Bourdais guaranteed front-row spot

Updated: October 22, 2004, 12:52 PM ET
Associated Press

SURFERS PARADISE, Australia -- Sebastien Bourdais moved closer to his first Champ Car title by guaranteeing himself a front-row starting spot for the Lexmark Indy 300 in the opening qualifying session Friday.

Bourdais now needs to accumulate seven points more than Newman/Haas teammate Bruno Junqueira to win the title. Bourdais picked up a point by posting the fastest time on the 2.795-mile temporary street course.

His fast lap guaranteed Bourdais will start no worse than second regardless of his of time in Saturday's final qualifying session.

His time Friday was 1 minute, 34.439 seconds, just over a tenth of a second faster than 1995 race winner Paul Tracy. Third in qualifying for Sunday's race was 2002 Australian winner Mario Dominguez.

"It's a step in the right direction,'' Bourdais said. "The track is going to get faster and faster, so having that front row guaranteed is important.''

Bourdais took his Cosworth-powered Lola around the course at 106.545 mph. Tracy's speed 106.412, and Dominguez went 106.363. Junqueira posted only the 16th-best lap.

"We had a problem with a sensor and didn't get many laps in,'' Junqueira said. "It's a shame because we need to be closer to the front if we're going to challenge.''

Tracy said he was unlucky not to edge ahead of Bourdais.

"The car feels good, but we didn't seem to have any luck today,'' Tracy said, frustrated that he had become blocked behind several drivers during the session. "It'll be quicker tomorrow.''

Bourdais won the pole here last year and finished 17th in the rain-shortened race.

Last year's winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, was the fastest through the first 15 minutes of qualifying, But that came before most of the leading drivers went out on the course.

Patrick Carpentier hit the wall with three minutes left, forcing a red flag and ending the qualifying session early.

Two drivers making their Champ Car debuts had mixed results. Australian David Besnard, a former Formula 2000 champion, was 13th but led the qualifiers for a short time. Jarek Janis of the Czech Republic was 17th of 19 cars.

Besnard and Janis will join four other rookies -- A.J. Allmendinger, Nelson Philippe, Justin Wilson and Guy Smith -- in Sunday's race.

Champ Car officials said the "push-to-pass'' turbocharger allotment would increase from 60 seconds to 75. It's the fourth time this year -- all on tracks with long straightaways such as the Surfers Paradise layout -- the allotment has been upped.

The "push-to-pass'' button gives each driver extra horsepower in an attempt to pass. The 75 seconds is in total and the button can be used for varying amounts of time during the race.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press