LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Bruno Junqueira is leading the Champ Car World Series by a single point. Of course, it's the only point that's been awarded so far.
The Brazilian driver, the series runner-up each of the past
three seasons, is determined to win his first championship, and
being out front of the other 18 drivers after the first qualifying
session of the 2005 season did put a smile on his face.
"It feels really good, but it's a little too early to be too
happy about it,'' Junqueira said, chuckling. "But it is where we
want to be all year.''
Junqueira, who sat on the pole here last year, beat out 2003
champion Paul Tracy and 2004 title winner and Newman/Haas Racing
teammate Sebastien Bourdais on Friday for the provisional pole at
the season-opening Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Now that he's out front again, he'd love to stay there
throughout the 14-race season. To do it, though, some things will
have to change.
"I know I have to be better than last year,'' Junqueira said.
"I have to be faster, more consistent, everything. I have to
improve all aspects of myself as a driver, but I still have to take
each event one at a time. It's really important to start the year
with a good result.''
He certainly got off to a strong start.
With one more round of qualifying on Saturday, Junqueira's fast
lap of 1 minute, 8.342 seconds (103.667 mph) wasn't far off the
track record of 1:07.494 (104.969 mph) set in 2000 by two-time
series champion Gil de Ferran.
"It's probably a little faster than we expected, but I have
always loved racing at Long Beach,'' said Junqueira, who finished
third here in 2003 and second last year as Tracy won on the streets
of downtown Long Beach for the second year in a row and the fourth
time in his career.
"I'm a little surprised with the times because they had a lot
of rain out here over the winter and that washed off all the rubber
from last year. But the track is already pretty good and it's going
to be even quicker tomorrow,'' said Tracy, who was second Friday at
1:08.494 (103.437 mph).
Tracy was a little disappointed after being on the way to a
faster lap late in the 35-minute qualifying session only to have
2002 series champion Cristiano da Matta, back from a two-year stint
in Formula One, get in his way.
"I was almost there until the last couple of corners when I
caught Cristiano,'' he said. "But that's the kind of things that
happen at Long Beach in the last five minutes of qualifying.''
Bourdais, who won eight poles and seven races last season on the
way to his championship, was third Friday at 1:08.736 (103.073
"I was pretty happy with that lap,'' said Bourdais, who started
second and finished third on the 1.968-mile course last year. "But
it was not good enough, apparently. We had only two days of
preseason testing, though, so I don't think I should be too
He was followed by Justin Wilson at 1:08.884 (102.851 mph), Alex
Tagliani at 1:09.056 (102.595 mph) and Mario Dominguez at 1:09.058
Rookie Andrew Ranger, last year's top rookie in the
developmental Toyota Atlantic Series, got off to a great start,
qualifying seventh at 1:09.416 (102.263 mph).