Junqueira & Bourdais Hope to Retain 1-2 from Pre-Race Test in Las Vegas LAS VEGAS (September 21, 2004) --- The chase for the Vanderbilt Cup, the Tiffany-crafted award given annually to the champion of the Champ Car World Series, makes a stop at...
Junqueira & Bourdais Hope to Retain 1-2 from Pre-Race Test in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS (September 21, 2004) --- The chase for the Vanderbilt Cup, the Tiffany-crafted award given annually to the champion of the Champ Car World Series, makes a stop at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS) for only the second oval race of the season, second at night and the first on a superspeedway since last year's event in Lausitz, Germany. PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira and McDonald's 0x0932iver Sebastien Bourdais hope to retain their pre-race test rank of 1-2, respectively, in Saturday night's Bridgestone 400 Presented by Corona race on the 1.5-mile track and increase their points margin over the remaining championship contenders as the season winds down.
Although a large percentage of the Champ Car events held have come on road and street courses, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) has earned their share of success in races held on oval tracks. Of NHR's 79 victories, 24 have come on ovals while they have earned 16 of their 85 poles on this type of configuration. PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira has fared well in events on this type of course in his four seasons of Champ Car racing and hopes to continue. While beginning his Champ Car career with Target/Ganassi Racing in 2002-2002, he earned the pole position in his debut on an oval in Nazareth in 2001 and won from pole in Japan in 2002 as well as pole for the 2002 Indianapolis 500. He and his sponsor, PacifiCare are looking forward to the 166-lap race on the oval in Las Vegas.
"This is the first time Champ Car is going to race in Las Vegas and I'm very excited about it," said Junqueira, who posted a lap time of 26.538 (203.482 mph) at the pre-race test held here in August. "We did a test over one month ago and the PacifiCare team was the fastest and I'm really looking forward to having a good race in Las Vegas. Racing in Las Vegas is very good for PacifiCare; they have offices in Nevada and they are very excited to have a race there."
Although this is the first time the series has raced on the 1.5-mile superspeedway oval of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it ran events at Caesar's Palace casino in 1983 and '84. A 1.125-mile temporary oval was constructed in the parking lot of the casino, with NHR driver Mario Andretti winning the inaugural 1983 event. The race in 1984 served as the season finale and Andretti clinched the series championship by coming home in second place. Junqueira trailed teammate Bourdais by 58 points prior to the Montreal event but a bad result there as well as in Laguna Seca by Bourdais, coupled by a win and second place finish by Junqueira closed his deficit to 24 points (175-151). Junqueira is hoping to continue the momentum this weekend.
"I think racing at night is fun; I like it," said Junqueira, who sits in second place due of seven podium finishes in 11 races. "Especially at Las Vegas; it's very hot so racing at night is a good idea. I think it's going to be a big show in Las Vegas. Vegas is all about going to the shows and I think everybody should go out to the big show Saturday night which is going to be the race. Everybody is going to race really hard since there are only three races to go and it's an important time in the championship. It's going to be a very close race with a lot of fighting. I think the fans can expect a sensational finish at the end."
McDonald's driver Sebastien Bourdais knows all to well that it is an important time in the championship. In the past two races he was the victim of contact by another driver, each time while leading thus reducing his semi-comfortable margin of 58 points to 24 over Junqueira heading into the second race of the season on an oval. Although Bourdais did not finish the only other oval race in 2004, held on the historic Milwaukee Mile he won the previous race held on a superspeedway in record-setting fashion. After leading a race-high 74 laps at the EuroSpeedway in Lausitz, Germany in 2003 he won by a 0.8-second margin over Mario Dominguez in a thrilling duel and became the first driver in series history to win from pole in his oval racing debut. Despite his victory in Germany and setting the second fastest lap time in the pre-race test held at LVMS in August, Bourdais knows luck will play as big of a factor in the race as it does in the many casino's in the area.
"For sure everybody has a shot to win because it (driving on an oval) doesn't rely so much on the skill of the driver," said Bourdais. "It's about where you are on the race track, and what the scenario of the race is. Your race can turn upside down very, very fast so there is lot of guessing to the approach of the race. We just have to hope we make the right calls at the right time."
Although Newman/Haas Racing has not been as competitive as they would like on the one-mile Milwaukee oval in recent years, they have had success on tracks over one mile - especially at another superspeedway -- The California Speedway. NHR driver's Christian Fittipaldi (2000) and Cristiano da Matta (2001) won there and da Matta was leading the 2002 event - the last time the series competed there - when his engine failed. Since joining the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford series, the Frenchman has only raced on an oval three times (Germany '03 & Milwaukee '03 & '04) but he is confident the experience NHR has built over their 22 seasons will help him.
"Racing in Las Vegas is a lot about the team effort and how good they are and how good your wind tunnel program is," said Bourdais. "(Engineer) Craig (Hampson) is very good at sorting out the best package to show up with to make the car as fast as we can. There are going to be some surprises though. The outcome isn't going to rely so much on the driver but it's going to be an exciting race because it's going to be close racing, hard racing and very fast and we cannot afford to make a mistake in those kinds of conditions."
Bourdais must earn strong finishes in the three remaining events in order to win the title in only his second season in the series. So far this season he has earned five wins and seven poles this season, including the past four. Only three drivers have earned five consecutive poles in series history (Alex Zanardi - 1997; Danny Sullivan - 1988; Mario Andretti - 1984). His 12 poles in 29 series starts earned him the distinction of being the fastest driver in series history to accomplish the feat. The previous mark was held by Juan Montoya who earned 12 poles in 32 starts. Although Bourdais is more concerned with adding his name to another group - those who have won the Vanderbilt Cup -- he knows starting up front will be an advantage in what is expected to be a fast-paced race.
"The McDonald's car is going to be trimmed as much as it can because, with the banking of the race track and the layout, it's just going to be 'Go as fast as you can' racing and in order to do that you have to take out so much downforce and drag," said Bourdais. "We're going to be flat (on the gas pedal) a long, long, long time and reliability could have been a big issue if we were to have the extra boost the Push to Pass button gives as it's probably not too good for the engine. I think it's a good decision that the series made. Without it, it's going to be really hard racing already. Passing will be a challenge but I think people are going to show up with solution that could be somewhat risky with very, very low downforce to try desperately to take out some drag. That could be interesting."
The race is being billed as part of a "Double Down in the Desert" as the Champ Cars will cap an unprecedented double header with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series running prior to the Champ Car event. Both drivers are looking forward to the experience.
"We tested in the night conditions and everything was good," said Bourdais. "The lights are great in Las Vegas. They are used to having races at night time because it is so hot during the day. It's going to be a lot of fun and it sounds like there will be a big crowd. I hope they will continue the party the whole night long and hopefully we can join them to celebrate a good finish. It should be a very nice party weekend for the fans."
"The aerodynamic package is going to be like a road course package with a little bit of change that will give the car more speed," added Junqueira. "There is going to be a lot of downforce so it will be a very close race. We're going to run two or three wide in the corner. You're going to see a lot of passing and side-by-side racing. It's going to be incredible. I think it will be a really exciting race for the fans and I hope we can put the PacifiCare car in front."
With three races remaining in the Championship, the top five in the standings are separated by just 74 points. Bourdais and Junqueira's closest pursuers are Paul Tracy (215), Patrick Carpentier (214) and Alex Tagliani (201) but both drivers are counting on Lady Luck to help them narrow the competition for the Vanderbilt Cup in Saturday's 166-lap Bridgestone 400 Presented by Corona which will get underway at approximately 10 p.m. MT and can be seen on Spike TV on a tape delayed basis at 4 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT.