Junqueira scores season's first point

Updated: April 8, 2005, 9:41 PM ET
Associated Press

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 mph).

"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 disappointed.''

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 (102.592 mph).

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).

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press