Junqueira guaranteed front row spot

Updated: April 16, 2004, 8:31 PM ET
Associated Press

Bruno Junqueira
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Bruno Junqueira got a clear lap and Paul Tracy didn't.

That was the difference Friday. Junqueira, last year's runner-up to Tracy in the Champ Car World Series championship, won the first point of the season by beating Tracy for the provisional pole on opening day at the Long Beach Grand Prix.

"It was a good first day of the season,'' said Junqueira, whose fast lap on the 1.968-mile downtown street circuit was clocked at 1 minute, 8.913 seconds -- a run of 102.808 mph. "There was a lot of traffic out there, but I got one good lap and that was enough.''

There was plenty of speculation that this day would never happen after CART, the former sanctioning body of the Champ Car series, went bankrupt after last season.

Team owners Paul Gentilozzi, Kevin Kalkoven and Gerald Forsythe saved the circuit by forming Open Wheel Racing Series, buying CART's assets and continuing the series that began in 1979.

"I was worried,'' Junqueira said. "It took a lot of work by a lot of people to make this happen.''

Tracy, a three-time Long Beach winner and the defending race champion, said the winter of uncertainty left everyone eager to put the problems behind them and go racing.

"There's no joking around now,'' he said. "It got real serious real quick. A lot of guys are real motivated, and I think the series looks good.''

Tracy's fast lap of 1:09.156 (102.447) was just .243 seconds slower than that of Junqueira. Tracy said a red flag for Oriol Servia's crash early in the session cost him one possible fast lap and he couldn't get a clean run after that.

"We waited to the end with our second set of tires, but the last eight or nine minutes everybody was on the track and you couldn't get a clear lap,'' Tracy explained. "I felt I could go a lot quicker.

"But I'm not really complaining. I'd be more disappointed if I didn't have any cars out there to hold me up. I'm glad we had a full field.''

Tracy will get another shot at Junqueira on Saturday in the second round of time trials. But Junqueira's performance Friday guaranteed him a front-row start in the race Sunday.

Despite the financial problems that forced several teams to close their doors and defections by other teams to the rival Indy Racing League, Champ Car's new ownership promised a full field of 18 cars for Long Beach.

That lineup was completed Friday with the arrival of Dale Coyne Racing's drivers, Servia and Tarso Marques. Neither did well, however, with both crashing during qualifying.

Alex Tagliani was third fastest at 102.013, followed by Mario Dominguez at 102.001, Ryan Hunter-Reay at 101.774, Patrick Carpentier at 101.603 and highly touted rookie A.J. Allmendinger at 101.349.

Allmendinger, last year's Toyota-Atlantic Series champion, moved up from that series along with his team, RuSports. Teammate Michel Jourdain Jr., recently added to RuSports after former employer Team Rahal bolted for the IRL, struggled and qualified 12th.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press