Qualifying 1: Bourdais' provisional pole

If there was any doubt that Sebastien Bourdais would make an instant impact in his rookie Champ Car season, the 23-year old Frenchman dispelled them on Friday in St. Petersburg. Bourdais claimed the provisional pole after a session-long struggle with his Newman/Haas Racing teammate Bruno Junqueira and is therefore guaranteed a front row starting spot for his debut Champ Car race

Qualifying 1: Bourdais' provisional pole

Bourdais was the first man on the track for the 40-minute qualifying session which was staged in hot, humid conditions. It took him just four laps to go faster than he had done in morning practice and his fifth lap set the benchmark at 1m01.847s. Junqueira responded with a 1m01.918s while Michel Jourdain Jnr paced the rest.

Sebastien improved to a 1m01.676s with 13 minutes remaining, but the red flag flew five minutes later when Roberto Moreno backed his Lola-Ford into the tyres at Turn 10. The delay was brief, but rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay brought out another red flag before anyone could put in a flying lap. When the action resumed again, only a minute remained and no one was able to improve.

The performance put Bourdais in position to be the first driver to secure pole position for his Champ Car debut since Nigel Mansell turned the trick at Surfers Paradise, Australia in 1993. Mansell also drove for the Newman/Haas team, and of course, he went on to win the CART championship in his rookie season - a feat later equalled by Juan Pablo Montoya.

"It's nice to be compared to Nigel Mansell," remarked Bourdais after his 105.415mph qualifying lap. "We weren't expecting such a good result, but Newman/Haas gave me an incredible car. We didn't change much from the baseline so I was confident to push hard straight away. It's a big feeling of satisfaction and I have to thank the team."

Championship favourite Junqueira never got in a hot lap on his second set of tyres. "It's always frustrating when you can't get a lap," said the Brazilian. "I don't know whether I could have beaten Sebastien or not. I was fast through the fast corners but I have to work to make the car more comfortable to attack on the Mickey Mouse part."

Oriol Servia continued his strong form from pre-season testing to run third in the Patrick Racing Lola, while Mario Dominguez provided the big surprise by running fourth in the Herdez Lola ahead of Patrick Carpentier and Michel Jourdain.

Moreno's rear wing-shedding incident featured the only contact of the day, though several drivers had harmless spins. The drivers were universally pleased with the St. Petersburg street circuit.

"It has a nice variety of slow, medium and fast turns and it can be quite technical," remarked Junqueira. "The tracks at Denver and Miami will need a lot of changes for this year, but this track is almost perfect."

Darren Manning was twelfth quickest in his first Champ Car qualifying session for Walker Racing.

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