Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) saved the best for last on the opening day of Champ Car World Series qualifying for the Tecate Champ Car Grand Prix of Monterrey Presented by Roshfrans.
Flashing across the start/finish line at Fundidora Park as the final active car in Friday’s opening session of qualifying, Wilson used the last of his 11 laps to supplant Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald’s Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) atop the time charts, leading the first day of Champ Car qualifying with a best time of 1:14.305 (101.937 mph). Wilson’s best time was .353 seconds faster than that of Bourdais and earned the British driver a championship point and a guaranteed spot on the front row for Sunday’s race – which is Round 3 of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.
The opening session of qualifying saw seven on the seventeen drivers in the field topping the charts at some point with times dropping quickly as the session progressed. Eventual third-place qualifier A.J. Allmendinger (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) started a flurry of movement on the first line of the speed sheets 13 minutes into the session, only to see his best effort surpassed 11 seconds later by defending Monterrey winner Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
Wilson took another minute to drop Junqueira back a notch, only to see Bourdais get around the 2.104-mile layout in 1:14.658 (101.455 mph) just two minutes later to steal the pole. The lap was a surprising one for the three-time Monterrey polesitter only because he had been off-course slightly in each of his previous three laps, but put it all back together for a good lap at the end of his first tire stint.
The leaders then all went back to their pit stalls for fresh Bridgestone Potenzas, with some drivers electing to return on the red-walled alternate tires. The strategy appeared to have been for naught however when the red flag was brought out for Dan Clarke’s (#14 CTE Racing – HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) spin with four minutes remaining in the session, but the Champ Car Safety Team cleared the track in time for some drivers to make one last-ditch attempt at taking the pole.
Wilson did just that on his last lap, using the Bridgestone alternates to full advantage despite running a lap that he himself called ‘not very good’. He led Bourdais and Allmendinger in the top-three finishers in the first session with Allmendinger’s best lap of 1:14.860 (101.181 mph) besting Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to take the third spot.
Tracy and Junqueira rounded out the top five while Champ Car’s early-season surprise story Andrew Ranger (#27 Tide/Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) placed sixth. Ranger, who is fourth in the season standings after the year’s first two races, returns to the Fundidora Park track looking to duplicate his success from a year ago when his second-place finish made him the youngest driver ever to earn a Champ Car podium finish.
Last year’s Champ Car Atlantic champion Charles Zwolsman (#34 GoldenPalace.com Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was the best of the rookie contingent today, claiming the ninth spot with a best lap of 1:15.842 (99.871 mph). Zwolsman earned his first Atlantic victory here a year ago, winning from pole. Crowd favorite Mario Dominguez (#7 Roshfrans Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) struggled through a tough day, qualifying 11th with a best time of 1:16.424 (99.110 mph).
QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS:
Justin Wilson: I owe a lot of it to the Bridgestone tires. The option story was working really well. It served us well today. It was a gamble we went for. We knew we were very close. There was still time left in the car and myself. Like Sebastien, I never really got a good run. So we decided to gamble and go with the reds. You know, even on my first lap, I wasn’t pushing hard. I was up a 10th. Then the red flag came out. At that point we thought we’d lost it. We thought we lost the pole and our one set of red tires for qualifying tomorrow. You know, like I said, got one more lap. The RuSPORT car has been working great all weekend. Managed to get one lap in and make it count.
Sebastien Bourdais: You know, if not for the result, I’d call it a miserable session. It was really bad. The first run we went out, I was just about ready to stop and go fast. I caught Mario. He was definitely not willing to let me by. It seems to be the story of the season so far. Then I got pissed, made mistakes, one small, couldn’t clean the tires, got into somebody else, backed off, made another mistake. I just couldn’t seem to put it together. Like the last two laps were going to be good. I did one good and made again another mistake. Came in the pits, was a little surprised that we had pole.
Although it was very, very slight because Justin was one-hundredth of a second or something like that behind us. I knew it was going to be a tough fight. I was pretty confident the car was good.
A.J. Allmendinger: So far it’s been a good weekend. We were quickest this morning in practice. You know, RuSPORT has just prepared me a great car. I think this track is so slippery, so hard to get ahold of, it’s a fine line between being a great car and a good car and a really bad car. In qualifying, we were just a bit off. I think that’s what hurt us. You know, I was fairly pleased with the day. Got at least some notes to work off of tomorrow.
[Champ Car PR]
Allendinger, Wilson and Tracy are fast, no doubt, but let’s see if one of them can knock off Bourdais when it counts.
My guess is no.