Bourdais makes adjustments, wins provisional pole

Updated: April 20, 2007, 7:02 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- Sebastien Bourdais won the provisional pole for the Champ Car World Series Grand Prix of Houston on Friday, circling the 1.69-mile course in 58.376 seconds.

The defending champion hit 103.789 mph on his fastest lap in his Panoz DP01 to clinch a front-row start Sunday and prove again that his dismal season-opening weekend in Las Vegas was only a fluke.

Two weeks ago, Bourdais had three flat tires, then hit the wall and finished 13th in what he called the worst performance he could remember. He and the Newman/Haas/Lanigan team regrouped last week in Long Beach, taking the pole and winning the race, Bourdais' 24th career victory.

"I was really super-proud of the way the team reacted to the situation in Vegas," Bourdais said. "We could've completely folded and broken down, but nobody did. We regrouped, stuck together and that made for a good showing at Long Beach. That's all we needed."

Points leader Will Power finished second on Friday with a top speed of 102.852 mph. Champ Car rookie Graham Rahal, Bourdais' teammate, was third at 102.695.

The 28-year-old Bourdais also turned the fastest lap in provisional qualifying in Houston last year, but his time was disallowed when his Ford-Cosworth-powered Lola failed a technical inspection. Bourdais started the race fifth, passed pole-sitter Mario Dominguez on lap 67 and led the final 33 laps for his second win of the season.

On Friday, Bourdais was uncomfortable with his car in a morning practice, but his team made some quick adjustments at lunchtime that did the trick for afternoon qualifying.

"The first run was a little difficult," Bourdais said. "The second run was not really much different on the setup, but it's the minor details that make for a whole lot different lap at the end."

Power won from the pole in Las Vegas, then finished third in Long Beach after nabbing the provisional pole. The 26-year-old Australian was disappointed with his run on Friday and was eager to atone in Saturday's full-field qualifying round.

"We can go back and have a good look at everything and come out with a pretty good car tomorrow," he said. "I made a lot of mistakes. My best lap was a rubbish lap. Maybe a bit of overdriving by me."

Drivers complained last season about the hard bumps on the course, set up in the massive parking lot next to Reliant Stadium. Track officials ground down the surface and eased some curves and the racers are happy with the results.

"I certainly think they've made some improvements," said Rahal, who crashed in last year's Atlantic race in Houston and finished 15th. "The bumps seem to be a lot better on the back straight and the other changes I tend to like. The track is headed in the right direction."

Several cars were damaged bouncing and scraping off the uneven concrete last year. All the racers are driving Panoz DP01s this year and Bourdais said they're a better match for the improved surface.

"I'm glad they did it because I don't think the Panoz was ready for as big a beating as the Lola was getting last year," said Bourdais. "It's still rough, concrete racing, but it's a lot of fun once you get a good handle on the car."

At least one driver still had reason to gripe.

Rookie Alex Figge skipped provisional qualifying and will sit out Sunday's race after aggravating a back injury he suffered in a crash in Long Beach.

Figge withdrew on Friday, after a few painful practice laps on the bumpy track in Houston.

"I experienced a huge amount of discomfort in practice," said Figge, fifth in the rookie standings. "From here, I will focus on recovery, so we can log some miles in May."

Figge had an MRI exam on Friday afternoon and hopes to return by next month, when the Pacific Coast Motorsports team has testing scheduled.

"I need to make sure I am recovered, as those tests are essential," the Davenport, Iowa native said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press