First qualifying: Bruno's knock-out lap

Provisional Champ Car qualifying at Laguna Seca Raceway went down to the wire, with the top three drivers all setting their personal best on the final lap of the session. Running in consecutive order on the track, Bruno Junqueira beat Forsythe Racing team-mates Patrick Carpentier and Paul Tracy after the chequered flag flew to claim the overnight pole.

First qualifying: Bruno's knock-out lap

Tracy looked like he had the top spot locked up when rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay brought out the red flag by spinning off at Turn 2 with ten minutes remaining in the 35-minute session. With five minutes to go, the green flag flew and the remainder of the field set out for one final flyer with Tracy's lap of 1m10.493s as the benchmark.

Tracy improved on his last lap to a 1m10.341s, only to see Carpentier notch a 1m10.314s a few seconds later. But Carpentier's joy was even shorter-lived, because Junqueira flashed across the line with a 1m10.040s to settle the issue. That gave Junqueira a championship point, moving him into a tie for second in the season standings, 10 points behind series leader Michel Jourdain Jr. More importantly, it guarantees the Newman/Haas star a front row starting position in Sunday's race no matter what happens in Saturday's final qualifying session.

"I feel really good," Junqueira reported. "The track changed differently than we expected and the car wasn't good for the first outing. But we made a good change and 'TZ' (Newman-Haas team manager John Tzouanakis) found me a gap on the track at the end.

"It was really difficult because we had just one lap," Bruno added. "My tyres were still warming up for the first couple of corners, but the second sector of the lap was very fast. So I tried to take it easy without making a mistake in the final sector."

Carpentier had his best road course qualifying session of the season. "We tested here well in the winter and we've had a good exchange of information with Paul's side of the team," he said. "My car was a little slippery early on, but it was very well balanced from the get-go. We all had enough space at the end, but we were short on time."

"I was hoping the red flag would go a little longer," Tracy remarked. "Pat and Bruno were the next two cars behind me, so maybe I should have tried to hold them up! I made a little mistake at the last corner and locked the brakes, which hurt my lap time. But we all gave it our best at the end. We all put our best lap together on the last lap, so it was a fair qualifying session."

Sebastien Bourdais was an impressive fourth on the overnight grid, albeit 0.7 second slower than his team-mate Junqueira. Mario Haberfeld banked a 1m10.753s early in the session, and while the Brazilian didn't improve in the final flurry, his earlier time held up for fifth ahead of Mexicans Adrian Fernandez, Jourdain and Mario Dominguez.

Bryan Herta ran 11th fastest on his Champ Car return with PK Racing, while Darren Manning was unhappy with a handling imbalance in his Walker Racing Reynard.

"We didn't do the pre-season test here, so the guys who did have a bit of an advantage," Manning said. "It's always tough on the first day when everyone else has tested, but we'll put our thinking caps on and see what we come up with."

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