Bourdais takes provisional pole
CLEVELAND — The Champ Car drivers have changed from their familiar Lola chassis to the new DP-01.
They will begin the Grand Prix of Cleveland with a standing start — a first here and a practice that will be used in the remaining series races.
But the one constant at Burke Lakefront Airport’s temporary road course is the dominating performance of Sebastien Bourdais.
Bourdais turned in a lap time of 56.961 seconds during Friday’s qualifying session, earning the provisional pole, a point in the Champ Car standings and a guaranteed spot in the front row for Sunday’s race.
“I’m actually a tenth-and-a-half down from the pole I did last year on Day 1,” said Bourdais, who averaged 133.102 mph on his fastest lap. “It’s not like the car is much quicker. I think it’s actually a touch slower than the Lola was. But it’s only the first year. It’s not like we can do a whole lot on the car.
“We can set it up, but not make it evolve, so it’s a little difficult.”
Bourdais won the Cleveland race during his rookie season in 2003 and again in ’04. He finished fifth in 2005 and didn’t complete last season’s race after Paul Tracy’s car rolled over the Frenchman’s head on the first lap. Bourdais didn’t suffer any major injuries during the incident.
“I don’t know if there is a safe place to be in this lineup, but I’d rather start on the front row than back in the pack,” Bourdais said.
Aussie Vineyards teammates Will Power and rookie Simon Pagenaud finished second and third, respectively. Power passed Pagenaud late in the session, on his 13th qualifying lap, and was one of the few drivers who managed to improve their standings during the second stint of the qualifying session.
“All I had to do was put a lap together,” Power said. “I sort of did that in the second run, but I still just got to work things out a little bit better in my head, just do a nice, neat lap.
“As the track gripped up it became a little bit more understeer. But it’s easy to overdrive this track because there’s so much room on the entries.”
Pagenaud, who won his spot in this season’s Champ Car lineup by capturing the Toyota Atlantic series championship last year, said that the provisions in the bigger series are quite different from those in the “minor league” series.
“I thought I knew this track, but it was a lot more narrow,” Pagenaud said. “Every corner popped up pretty quickly to my eye. I had to review my reference points, my brake points, all of that.”
The main complaints of the afternoon centered on the new chassis — which is supposed to help drivers pass more efficiently — and the optional tires, which are supposed to increase speed.
“You’re very restricted,” Power said of the DP-01. “It’s not like the Lola where you can change a lot of bits and have special dips. Everybody’s got the same. Basically, you’ve just got to set the car up.
“I thought these cars would be actually quicker on the faster circuits. It’s looking like they’re basically the same speed.”
“We ran the Bridgestone reds at the end (of qualifying) but they weren’t faster like we thought they would be so we wasted them,” said rookie Graham Rahal, Bourdais’ Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing partner who won both Toyota Atlantic races in Cleveland last season. “I think we could have gone faster on the standard black tires like we ran on the first run.
“In pre-qualifying warmup we were the fastest and we thought we had a pretty good car.”
Justin Wilson finished fourth with a lap time of 57.427, rookie Neel Jani was fifth at 57.535, Alex Tagliani was sixth at 57.652 and Rahal, the son of legendary driver Bobby Rahal, was seventh at 57.658.
The day was tough for several other notable drivers. Lone female Katherine Legge finished 16th out of 17 drivers, Bruno Junqueira, who has seen success in recent years in Cleveland, was 11th and Paul Tracy, who has won the Cleveland race twice, was 10th.
“For qualifying we tried some changes but unfortunately it seems that we went in the wrong direction,” Tracy said. “During my quick lap I went off coming out of Turn 4 and dropped a wheel in the dirt, so I lost quite a bit of time there.
“But we are close, now we’ll just have to go over the data and figure out where we have to be (today).”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or email@example.com.
GP OF CLEVELAND
WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Burke Lakefront Airport
TV: Channel 19
TODAY’S SCHEDULE: Gates open at 7 a.m.; Champ Car practice
10:15-11:30 a.m.; Champ Car qualifying 2-3 p.m.