Wilson on Provisional Portland Pole
Britain's Justin Wilson took the first provisional pole of his Champ Car career at Portland International Raceway on Friday, as the second-year RuSPORT team brushed aside series stalwarts Newman/Haas Racing
Wilson moved to the front in the first five minutes of qualifying, held under threatening skies which encouraged many drivers to go out at the very beginning of the 35-minute timed session.
Running the softer, 'alternate' tyre compound, Wilson snatched the pole for good with his 12th lap of 57.597 seconds, only previously topped on the time sheets briefly by his teammate AJ Allmendinger and Sebastien Bourdais.
"We were good here in the testing and it gave me the confidence to go out and attack the course," explained Wilson, whose #9 Lola had new sponsorship from Intel proudly displayed on his sidepods. "I didn't have any dry laps in the morning practice so we relied on our testing data here from after the Long Beach race.
"This is a great result for the RuSPORT team and for me, but there is still more work for us to do. I'm happy now but I am sure I will have some changes [to the car set-up] to offer when I think about it.
"This takes a bit of the pressure off for tomorrow but we still want to get as many points as we can."
Wilson is guaranteed a front-row start and earns a bonus championship point, bringing his total to 71, just six points behind reigning champion Bourdais. His only previous front-row start was at Cleveland last year where he was punted out in a first-corner melee.
Allmendinger fought hard for the second fastest time of 57.816 seconds, earned on his ninth trip around the 1.964-mile, 12-turn permanent road course.
Miffed that Wilson was quicker, Allmendinger said, "Normally I would be excited about second place but today I am a little disappointed.
"The car did something unexpected from when we tested here. When the track got a little bit wet we lost the car. I couldn't figure it out. I thought we would be better today. I just think that I had a little more and hopefully I can figure it out for tomorrow.
"The team doesn't tell me about Justin's set-up because I wouldn't understand it anyway! I have enough trouble just driving the car!
"The front row is great for the team and for our guys but we have to be realistic. We have more to accomplish this weekend. At least I can still beat Justin at miniature golf!"
Paul Tracy inherited third on the provisional grid after Bourdais was penalised for "interfering with a driver while not running at full pace" as he exited the pits heading into the first turn.
"We were caught out a little bit when we went out for the second stint on the 'reds' [soft alternate-compound Bridgestone Potenza tyres]," said Tracy, who twice cut the course through the newly paved-in Festival Curves, the notorious first turn chicane.
"The car was balanced during the first stint. But when we went out for our second stint it seemed like we suddenly had quite a bit of understeer. We wasted a set of red tyres because I just couldn't put a lap together."
Bourdais, after forfeiting his fastest lap which ranked him third (57.825 seconds), ended up fifth overall using his next fastest lap.
Although the flagman affirmed his actions, the officials did not enquire if he properly signalled that a car was approaching as Bourdais left the pits. Bourdais defended himself to officials, claiming he couldn't see a car in his mirrors when running close to the wall, but Tony Cotman, Champ Car's VP of Operations, insisted that it is ultimately the driver's responsibility to be aware of the presence of faster cars.
The driver on a flyer coming down the long front straight (an actual drag strip) was Wilson, who wasn't at all happy with Bourdais afterwards.
"The flagman at the exit of pit lane didn't signal that Wilson was coming and that was it," said Bourdais, pleading his case to Race Control to no avail. "I ended up losing my fastest lap and two positions. It's frustrating but we'll have to keep improving the car and try for the pole again tomorrow. We had a good car but not a perfect one."
Bruno Junqueira's replacement for the season, Oriol Servia, who finished third at the Milwaukee Mile in his first run for Newman-Haas, suffered a boost problem in the morning and an engine hesitation problem in qualifying and was restricted to an unrepresentative 13th place on the overnight grid.
Pos Driver Team Time 1. Justin Wilson RuSPORT 57.597 2. A.J. Allmendinger RuSPORT 57.816 + 0.219 3. Paul Tracy Forsythe Championship 57.911 + 0.314 4. Alex Tagliani Team Australia 57.956 + 0.359 5. Sebastien Bourdais Newman Haas 57.989 + 0.392 6. Mario Dominguez Forsythe Championship 58.093 + 0.496 7. Andrew Ranger Mi-Jack Conquest 58.097 + 0.500 8. Jimmy Vasser PKV 58.134 + 0.537 9. Ronnie Bremer HVM, Inc. 58.331 + 0.734 10. Cristiano da Matta PKV 58.344 + 0.747 11. Timo Glock Rocketsports 58.407 + 0.810 12. Bjorn Wirdheim HVM, Inc. 58.759 + 1.162 13. Oriol Servia Newman Haas 58.828 + 1.231 14. Ricardo Sperafico Dale Coyne 58.894 + 1.297 15. Michael Valiante Dale Coyne 59.055 + 1.458 16. Ryan Hunter-Reay Rocketsports 59.140 + 1.543 17. Marcus Marshall Team Australia 59.362 + 1.765 18. Nelson Philippe Mi-Jack Conquest No time
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