Bourdais does it again

Sebastien Bourdais continued his seemingly inexorable progress towards the 2004 Champ Car title by taking provisional pole at Montreal and booking a place on the front row of the starting grid

Bourdais does it again

The result was all in a day's work for Bourdais, who has become the undisputed master of qualifying over the past year and a half. But it was especially timely on a day that saw the announcement of a major tie-in between Champ Car and McDonald's, the primary sponsor of Bourdais' Newman/Haas Lola, which will serve as the "official fast-food restaurant" of the series through to the end of 2006.

The Frenchman bided his time during qualifying, taking over at the top of the timesheets just after the halfway mark and staying there until the session was red-flagged with four minutes remaining after Mario Dominguez crashed into the tyre barrier.

"We have had pretty good momentum," said Bourdais of his rich vein of form this season. "I'm just having a very pleasant time right now and the car is pretty satisfying. The balance was really good again today. It's important to put yourself up front to stay clear of any incidents; it's been the key to my season so far. Right now I don't think we have any weaknesses. We start each event with the set-up we used at each track last year and make minor changes."

Alex Tagliani gave the partisan Montreal crowd something to cheer by setting the second fastest time for Rocketsports Racing. Tag topped the 15-minute warmup but came up a tenth of a second short in qualifying proper, and admitted that he may have made a slight tactical error.

"Our strategy was to run a few laps on the first set of tyres, come in, make a change, do a middle run with the old tyres, evaluate the change and go back out on a newer set of tyres," he explained.

"But we cut it really close at the end, and due to Mario's incident we basically didn't get a run on our second set of tyres. When I went out on the middle run with the old tyres, I was already a lot quicker than on my first run - so I probably should have completed that lap before coming in."

Dominguez secured third on the provisional grid despite losing his best lap for causing a session stoppage. The Mexican set the pace in morning practice and was gunning for Bourdais' time when he overstepped the mark at Turn 3.

"I had a good car, but unfortunately I crashed at the start of my second stint, while I was going for pole. I guess I was pushing the envelope a bit too far. The guys have a lot of extra work to do tonight because of my crash, but as far as the set-up goes we are right there."

Bruno Junqueira was fourth quickest in the second Newman/Haas Lola, reporting that his engine was down on power. Unlike in Formula 1, teams are free to change engines overnight without incurring a grid penalty, so Junqueira will be hoping to get on terms with team-mate Bourdais on Saturday. The Brazilian had several offs in the course of Friday's running as he explored the limits under braking for the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve's numerous chicanes.

AJ Allmendinger looked strong all day and wound up fifth fastest for RuSPORT. The rookie has won on each of his previous visits to Montreal in the junior formulae (Barber Dodge in 2002 and Toyota Atlantic in 2003) and continues to impress in his first year in the top echelon. Fellow American Ryan Hunter-Reay felt he might have finished higher than sixth were it not for the late red flag, ironically caused by Herdez Competition team-mate Dominguez.

Forsythe Racing had a disastrous opening day, with Paul Tracy the highest-placed of the team's trio of drivers in seventh. The Canadian had a spin at the first corner early in qualifying, clipped the wall on his next set of tyres and ended up a second off the pace.

"We just don't have a good car at the moment," he said. "It's not doing anything the way I want it to - it won't stop, it won't turn and it won't put the power down."

For the first time since Portland in June, Bridgestone has brought two tyre compounds to Montreal. Each team has been allocated three sets of softer "alternate" tyres, at least one of which must be used during Sunday's race. Champ Car officials hope that the performance differential between the two compounds - and/or the higher wear rate of the alternate tyre - will be sufficient to promote overtaking.

Tracy was one driver who had no use for the softer rubber on Friday. "The car was so far off that it made no sense to use up a set today," he said. "I'd rather save them for the race than waste them trying to pick up a tenth of a second."

To complete Forsythe's misery, Patrick Carpentier had to sit out the entire qualifying session after suffering an engine failure during the 15-minute warmup - for the second year running!

"Never in my racing career have I seen exactly the same problems befall the same driver at the same track on the same day in two successive years!" said Forsythe vice-president of operations Neil Micklewright.

Jimmy Vasser (PKV Racing), Justin Wilson (Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing) and 2003 Montreal winner Michel Jourdain Jr (RuSPORT) rounded out the top ten.

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