CHAMPCAR/CART: Las Vegas: Pre-race notes, quotes

WHO'S HOT With the 2006 Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year title in his hands Will Power ( ...

WHO'S HOT

With the 2006 Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year title in his hands Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) is coming into his sophomore season with a new sense of confidence. During his rookie season Power scored his first pole position at his home event in Surfers Paradise, recorded his first podium finish in the last race of the season in Mexico City and took home the Bridgestone Passion for Excellence Award at the end of the season. In preseason testing the Australian posted the quickest time in Houston and in the final test in Laguna Seca he was a few tenths off of breaking the track record, before falling to second on the speed chart.

With preseason testing over, Neel Jani (#21 Red Bull Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) looks to be headed toward a solid rookie season in the Champ Car World Series. At each test leading into the Vegas Grand Prix the Swiss found himself placed in the top-three and he was the first rookie driver on the speed chart at Spring Training on the challenging Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

With a Champ Car Atlantic Championship title under his belt Simon Pagenaud (#15 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) is looking to parlay the experience he gained in Champ Car's feeder series into a solid rookie campaign. Last year in the series Pagenaud was the most consistent driver logging a series high nine top-five finishes and one victory in Edmonton. After getting use to the DP01 at Sebring, the young Frenchman was in the top-six in times at both testing sessions in Houston and Laguna Seca.

Runner-up in the 2006 Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year battle Dan Clarke (#4 Minardi Team USA Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) returns with the same team as last year, but with a new name and owner. Last year the Brit collected his first podium finish in at the Denver Grand Prix and his first pole position in wet conditions in Road America.

Graham Rahal (#2 Medi|Zone Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) steps up to the Champ Car World Series from the Champ Car Atlantic Championship after setting the mark as the youngest-ever winner in Atlantic history when he won from the pole in Monterrey, Mexico at age 17. During his debut year in Atlantics the young American collected five wins, was the runner-up in the point standings, led 129 laps and won four pole positions. In preseason testing the rookie was consistently in the top-five on the time sheet and was the top rookie at the Houston test.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Three time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) has shown in the past that he is a master of learning new courses, in fact he has won the last five inaugural events on the Champ Car schedule. The streak started at Brands Hatch in 2003 and continued to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2004, Edmonton and San Jose in 2005 and last year in Houston. The only inaugural event that the Frenchman has been a part of and walked away winless was his first Champ Car race in St. Petersburg in 2003 in which he won his first Champ Car pole position.

Out of Paul Tracy's (#3 Indeck Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) thirty career wins, two have come at inaugural events. The Canadian notched his first inaugural win Gateway in 1997 and his second came in 2003 in St. Petersburg. To go along with those, he has a pair of inaugural pole positions which he claimed in Miami and Brands Hatch, England.

Series runner-up Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) has yet to win an inaugural event, but he has been strong and consistent in them, showing he knows how to adapt to new circuits. In every inaugural event the Brit has put a tire on the track during his Champ Car career, he has brought his car home in the top-eight. His best qualifying effort at an inaugural event came in 2005 when he claimed the outside pole position in Edmonton.

DID YOU KNOW

Major league auto racing made its debut in Las Vegas in 1954 when a hundred-mile National Championship Race (the series which evolved into what Champ Car is now) was run. The one mile dirt track it was held on was a former horse racing track found behind the old Thunderbird hotel. The race victor was Jimmy Bryan, who won the last four races that season and the 1954 championship. After that initial appearance Champ Cars did not return to Vegas for several years, but racing did not disappear. In 1966, the Stardust Raceway opened for business. The 3-mile road course hosted major auto races from 1966-68 with Bobby Unser winning the one and only Champ Car race there in 1968. Champ Car staged two races in 1983 and 1984, with Caesars Parking lot configured into a modified oval consisting of five turns. The unique design produced some exciting racing, with Mario Andretti winning in 1983 and Tom Sneva out dueling Al Unser Sr. in the 1984 season finale, in which Andretti clinched the season championship by surviving a spectacular late-race spin with John Paul Jr. It's still possible to take a lap around the old racing circuit, but you had better have your wallet out as the Forum Shops at Caesars were erected on what used to be the front straightaway. In 1996 Las Vegas Motor Speedway opened and hosted a wide variety of racing series, holding Champ Car races in both 2004 and 2005. The 2007 Vegas Grand Prix will mark the first time Champ Cars have graced the streets of the Las Vegas in the historic downtown area.

NOTEWORTHY

In the last two Champ Car races on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval, Sebastien Bourdais won both events, recorded a pole position and led 153 laps.

Sebastien Bourdais has the rare opportunity to win four consecutive championships this year if he can again capture the Vanderbilt Cup, which would extend the title skein he began in 2004. Not only has no Champ Car driver ever won four straight championships, it is a rare occurrence in all of sports in fact it has never been done in either NASCAR or NFL and it hasn't been accomplished in the last twenty years in the NBA, NHL or MLB.

Rivals for the Champ Car Atlantic Champion title, Simon Pagenaud and runner-up Graham Rahal look to continue their battle in the Champ Car World Series, only this time they will be dueling for the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year title. In last year's Atlantic Championship, the two battled for the championship title up to the last race, but Pagenaud won the title by 16 points in the end.

In five Champ Car races held in Sin City, there has yet to be a repeat pole sitter. At the Vegas Grand Prix Bourdais has a chance to break this streak, since he won the pole for the last Champ Car event held as Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

BY THE NUMBERS

1925 -- Fremont Street (which intersects the course between turns 9 and 10) becomes the first paved street in Las Vegas. 333 -- The number of laps Sebastien Bourdais has led in the past six inaugural races. 107 -- The number of laps Paul Tracy led in his last appearance in a Champ Car race in Las Vegas. 31 -- How many laps Simon Pagenaud led on the way to his 2006 Atlantic title. 10 -- The worst qualifying effort Sebastien Bourdais has posted in an inaugural event (Edmonton 2005). 3 -- Graham Rahal who will be making his first Champ Car start this weekend is the son of three time Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal.

VEGAS GRAND PRIX PRE-RACE DRIVER QUOTES

Sebastien Bourdais #1 McDonald's Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "Obviously Las Vegas has been very good to the McDonald's crew. We have two wins in two races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was a heck of a show but I think brining the show to the city is going to make a huge difference and probably be more appealing to the Champ Car fans to come see a street course than a 1.5 mile oval where its pretty much flat out all around and very much IRL type racing. Hopefully racing on the city street will satisfy our fans much better. We're trying to be as prepared as we can and the McDonald's team has been flat out. The new venue at Las Vegas is supposed to be really good. The promoter had a lot of support from the community and the layout seems to be pretty cool. They started to build new grandstands because they were sold out so I expect that a very successful race. As far as we're concerned, we've got a few things to get figured out before the race. We had some very intensive days of testing and hopefully we are ready."

Dan Clarke #4 Ticketmaster/Synapse Power/The Australian Pink Floyd Show Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "There's been only one thing missing from my preparations for the new season, and that's driving the new Champ Car. But I don't see this as such a major problem. I've been close to the team over the winter, trained hard and worked at every aspect of my race program that I've been able to do without testing. Continuing with a team that I worked with last year and my experience of the championship will stand me in good stead for Las Vegas and I go there without any pressure, just focusing on myself and the team. I visited Vegas in September 2005. It was my first experience of Champ Cars, with a trip to the oval race to open discussions about racing in the Series, so I remember the place well. It's great to be returning as a driver, and I'm expecting the street race to be a huge spectacle. For me, I think I need to have the tortoise and hare approach. I don't think anyone is sure quite what to expect from the track or the car, and with the new Panoz and a long race distance, the most important thing is to be there at the end. Exercising caution, taking care of the car, and building momentum as the weekend progresses is my plan, no gambling for me!"

Ryan Dalziel #28 Pacific Coast Motorsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "I am really excited to get going and get the first one over and done with and hopefully have a good professional showing and move on to the next one. I am sure Las Vegas will be a big party on and off the track, it will definitely be one to go down in the history books. It will be an emotional weekend for me, that is for sure. I've hoping for my big break in Champ Car and Pacific Coast has given it to me, I am very thankful. I wish it was my first start as I would love for my first Champ Car race to have been with PCM. At the same time, its been so long since my first and only start back in 2005 at Toronto, that this actually feels like it anyway. I think we are as prepared as we can be as a new team and new drivers, everyone has worked their butt's off and now it is time to get racing and have some fun!"

Mario Dominguez #7 Telmex/Cabi Developers Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "Well obviously I'm really excited to be racing in Las Vegas, a couple of weeks ago I wasn't really sure whether that was going to happen or not. I really can't wait, the track looks great, and it is going to be a really big event, and I get to race there with the Forsythe Team, so you can't ask for much more. Unfortunately I didn't get to do a lot of testing with the new car during the pre-season, but even with the limited laps that I did I realized right away that not only is the new car very fast and very stable, but it also matches my driving style quite well, so I'm very confident about our odds in Vegas."

Robert Doornbos #14 Muermans/Jumbo Supermarkten/Media Mall Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "It's always exciting to be looking forward to the start of a new season, but even more so in this case, as we are in such an amazing place as Las Vegas. However much testing you do ahead of time, it's never really the same as being at the first event, with all the other teams and drivers, and finally getting the racing under way. It's what all drivers want. Champ Car is obviously a new challenge for me, but I think it's going to be great. The pre-season testing we've done has allowed me to get a good feel for the DP01 Champ Car, and to settle in at Minardi Team USA, and now I can focus on working with the engineers, to improve the car still further, and learning the Las Vegas track layout. I feel really positive about the situation, and will be aiming to do the best job possible for my team."

Alex Figge #29 Imperial Capital Bank Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "I am really looking forward to making my Champ Car debut this weekend at the inaugural Vegas Grand Prix. This will be a weekend that I will never forget that is for sure. I've spent a lot of years preparing for this racing in Atlantic and the lower formulae's. After the last two years racing sports cars, it makes it event sweeter, I am thrilled to be back in open wheel and more importantly a Champ Car. At the same time, we have a lot to learn. We didn't get as much track time as we had hoped for and anticipated during the three tests for various reasons so the first three races are going to be a big learning process for sure. I really like street courses and I am happy we are starting off with three in a row on the streets. The circuit looks fantastic, it's got all the elements, high speed, tight turns, passing zones, everything a driver could want. I've heard really good things about the circuit and of course the event is going to be huge, I am excited!"

Tristan Gommendy #22 Pay By Touch-Megaspiera Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "I am very excited to be competing in my first Champ Car race. The Red Bull-Gulfstream PKV Racing Team had a good preseason. We were in the top-three at every test and learned a lot about the new chassis, so I know we can be competitive. I have a bit more of an advantage this first race than at other races. Everyone will be competing with a new car and on a new track, so I am not at as much of a disadvantage as I would be on a track where most of the drivers have competed before. I want to thank Red Bull and PKV Racing for this opportunity and I look forward to helping the team achieve the best results in their history."

Matt Halliday #42 - 42 Below Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "I have always had my sights set on Champ Car racing as it is one of the highest profile Championships using the fastest single-seater racing cars in the world. I am also very happy to be doing the Series with Eric Bachelart and Conquest Racing and thank them for giving me the opportunity to test and eventually sign with the team. I am also indebted to 42 BELOW for their loyalty and confidence in me to do the job."

Neel Jani #21 Red Bull-Gulfstream Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone -- "I am very excited to be competing in my first Champ Car race. The Red Bull-Gulfstream PKV Racing Team had a good preseason. We were in the top-three at every test and learned a lot about the new chassis, so I know we can be competitive. I have a bit more of an advantage this first race than at other races. Everyone will be competing with a new car and on a new track, so I am not at as much of a disadvantage as I would be on a track where most of the drivers have competed before. I want to thank Red Bull and PKV Racing for this opportunity and I look forward to helping the team achieve the best results in their history."

Simon Pagenaud #15 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "Obviously I'm really excited about going to Las Vegas first and doing my first race in Champ Car there, it's going to be a huge event. Champ Car has been doing a great job in promoting the race. On the race side I'm really excited again because the car is so enjoyable to drive and I just look forward to be there and do my first practice session, learn step by step and perform as well as I can. This will be my first long race with pit stops, so it won't be easy, every mile I do I will learn more. After the first three races in streets we can start to push a little bit more and have a great year with the team with the goal of rookie of the year and to win some races in mind."

Will Power #5 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "We have done all the work necessary to be competitive this year, so I really look forward going into Las Vegas. The team has worked really hard in the off season and I'm in good form, have a season behind my belt and understand the cars well, I'm ready to get back to racing. I just can't wait to get started we have been waiting a long time. The key this year is to minimize mistakes and to get as many points as we can and go for the championship. My expectations are to qualify in the top five and hopefully win races and bring Team Australia a championship."

Graham Rahal #2 Medi | Zone Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "For me and for the Medi | Zone team to go into the Las Vegas race weekend is going to be very difficult. It's the first race of the season, it's my first race in a Champ Car, it's a new track and we've got a new car. I certainly believe our team is the best prepared for Las Vegas and I think that, for all of us, it's going to be a learning experience. All we need to do is cover all the bases that we know how to cover and we've done that. Not only just in Las Vegas but the first three races are going to be a learning experience to see what we have to do to make it through all three because that's going to be a huge part of the season. Spring Break for my High School is the first week of April so I'll be in Las Vegas. I can't rent a car and can't gamble but I hope Spring Break in Las Vegas is one to remember!"

Alex Tagliani #8 LXN2 Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone -"Las Vegas is going to be a great event. They have put forth a lot of effort into making this the best event possible. It has been a great advantage to me that I am a resident in Las Vegas, because I have been able to train in this type of weather. My training has included taking jogs around the track, so I am now ready to take laps around this track in a Champ Car. I am just so excited to get this season started. I am physically fit and mentally prepared; I just can't wait to jump into the #8 LXN2 Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone on Friday morning because I know that it will be the start to a great season. I have been working hard all winter on sponsorship, and it is just great to be back with familiar faces, Paul Gentilozzi, and now working with Dan Pettit and Justin Wilson. The RSPORTS team is fully committed to a great season, I think everything has come together and now we can go out and fight for the championship title and the win in Las Vegas!"

Paul Tracy #3 Indeck Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "It's great being able to start out the Season in a track that's only a few minutes from my house. It's been a long off season with many changes, I've been working very hard and so has the Forsythe Team and even though we had some problems during testing, we've shown that we have the speed and we are going to go out there and try to win the Season Opener and start out on the right track for the Championship. I'm excited about racing through the streets of Las Vegas, I've seen the track and it looks like they've done a great job, it is a very interesting track. It is wide, it is fast, and it seems to be pretty smooth, I think it will be a lot of fun. There's been a lot of promotion leading up to this weekend; I have no doubt that it will be a big success."

Justin Wilson #9 CDW Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone - "Las Vegas is going to be a new circuit for us all, so it is will be very exciting. It is a great place to start the season, it seems like it is going to be a fun event with lots to do. I hope that we can start the season off the right way with a positive weekend and end result. It is always important to have a good start to the season at the first race to get the momentum going for the rest of the year. So we will go out there, give it our best, and hope to have #9 CDW Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone and RSPORTS on the podium this weekend."

-credit: ccws

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