Tracy upstages youngsters

As he prepares to hand over his Champ Car crown to one of his Newman/Haas rivals - in all probability Sebastien Bourdais - Paul Tracy reminded everyone how good he is by snatching his first pole position in three months at Surfers' Paradise on Saturday.

Tracy upstages youngsters

As he prepares to hand over his Champ Car crown to one of his Newman/Haas rivals - in all probability Sebastien Bourdais - Paul Tracy reminded everyone how good he is by snatching his first pole position in three months at Surfers' Paradise on Saturday. The Canadian hit the tyre barrier at the end of pre-qualifying but timed his final run to perfection during qualifying proper, shaving a couple of tenths off the benchmark set by Bruno Junqueira just before a red flag brought the session to a (slightly) premature halt. "It was nice to have a bit of good luck at the end," said Tracy after bagging his third pole of the season and the 22nd of his career. "We haven't been able to catch a break all year when the reds have come out during qualifying; they usually seem to have fallen in Sebastien's favor. We laid down a good time, and at the end there we caught a break." Tracy was victorious at Surfers' Paradise while driving for Newman/Haas back in 1995. Remarkably, no driver has won more than once in the 13-year history of the Gold Coast event, but the Forsythe ace reckons he has a golden opportunity to buck that trend on Sunday as Bourdais seeks to make sure of the championship. Tracy said, "It will be an interesting race tomorrow - we have three of the most aggressive drivers in the series starting at the front and we will all be charging very hard heading into the first corner. Sebastien will be out to try and protect his points lead, so hopefully that'll leave me with a clear road...we'll see what happens." Bourdais, who had been fastest in all but one of the sessions leading up to final qualifying, was just warming up for a last shot at wresting back the pole when the red flag came out. He had to make do with the third fastest time, but, crucially, will start tomorrow's race one place ahead of team-mate Junqueira after booking himself a guaranteed front row slot with his provisional pole on Friday. "It's a good thing to be fastest on Friday because you can still start on the front row no matter how your final qualifying goes," said the Frenchman. "I made a mistake today when I locked up the right-front [wheel] in the last turn of my fastest lap and nearly put the car in the wall. It's so easy to do because you are pushing so hard. The lap would have been a 1m33.2s which would have been good enough for pole and another point. You walk a fine line between being a chicken and being too hungry and I was too hungry today." Bourdais now stands on the cusp of the title, but needs to outscore Junqueira by seven points to prevent a nail-biting showdown at the season finale in Mexico City. "I think it will be mathematically pretty difficult to pick up seven points on Bruno in the race because he is going to be so close," Bourdais said. "We are going to more or less try to put the McDonald's car up there and see if the race comes to us. But if the championship goes to Mexico City, I'm fine with that." Junqueira rebounded strongly after a faulty gear position sensor severely curtailed his track time in qualifying yesterday and left him a lowly 16th on the overnight grid. After vaulting to the top of the charts early in Saturday's session, he was eclipsed by Bourdais just after the halfway mark before ultimately regaining the upper hand by the wafer-thin margin of 0.028s. Because his time was subsequently beaten by Tracy, however, Junqueira was demoted to third in the starting line-up. "I was very happy with the PacifiCare car today but I left a little bit on the table," reckoned the Brazilian. "I was on a very good, mega lap and hit the tyres and it cost me some time. It's a shame that the red flag ended the session with three minutes to go. After having the gear problem yesterday it was good to be able to make runs on both sets of tyres today and that helped us improve our position. "I need to finish in front of Sebastien but I'm going to try to win the race. I'm not thinking about the championship; I'm just thinking about getting the best result possible in the race." AJ Allmendinger will line up fourth on the grid after another stellar qualifying effort for RuSPORT. The rookie has been steadily homing in on the pacesetters over the course of the weekend on his first acquaintance with the tricky 2.795-mile Surfers street course, which demands pin-point accuracy as drivers ride the kerbs while threading the needle between omnipresent concrete walls. Allmendinger had an encounter with one of those walls when he made a mistake at the Turn Six/Seven chicane on Main Beach Parade in practice this morning, but after switching to his back-up car delivered when it mattered in final qualifying. "After the crash this morning my crew went to work on the spare car and not only got it ready for qualifying, but gave me an even better car than yesterday," praised Allmendinger. "I didn't hit every corner exactly the way I wanted - the esses through Turns Six and Seven are still giving me a hard time, but I feel much better than I did yesterday or this morning. "The start of the race tomorrow is going to be really tough, and every year it collects a lot of cars. I'm starting right behind Sebastien, so I'm going to be right there on his gearbox and hopefully slide through and race to a top finish." The Herdez Competition duo of Mario Dominguez and Ryan Hunter-Reay annexed the third row, the Mexican outpacing his highly rated young American team-mate - who won in Australia last year for the now-defunct American Spirit Team Johansson - by a full half-second. Justin Wilson was an excellent seventh fastest for Conquest Racing, his best qualifying performance since Vancouver at the end of July. After a strong start to his rookie Champ Car campaign the Brit has faded somewhat in recent weeks, but is aiming to score his first podium in one of the final two rounds. "I'm pretty pleased with the lap I put in today," he said. "It's always good when you can get your fastest lap during qualifying when it counts. I just kept braking later and later each lap, and we were able to close the gap to the pole time, so we are going in the right direction with the car. There is still room for improvement, but we got everything out of the car we could today." Michel Jourdain Jr qualified eighth after struggling with stability under braking - a key requirement at Surfers Paradise, which along with Montreal features the highest number of hard braking zones of any circuit on the calendar. Patrick Carpentier, who had similar trouble yesterday and then crashed due to gear selection problems in provisional qualifying, fared a little better on Saturday to post the ninth quickest time in the second Forsythe Lola. Corona-backed teammate Rodolfo Lavin rounded out the top ten despite a crash of his own which broke his front suspension. Oriol Servia was the most disappointed man in the paddock, having had to sit out the whole of final qualifying following an accident in morning practice that consigned him to the spare car. The Spaniard has put together a string of impressive performances for the underfinanced Dale Coyne Racing outfit in recent races and qualified fourth yesterday. But under Champ Car rules his Friday time has been scratched as a result of switching to the back-up car, and he will start from the back of the grid.

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