JUNQUEIRA LOOKS FORWARD TO RETURN TO RACING AND HOUSTON IN SATURDAY NIGHT'S CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON HOUSTON (May 9, 2006) --- Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) and the Champ Car World Series will return to Houston for the first time since racing...
JUNQUEIRA LOOKS FORWARD TO RETURN TO RACING AND HOUSTON IN SATURDAY NIGHT'S CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON
HOUSTON (May 9, 2006) --- Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) and the Champ Car World Series will return to Houston for the first time since racing here from 1998-2001 and will compete on a new 1.6-mile, 10-turn street course around the Reliant Park complex in the 115-lap Champ Car Grand Prix of Houston. Bruno Junqueira is one of only five drivers in the field that competed on the old course around the convention center and he hopes his return to Houston will also be his return to racing after his comeback from injury in a crash in the 2005 Indy 500 was postponed from the season-opener in Long Beach when he was taken out on the first lap. He is confident that NHR's level of preparation will be instrumental in accomplishing this task.
"I'm looking forward to Houston even more than I was before Long Beach which was a great weekend until the green flag on Sunday," said Junqueira, who hopes to take the checkered flag for the first time since May 22, 2005 (357 days) when he won the race in Monterrey, Mexico and took the series points lead. "We had a strong car and I wanted to give Newman/Haas and myself a great result in my first race back but we were hit in turn 1 on the first lap. I'm confident that we will be strong again in Houston because Newman/Haas is very competitive on street courses, including new ones. They really do their homework before coming to a track. Before we go to a track for the first time, the engineers get the track layout and make simulations on the computer for the gear ratios we are going to run so that when we arrive to the track we'll have a basic street course setup with the gears pretty close to what they will need to be. The engineers work hard to make sure we unload a car that is fast right away."
Junqueira's season-ending crash with the lapped car of A.J. Foyt IV in the Indy 500 and resulting broken back precluded him from competing in the inaugural 2005 events in Edmonton and San Jose, but prior to his injury Junqueira scored podium finishes on each of the last four new circuits that he has competed on, dating back to a victory in the inaugural Grand Prix of Denver in 2002 for Ganassi Racing. Wins by Bourdais in the past four series premieres in Brands Hatch (England, 2003) Las Vegas Motor Speedway (2004), Edmonton and San Jose (both in 2005) prove that the NHR duo will be formidable despite a lack of experience on this course.
After joining the Champ Car series in 2001, Junqueira established himself as one of the most consistent title challengers by finishing runner up to the champion in 2002, 2003 and 2004 but never in those seasons had he begun as well as he did in 2005 when he finished third in the season-opener in Long Beach and won the Monterrey, Mexico race to take over the points lead. Unfortunately perhaps his best chance to date to win the elusive title slipped away in 2005 but he is ready to resume that title hunt with a strong finish this weekend. In his rookie season in 2001, Junqueira competed in the Houston event around the George R. Brown Convention Center. He qualified second but retired from the race due to mechanical failure but still has good memories from the event.
"I raced in Houston in 2001 in my first season in the Champ Car series," said Junqueira, who has won in each of his five seasons in the series. "It was a different track from the one we are going to race on this year but the fans and the atmosphere of the race in Houston was great and I'm sure it will be the same this year. I started second in 2001 and it was going pretty good running in second until the gearbox blew. I have good memories of Houston and I think it's great that Champ Car is going back there. It is a big city in the U.S. and I think it's going to be a great event with a lot of fans."
After waiting almost a year to get back into competition, Junqueira surprised all but himself and the team when he was only 3/100ths of a second off the pace of the provisional polesitter Bourdais on Friday in Long Beach. He started the race from his third place final qualifying position but never made it past Turn 1 on the first lap after Mario Dominguez triggered a multi car accident that collected, among others, Paul Tracy, who hit Junqueira. This weekend Junqueira is looking forward to competing in the first night race on a street course and is hoping to build on his podium finish statistic that has earned him a 38 percent average with 28 top-three finishes in 74 starts.
"Night races are different," said Junqueira. "I've done two so far; on the oval in Milwaukee and in Cleveland but the Houston race is going to be the first night race on a street course and I think it's going to be good. I always like Saturday night races because it's a chance for the fans to have a big Saturday night party so I hope we can put on a great race for everybody including ourselves."
The Champ Car Grand Prix of Houston will get underway with first-round qualifying Thursday at 8:15 p.m. Central Time. The final grid will be set with Friday qualifying at 4:00 p.m. Central Time with the race set to take the green flag at 8 p.m. on Saturday night. Fans can watch all the highlights from Bridgestone Pole Position qualifying on a 30-minute SPEED broadcast beginning at midnight Eastern Time Saturday morning while the race will be shown live on SPEED beginning at 9 p.m. Eastern.