FINAL DAY OF CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES PRESEASON TESTING ENDS WITH RECORD-SHATTERING PERFORMANCE BY SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS
MONTEREY, Calif. (March 10, 2007) -- Three-time and defending Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone) spent most of the 2007 preseason watching the young guys take turns at the top of the time charts, but he saved the best for last on a sunny Saturday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Bourdais shattered the unofficial track record at the 2.238-mile road course in Monterey, California -- which was much more of an accomplishment that it might seem given the fact that the track record had been set by a Toyota-powered Formula 1 car in 2006. The Flying Frenchman used his absolute final lap of the preseason to break the F1 record, stopping the clocks at 1:05.880 (122.295 mph), getting across the timing line just before a session-ending red flag flew.
"I knew where Bruno (Junqueira) was when the red came out and I knew I was past it, and I knew I was four- or five-tenths ahead of the record so I said 'screw it, I'm going for it'," Bourdais grinned. "We didn't particularly chase the record but we had our eye on it and I am happy that we were able to get it."
Bourdais was also given a check for $5,000 by the series for breaking the mark, as Champ Car posted an Old West-style bounty on the record, set by Ricardo Zonta a year ago.
Bourdais' time was the best of the two-day session and showed that he will once again be the man to beat when the engines fire for the year's first race, April 6-8 in Las Vegas. His best time gave him more than a half-second margin over second-placed Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone) in today's final times.
Power led a bevy of rookies that continued their fierce pursuit of the top spot, with the Australian logging in with a top time of 1:06.424 (121.294 mph). The sophomore was followed by a trio of first-year pilots with Neel Jani (#21 Red Bull PKV Racing Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone) taking third ahead of Graham Rahal (#2 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone) and reigning Atlantic champion Simon Pagenaud (#15 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone).
Veteran Paul Tracy was sixth on the day with a top time of 1:06.707 (120.779 mph), wrapping up what the 2003 champion termed his team's 'best test of the year'.
"We had a good day yesterday and while we struggled a little today, we overall had a good weekend," quipped Tracy. "We were trying to learn some things today and threw a lot of changes at the car, but we never really got any good luck with red flags to see how the changes work."
In all 17 drivers turned laps over the two-day test session, with nine of them preparing for their first Champ Car seasons. One of those was former Indy Lights and Champ Car Atlantic driver Matt Halliday (#34 Conquest Racing Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone), who ended up in the top 10 in his first weekend with the Indianapolis-based team.
"This was a good two days for myself and the team and I am very pleased with how things went," Halliday said. "We had some issues but this team really just kept their heads down and worked hard, and we got through it. I am very happy with how it went and I think we can be even closer to the front with a little more time in the car."
Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart agreed.
"With this being his first time in the Champ Car, he really got up to speed right away," Bachelart said. "We had a few problems with the car and he really stayed focused and did a great job for us."
Today's testing, which culminated in an hour of standing-start practice, was the last for the Champ Cars for the 2007 preseason. The teams will now go back and make final preparations for the season-opening Vegas Grand Prix, which will be directly followed by the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April; 13-15 and the Grand Prix of Houston April 20-22.