Julien Jousse scored his first Superleague Formula pole position at the Nurburgring in Germany on Saturday, cheering up AS Roma fans who had watched their country plunge out of the World Cup earlier this week.
Jousse raced off against Robert Doornbos of Corinthians in the head-to-head, single-lap final, but outpaced him emphatically around the lap, taking top spot by 0.599sec. Doornbos really struggled on his lap, having to get right out of the throttle at the Bit-Kurve, which cost him about four-tenths of that.
"I'm very happy for me and the team," said Jousse. "It's good to start from the top for the first race, and I was surprised to be so quick in the final. I improved through every step of qualifying."
Doornbos, who was on pole for AC Milan the last time Superleague was at the Eifel venue in 2008, said: "My mechanics changed the engine before qualifying [he had spun off in first practice], so this was the best way to pay them back. I just didn't have enough tyre pressure in the final, they weren't warm enough, so I had a little wiggle coming down the hill there."
In the first semi final, Jousse defeated the weekend pacesetter, Yelmer Buurman of AC Milan, with a duel that swayed between the two of them around the lap.
Buurman was up by 0.02sec at the first split, but Jousse was ahead by 0.068sec at the second. At the finish line, where it really mattered, Jousse was faster by 0.08s.
The second semi was just as thrilling, with Davide Rigon (Anderlecht) almost not getting on to the track at all when his Azerti team struggled to fire his car. This meant he was well behind Doornbos on-the-road on their flying lap.
Rigon was down by 0.2sec at the first split, but turned that around to lead by 0.011s at the second. But Doornbos turned it on its head once more, winning by 0.09sec.
In the quarter-final stages, Buurman beat Franck Perera (Flamengo) by 0.472sec, but that didn't tell half the story, as they were neck-and-neck until the final sector. Perera was up by 0.014sec at the first split, but Buurman was 0.005sec quicker by the second, and then rammed his advantage home as Perera struggled to get his car stopped for the Veedol chicane.
"I was on the limit," admitted Perera. "I was really fighting with my brakes and lost the rear of the car approaching the final chicane."
Doornbos cruised to victory over Tristan Gommendy (Galatasaray) by over a second, after Gommendy ran wide over the grass on the exit of the Mercedes Arena, which cost him the best part of nine-tenths of a second. "I had way too much oversteer," said Gommendy.
In the next run, Rigon didn't need to complete a proper flyer once James Walker coasted his Liverpool car into the very first corner, suffering a brake malady. "The pedal went straight to the floor," said Walker. "Even coming out of the garage, it wouldn't stop."
The last quarter final provided the closest margin between drivers: Jousse defeated Chris van der Drift by just 0.088s. During the lap, van der Drift had been up by 0.062sec at the first split, but he gave away 0.107sec by split two, and wasn't able to recover enough through the final couple of corners. "It was a bit of a messy lap, I coulda gone quicker," admitted van der Drift.
Lyon's Sebastien Bourdais missed out on the knock-out phases by just 0.018sec, knocked out by Perera in the closing seconds of the session, and then added injury to insult by ploughing into the tires at Turn 6, the RTL-Kurve, when he tried too hard on his final effort.
"We were in and then, suddenly, we were out," said Bourdais. "It was very close, only a couple of hundredths. I think we left a little performance on the table."
Pre-event favourite Max Wissel, who was fastest in first practice for FC Basel, also fell at this hurdle and was livid about it: "I don't know what's gone wrong, I'm sixth, that is all."
Alvaro Parente (FC Porto) and Franck Montagny (Bordeaux) also fell out, but the big news of the session was points leader Craig Dolby, who will start last for Tottentham Hotspur. "What's to say?" he asked. "This means I'll have two reverse grid races tomorrow."
Group B was effectively curtailed early when Jarama top dog John Martin spun off at the Ford-Kurve, blaming dirt on the track, but Buurman had already set his fastest lap of 1m44.175s – the quickest of the weekend so far despite a slide at the final corner - to top the session ahead of fellow knock-out phase qualifiers Rigon, Jousse and Gommendy.