ROOKIE DAN CLARKE USES TIMELY TIRE CHANGE TO SNARE FIRST-DAY POLE AT CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF ROAD AMERICA
 
 

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (September 22, 2006) – Dan Clarke earned his racing stripes running in the British Isles and on the tracks of Europe, where racing in the rain is an common part of a driver’s upbringing.

But on a rainy Friday in Elkhart Lake, Clarke’s ability in drying conditions paid more dividends than his wet-weather prowess, as the CTE Racing – HVM driver used a timely change of his Bridgestone Potenzas to help him lead first-round qualifying for this weekend’s Champ Car Grand Prix of Road America.

Clarke, along with Charles Zwolsman, decided that the 4.048-mile Road America track had dried sufficiently after day-long rains to allow him to try a few laps on the Bridgestone racing slicks, discarding the grooved wet-weather tires that the rest of the field were still using to navigate the 14-turn course. The racing slicks generally will yield much quicker times than the wet-weather shoes, but are far trickier to handle if the track has even the slightest bit of moisture on it.

The gamble paid off handsomely for both drivers as they finished first and second respectively in the first round of qualifying, with Clarke posting a best time of 1:55.123 (126.585 mph) to lead the session. The run allowed the British rookie to lead a Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford qualifying session for the first time in his young career, a result that also guarantees him a front-row starting spot for Sunday’s race – the first of his nascent Champ Car career.

Zwolsman’s late dash left him second on the day after a best time of 1:55.599 (126.063 mph), giving the 2005 Champ Car Atlantic champion the best qualifying result of his first year in the series. Zwolsman, who is currently riding a career-high streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes, ran his best time on his 12th and final lap of the Elkhart Lake circuit, and while he was just short of Clarke’s provisional pole time, he has still nearly two full seconds clear of the rest of the field.

The move dashed the hopes of 2004 Road America champion Alex Tagliani, who had led the majority of the session while everyone was on the wet-weather Bridgestones. Riding a streak of three consecutive podium finishes at Road America, Tagliani was the first driver this weekend to run a lap in less than two minutes, but at the end of the day had to settle for the third spot, posting a time of 1:57.517 (124.006 mph).

Tagliani led most of the session, swapping the lead only briefly with 2001 and 2003 Road America winner Bruno Junqueira before taking it back on his seventh lap. But as Tagliani was starting to get his wet-weather strategy working, Zwolsman and Clarke were taking their first tentative steps on track with the slick tires. Zwolsman was the first to make it pay off, vaulting to the top on his eighth lap. Tagliani came right back and reclaimed the point, only to see Clarke obliterate Tagliani’s top time on his next trip, setting the stage for the surprising final result.

The three drivers that are still battling for the 2006 series championship were all bunched directly behind Tagliani. A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson enter the weekend trailing two-time defending champion Sebastien Bourdais by 62 points with three races to go, but neither made up any ground on a cool, breezy Wisconsin Friday.

Allmendinger led the trio with a time of 1:58.507 (122.970 mph), putting him in the fourth spot ahead of fifth-placed Bourdais and his time of 1:58.945 (122.517 mph). Wilson was directly behind Bourdais, taking the sixth spot with a clocking of 1:59.076 (122.382 mph).