September 19, 2014

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Predictable pole sitter : Grand Prix of Cleveland

Bourdais is once again Champ Cars’ man to beat

CLEVELAND — Sebastien Bourdais proved once again he was the most dominating driver on the Champ Car circuit. Today, he’ll have a group of rookies trying to prove that he’s beatable.
Bourdais captured his second pole position — the 27th of his career — at the Grand Prix of Cleveland during Saturday’s qualifying, but three rookie drivers have crowded around him in the top five.
“Just because they’re called rookies doesn’t mean they are beginners in open-wheel racing,” Bourdais said. “People in this series know what they’re doing. You don’t look at the rookies like rookies, you look at the rookies like opponents.”
Simon Pagenaud, who won the Atlantic series championship last season, earned his first Champ Car front-row start by qualifying second with a lap time of 56.388, just off Bourdais’ winning time of 56.363.
Graham Rahal, who swept a pair of Atlantic victories last year in Cleveland, qualified fourth with a time of 56.588, and fellow rookie Robert Doombos finished fifth with a time of 56.751.
“We knew last year that the Atlantic series was really tough,” said Rahal, son of legendary driver Bobby Rahal. “We felt that if you could compete there, you could compete just about anywhere. The idea going into this season was to just keep the same work ethic and we knew we could be successful.”
While Bourdais knows this season’s powerful rookie class poses a serious threat to his series domination the past four seasons, he himself can be partially held accountable as it was he who brought fellow Frenchman Pagenaud to the Atlantic series last year.
“I’m just very happy for him,” Bourdais said. “If I try to help him it’s because I think he deserves it. He’s just proving he belongs in Champ Car just as much as anybody else.
“He’s doing a fine job.”
But not quite as fine as Bourdais. The three-time series champion has been dominating this season, winning three of the first four races, and has been dominant on the temporary road course at Burke Lakefront Airport, capturing two race victories in four attempts.
Bourdais’ qualifying time Saturday just missed breaking the course record — which was set last season by polesitter and race champion A.J. Allmendinger. Until the post-qualifying news conference, everyone thought he had the record.
“A quick note for our media — in our media guide there is an error on the track record,” Champ Car moderator Tom McGovern said. “The current track record is 56.283 seconds (instead of the listed 56.416).”
Bourdais threw his hands up in mock frustration, then looked over to McGovern and asked, “Still get the point?”
The veteran does earn a point for the pole and will try today to pick up his third victory on the Cleveland track, which would tie him for the all-time lead with Emerson Fittipaldi (1987, ‘89 and ‘92) and Danny Sullivan (1984, ‘86 and ‘90). His two poles ties him for second with Fittipaldi, Sullivan, Jimmy Vasser and Mario Andretti — all of whom trail Paul Tracy’s three (1993, ‘04 and ‘05).
“It brings us back four years,” Bourdais said. “The last time we sat on the pole (2003) we went on to lead the race after a big fight with Paul.
“It’s a good feeling obviously.”
Good feelings were also had between Pagenaud and Will Power, who finished third with a lap time of 56.473. Both drivers race for Aussie Vineyards.
“I’m very proud of what Team Australia did today,” said Pagenaud, who knocked his teammate down to third on his eighth qualifying lap. “We got back on track this afternoon. The car was just perfect. I went back to pit lane and said, ‘That’s the best car I ever had.’”
Pagenaud will have a chance to prove it during today’s standing start. For the first time in Cleveland, the cars will begin the race standing still, then accelerate to the dangerous Turn 1.
Bourdais said during the news conference that he would choose the inside lane, but after discussing it with his team, changed his mind and will start on the outside.
“It really depends on wheel spin,” Power said. “If you get too much wheel spin and you’re on the dusty side of the track, you don’t get a good start.”
All the drivers agreed that the inside was the less cleaner portion of the track, which is why Bourdais will start on the outside.
“Obviously, we’ve got to think championship,” Bourdais said.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com.

Grand Prix of Cleveland
WHEN: Today, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Burke Lakefront Airport
TV: Channel 19