Bruno Junqueira went for new springs and soft tires on Friday to clip a point off the championship lead of teammate Sebastien Bourdais by topping the first day of qualifying for Sunday's Champ Car series finale.
Junqueira said he used a late change in springs and soft-compound alternative tires for his top-lap average of 184.332kph, while his Newman/Haas teammate ran at 183.793kph. That earned the Brazilian driver a point, raising his total to 314 -- 21 behind Bourdais -- and guaranteed a front row start for Sunday's Telmex-Tecate Grand Prix.
Bourdais, last year's rookie of the year, still needs just a ninth-place finish to win the championship. The Frenchman said earlier in the week he'd like to jump out in the front early to avoid dangerous battling in the pack.
He stuck to regular tires on the first day of qualifying in order to conserve the faster alternates for Saturday. Even so, he might have claimed the top spot on Friday if not for a spin on the last turn that took him onto the grass.
Asked how the run went, he replied, "It went backward."
"I knew it was going to take a big attack" to beat Junqueira's time, he said. "Unfortunately, it didn't go through the last turn."
Mexico City is one of five tracks on the circuit this year where drivers are given two different compounds of tires and have to use both variants in the race, adding to strategy.
Bourdais said that for Saturday's qualifying, he'd turn to the softer, red-striped tires that he estimated would cut his time by almost a second a lap.
Junqueira was slightly more conservative, but equally enthusiastic. He estimated the alternative tires were "at least half a second faster."
"They gave a lot of grip. It's very fun to drive. Maybe next year we're going to ask for more of those."
The alternative tires were introduced at the 2004 season opener at Long Beach, California and were used earlier in races at Portland, Oregon, Monterey, California, and Montreal, Canada.
Rookie A.J. Allmendinger was third fastest at 183.678kph. The 23-year-old American is seventh in the season standings with 204 points for the new RuSport team.
He said he could go faster on Saturday. "I think there's still a lot left in myself and in the car."
Patrick Carpentier of the Forsythe Team returned from an Oct. 24 crash at Surfers Paradise, Australia, but caused a red flag when he ran off the track. He posted the 11th best qualifying time with an average of 182.214kph. Promoters say they expect to match last year's three-day attendance of 400,000 at the 4.3km Hermanos Rodriguez road course. The relatively bumpy track and the high altitude, which robs downforce, adds to the challenge.