CHAMPCAR/CART: Las Vegas: Round one preview

DP01 READY TO MAKE RACE DEBUT AT CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES SEASON-OPENING VEGAS GRAND PRIX Fremont Street in the heart of downtown Las Vegas has witnessed a lot of firsts throughout the town's infamous history, including being the first street to...

DP01 READY TO MAKE RACE DEBUT AT CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES SEASON-OPENING VEGAS GRAND PRIX

Fremont Street in the heart of downtown Las Vegas has witnessed a lot of firsts throughout the town's infamous history, including being the first street to be paved and the first road to see a traffic light hung. This weekend the list will expand as the Champ Car World Series debuts the DP01 chassis at the inaugural Vegas Grand Prix with a familiar face starting a historic quest to win a fourth consecutive Champ Car title, a feat that has never been accomplished.

Over the past three months, Champ Car teams have put the new DP01 through a number of rigorous tests to prepare the chassis for its landmark debut this weekend. During the preseason the DP01 took part in seven days of testing in both dry and wet conditions, and completed over 6000 laps combined, for a total of more than 13,000 miles, and not one of them encountered any major problems.

The Vegas Grand Prix will mark the return of Champ Car to Sin City as the series makes its first appearance in Nevada since leaving Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2005, but the new Vegas Grand Prix will add challenges as the cars and drivers will be seeing a new street course in a car that they have had limited practice time in.

On paper a new event and a new chassis would appear to put the field on even footing, with no driver or team having the advantage of past data to pull from when setting up their cars. However a new course may be just what three-time and defending Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) needs to get his historic title hunt off on the right foot.

Five times in the last four seasons, Champ Car has held inaugural events and in each of those five events Bourdais has been the first car to take the checkered flag at the end of the day. 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, so a sixth straight victory on a new course is just what Bourdais needs to take advantage of in order to make history winning four consecutive Champ Car titles.

Bourdais may be strong at new events, but there are a few other veterans in the field that will pose a threat. Returning to Forsythe Championship Racing for a fifth season, 2003 Champ Car champion Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) will look to bounce back from a tough 2006 campaign that saw the Canadian superstar fail to win a race or a pole for the first time in five seasons.

2006 Champ Car runner-up Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) has yet to win an inaugural event, but he has shown that he adapts to new circuits quickly by not finishing outside of the top-eight in an inaugural event. The statuesque Brit also has an outside pole position to his credit in the inaugural Edmonton Grand Prix.

Mario Dominguez (#7 Telmex/Cabi Developers Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) reunites with Forsythe Championship Racing for the second time in his career as the Mexico City native looks to expand on the successes the two have had in the past. Last year at the inaugural Houston Grand Prix, Dominguez won his first career pole position on a tight street course which in a way mimics the new Las Vegas course. The Mexican pilot also led a race-high and career best 63 laps before settling for a podium finish.

Last year's Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year title holder Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) returns to Team Australia looking to build on a strong rookie season that saw him win his first pole position at his home event in Surfers Paradise and record his first podium finish in the last race of the season in Mexico City. In preseason testing the Australian showed he was comfortable with the new DP01 by posting 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.

Alex Tagliani (#8 LXN2 Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) returns to Rocketsports, which will campaign under the new name RSPORTS for his eighth year of Champ Car competition. The last time that the Canadian joined forces with the team he carried the team to its first and only victory in Road America in 2004.

Sophomore 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 at the Denver Grand Prix and his first pole position in wet conditions in Road America.

Along with the DP01 there will be a number of drivers making their Champ Car World Series debut in Las Vegas amid the veteran racers. Carrying on the family name, Graham Rahal (#2 Medi|Zone Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) joins the Champ Car ranks with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing after an impressive season in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship. The young American set a record in the series for the youngest driver to win an Atlantic event when he won from the pole in Monterrey, Mexico at age 17. Following in the footsteps of his father Bobby Rahal, he went on to collect a total of five wins, was the runner-up in the point standings, led 129 laps and won four pole positions. In pre-season testing Rahal consistently put his car in the top five on the time sheet and claimed the title of fastest rookie in Houston.

2006 Champ Car Atlantic Champion Simon Pagenaud (#15 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) will also be stepping up to Champ Car for the first time this weekend in Vegas. During his stint in Atlantics the young Frenchman recorded consistent performances which included a series high nine top-five finishes and one victory in Edmonton, was enough to earn him the top prize. After learning the nuances of the DP01 at Sebring, the young Frenchman was in the top-six in times at both testing sessions in Houston and Laguna Seca.

Making the voyage across the Atlantic coming from Formula 1 backgrounds are Neel Jani (#21 Red Bull Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) who will be joining PKV Racing and Robert Doornbos (#14 Minardi Team USA Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone). Both drivers participated in preseason testing and were consistently in the top-ten. In fact Jani claimed the title of top rookie at Spring Training on the challenging Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca course.

Two former Atlantic stand outs Ryan Dalziel (#28 Pacific Coast Motorsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) and Alex Figge (#29 Imperial Capital Bank Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) will also be making their debuts with first year team Pacific Coast Motorsports. In Atlantic competition Dalziel earned six wins and seven poles in just two seasons and Figge also has an Atlantic win to his credit.

At the time of press Conquest Racing and Dale Coyne Racing have yet to set a line up for the 2007 season.

The inaugural Vegas Grand Prix will get underway with the first round of qualifying on Friday at 2:00 p.m. local time. The final grid will be set with Saturday qualifying at 2:00 p.m. local time with the race set to take the green flag at 1:00 p.m. local time on Sunday afternoon. Fans can watch all the racing action live on NBC beginning at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.

-credit: ccws

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Series INDYCAR