Cleveland Grand Prix features Bourdais on the pole.
Sebastien Bourdais helped bring Simon Pagenaud into the Champ Car World Series.
On Saturday, Pagenaud showed why.
Bourdais sits on the pole for Sunday’s Cleveland Grand Prix at Burke Lakefront Airport after turning a fastest lap of 56.363 seconds. He will line up opposite Pagenaud, who makes his first front-row start after clocking just 0.02 seconds behind his fellow Frenchman.
“If I try to help Simon, it’s because I think he deserved it,” said Bourdais, the Champ Car points leader and three-time series champion who is seeking his fourth straight win. “He’s proving he belongs to Champ Car as good as anybody else.”
Pagenaud’s Team Australia teammate Will Power will start third with Graham Rahal fourth and Robert Doornbos fifth. Pagenaud, Rahal and Doornbos are all rookies.
“These are talented guys. They are rookies but not beginners to racing,” Bourdais said.
Pagenaud, 23, earned nine top-five finishes last year in taking the Atlantic title. He raced in Europe before that, finishing as the 2004 Formula Renault runner-up.
He said the jump to Champ Car has been a learning experience.
“We were struggling a little bit in the morning. I went back to the truck and worked quite hard with my engineer,” Pagenaud said. “I’m very happy because we had a very good discussion, very good communication together. We went back on the track this afternoon, and the car was just perfect.”
Bourdais was less than a tenth of a second off the course record but never got a final attempt as the last five minutes of qualifying were wiped out because of a crash and a red flag.
“In the first run, we got some traffic. It wasn’t really the best run we could hope for,” said Bourdais, who clocked 134.478 mph.
Bourdais also started on the pole when he won in Cleveland in 2003. He repeated in 2004 but has not won here since. He is trying to become the first person to win four-straight Champ Car series titles.
Bourdais will have a clear lane in front of him for today’s 17-car start. Last year, he started third but never made it out of the first few turns as he, Paul Tracy and Bruno Junqueira collided, knocking Bourdais from the race.
Going from a standing start for just the second time, none of the drivers know how the opening seconds will come into play. Six of the last seven years, Lap 1 has resulted in a wreck at Cleveland.
“If you get too much wheel spin or you’re on the dusty side of the circuit, you don’t get a good start,” Power said. “Usually, the wheels spin up, other people grip, and off they go. There are a lot of variables to a standing start.”
Power said the key to winning at Cleveland is taking advantage of other people’s mistakes. He went back over the tape from 2006 and found the mistakes made by every driver in the field.
“I think we are in a pretty good position, because, as you’ve seen in past years, there’s a lot of mayhem,” said Power, who spun out on lap 75 in 2006 before finishing ninth. “I think it’s going to be pretty mixed up (today). I think it will be a lot of fun for the fans.”
You can reach Canton Repository Assistant Sports Editor Joe Frollo Jr. at (330) 580-8564 or e-mail: email@example.com