Qualifying 1: Tracy scores crucial point

Paul Tracy laid down a marker for his Champ Car competition by taking the provisional pole at Mexico City's Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. The Canadian ace managed two laps in the 1m28.8sec bracket to just pip Bruno Junqueira, his closes competitor in the CART championship.

Qualifying 1: Tracy scores crucial point

The serious business began 15 minutes into the 40-minute session when rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay was the first to break the 1m30sec barrier in his Stefan Johansson-run Reynard. In rapid succession, Patrick Carpentier, Darren Manning, Michel Jourdain and Sebastien Bourdais eclipsed RH-R's time, with Bourdais lowering the mark to 1m29.283s.

Tracy was the first man to drop below 1m29, his 1m28.867s lap just a few hundredths faster than Junqueira's 1m28.905s. After a slow lap to cool his tyres, Tracy concluded the first runs with a 1m28.842s lap.

And that's the way it ended. Only eight of the 20 runners were able to improve on their second runs as the sun beating down on the track took its toll on lap times. Bourdais found a couple of tenths and ran 1m29.110s to claim third on the overnight grid, with Jimmy Vasser the top Reynard runner in fourth.

"We've been struggling lately and not scoring as many points as we should, so winning the pole and the point today is a step in the right direction," said Tracy, who locked up his tenth front row start of the 2003 season. "This brings the whole team back up. I did my quick lap on my third or fourth lap and I never got close again. I think the track got a little slower in the heat. The car wasn't perfect, but I think we can improve tomorrow."

"That's not what I expected for sure," noted Junqueira, who now stands 14 points behind Tracy. "My car was very good in the morning. It was just a little loose so I thought it would be perfect with more rubber on the track. But instead it was ten times looser."

Bourdais can set a CART series record if he qualifies in the top six on Saturday because it would mark the tenth consecutive race in which he accomplished the feat. "My car was pretty competitive this afternoon, but this is a tough track," he said. "The altitude takes away the downforce and it's very easy to lose the car on the bumps and spin."

Michel Jourdain was fifth fastest on 1m29.387s to claim top Mexican honours, with Vasser's team-mate Hunter-Reay improving to 1m29.498s to take sixth. Darren Manning, who was fastest in both morning practice sessions, was seventh fastest. Manning's lap from the second practice session would have put him on pole by 0.3s.

The story wasn't as happy for the rest of the Mexican contingent. Mario Dominguez and Adrian Fernandez ran 11th and 12th, with Luis Diaz 15th, Roodolfo Lavin 17th and Roberto Gonzalez 18th, ahead of only the Dale Coyne Racing cars.

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Practice: Manning hits the front
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