful, very fast and overall pretty fun to drive. Behind the wheel everything is pretty good for us but we had different circumstances happen to us and we couldn't get a solid run together. The pop-off valve stuck a little in our second stint, but we'll move on and go for it tomorrow."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone):
"We were very strong this morning. The conditions changed a lot for this afternoon. We were fast but we were not as strong as we were this morning. I think P3 is a good start, and I think we can improve. It was windy [this afternoon] and there was a lot of sand on the track, so the first few laps out were pretty tricky. In general, the car felt much better at the end. We just have to improve it from there and we are not too far off. If we can make some of the little changes that we made in the earlier stages, I think we will be in good shape."

Jimmy Vasser turned a few exhibition laps in one of the popular V8 Supercars after Friday's first round of qualifying, taking a turn in the high-powered sedans that are sharing the track with the Champ Cars this weekend. He drove two laps in the AU Falcon of Stone Brothers Racing, which Mark Winterbottom drove to victory this season in the six-round Konica V8 Supercar Series.

Michel Jourdain Jr. remains in the championship hunt after today's qualifying, but must sweep the remaining 44 points available in the season to take the crown.

Geoff Boss and Rodolfo Lavin did not make qualifying efforts in Friday's first round. Boss crashed during the 10-minute warm-up prior to the qualifying session and spent the session repairing his car. Alex Tagliani also did not post a time after having his time disallowed pursuant to CART rule 9.2.4B, concerning weight of the car.



Loading Comments...