ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Feb. 21 (UPI) -- French rookie Sebastien Bourdais surprised himself Friday by grabbing the provisional pole for the season-opening Champ Car series Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
"I think we were not expecting such a good result," said Bourdais, who turns 24 next week. "Newman/Haas gave me an incredible car, I think. We didn't change a lot on the baseline. The (test) work we did with the car in Sebring was very good. We were up there."
The reigning F3000 champion, Bourdais posted a top lap of 105.415 miles per hour to secure the first point of the season. He is trying to become the first driver to win in his Champ Car debut since Nigel Mansell in 1993 at Surfers Paradise.
"Today, we were able to succeed very well. I just hope to continue like this," Bourdais said. "But, for sure, to be compared (to) Mansell, it's really nice, definitely."
Newman/Haas teammate Bruno Junqueira of Brazil qualified second with a lap of 105.003 mph. He tried to better Bourdais' speed late in Friday's qualifying session but got bottled up in traffic.
"I was like half a tenth behind Sebastien," Junqueira said. "I thought I would wait until the end of the session because I knew the track would pick up a little bit of grip. Just came out, had a red flag, came out again, first lap, had a red flag again."
Spain's Oriol Servia, Mexico's Mario Dominguez and Canada's Patrick Carpentier rounded out the top five. A second qualifying session will be held Saturday. And while Bourdais can be knocked off the pole, he guaranteed himself a spot on the front row.
Rookies posted nine of the top 19 qualifying speeds, although Mario Haberfeld was the only other one in the top 10. The 26-year-old Brazilian, who resides in Key West, Fla., sits eighth after a lap of 103.661 mph.
Last year, the Champ Series was known as CART. Defending champion Cristiano da Matta of Brazil has moved on to the Formula One series.