Sunday's Lexmark Indy 300 at Surfers Paradise will begin with both Newman-Haas Racing Lola-Fords on the front row, even if they are in the wrong order for Championship contender Bruno Junqueira.

Junqueira earned one vital championship bonus point for setting fastest time around the 2.795-mile Australian street circuit in provisional qualifying on Friday and came very close to earning another one in Saturday's final session only to watch teammate Sebastien Bourdais nick ahead.

Bourdais got the better rub of the traffic around the fast, flowing but tight temporary street circuit just as his tyres were at their best and eclipsed Junqueira's overnight mark comfortably with a quick time of 1:31.718secs.

Junqueira, hoping to reduce his championship deficit to Paul Tracy to 27 points before the start of Sunday's 65-lap race, tried to better his teammate but got caught up behind Rodolfo Lavin on his second qualifying run and had to settle for second fastest time on the day and second place on the overall grid.

"This is the fifth pole for my Lilly car and that is good," stated Bourdais. "To be one and two for Newman/Haas Racing is also good. It was frustrating yesterday but P3 overall wasn't that bad I guess. Today was another day. The car was good today, but it did take quite a while to build up the speed we needed. It could have been a catastrophic session because it was hard to get a clear lap. Once you did there was a lot of pressure to get a complete lap that was perfect.

"With one lap left in my first stint I brushed the wall and still managed to pull out the 1:31.7. On the second stint we never really get a clear lap but my previous lap time held. The Newman/Haas Racing crew did a great job today but we still have a long ways to go to get to the podium tomorrow. There was so much pressure to put in a good lap here. You had to keep the speed, keep patient and watch traffic.

"It was a very tough qualifying session. I was still shaking after I got out of the car. There's no one area of this course you have to get right to go fast, it's basically every chicane around the course. This track is tough and that's just the way it is."

"This morning the car was pretty good overall," added Junqueira optimistically. "I felt we were faster than everyone else today, but in my first run [Patrick] Carpentier spun in front of me. On my fastest lap, a piece of paper flew from the wall between one and I had to slow down and caused me to lose two or three tenths.

"Unfortunately, on the second set of tires [Rodolfo] Lavin slowed me down and I had cars behind me so it was really frustrating because I couldn't break free. Based on his best qualifying time, he was four seconds off of the pace. It is hard to run behind that pace. To be fast again and lose the pole here for the second straight year is very frustrating. It will be fast tomorrow on track because of the weather, so I'm looking forward to a good race."

Although no driver has one more than once in Australia since the Champ Car Series first travelled to Surfers Paradise in 1991, Newman-Haas Racing have been the most successful team by some margin and Saturday's performance added to their already impressive Gold Coast tally. NHR has earned three wins (Cristiano da Matta 2001, Paul Tracy 1995, Nigel Mansell 1993), six poles (Bourdais, Da Matta 2002, Michael Andretti 1995 & 1991, Mansell 1993-1994) and six other podium finishes (3rd - Christian Fittipaldi 1998, Mi. Andretti 1997, Mario Andretti 1994).

Last year in Australia, da Matta started on pole, set the fastest racing lap and led all laps under racing conditions before the madness behind the pace car took over in monsoon-like conditions and da Matta dropped to eighth. Christian Fittipaldi started 12th, led one lap and looked set to finish 2nd until CART shortened the race and he finished 11th.

 

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