CHAMPCAR/CART: Lausitz: NHR drivers eager for 2003 first oval event

PacifiCare driver Junqueira eager for first oval race of season this weekend in Germany; Lilly driver Bourdais to make his Champ Car oval racing debut at Eurospeedway Lausitz Dresden, GERMANY (May 8, 2003) --- Hot off of their 1-2 finish in ...

PacifiCare driver Junqueira eager for first oval race of season this weekend in Germany; Lilly driver Bourdais to make his Champ Car oval racing debut at Eurospeedway Lausitz

Dresden, GERMANY (May 8, 2003) --- Hot off of their 1-2 finish in last Monday's Champ Car World Series race in England, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) drivers Bruno Junqueira and Sebastien Bourdais are looking forward to a change of scenery when they take to the two-mile EuroSpeedway Lausitz Superspeedway in preparation for the Germany 500 on May 10-11.

With his third podium finish of the season of second place, PacifiCare driver Junqueira closed the gap to points leader Paul Tracy from 26 to 11 with a maximum of 21 available in Germany. He is currently in second place with 53 points to Paul Tracy, 64, after four of 19 events in the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series but he is not ready to settle for second place.

"It was good to finish on the podium again at Brands Hatch but the PacifiCare team is really working hard to win some races this season," said Junqueira, 26. "Paul has already won some races and I know Michel (Jourdain) will probably win some so we need to win as many and even more than them to fight for the Championship. Podium finishes are great but we need to win some in order to get ahead of Paul. We made a compromise for the combined aerodynamic package for the two races since one was on a road course and one was on an oval and were happy to be so competitive in Brands Hatch. Hopefully we will be as competitive or even more this weekend in Germany."

Junqueira earned his first of five poles in his debut on an oval track at Nazareth in 2001 and one of his three victories - Japan '02 -- have come on this type of course. He also earned the pole position for the 2002 Indianapolis 500 but retired from the event after suffering engine and transmission failure. This weekend he will not only attempt to bring the team its first pole on an oval since the 1999 event in Rio de Janeiro (Christian Fittipaldi) but he will also attempt to win his first race of the season and fourth overall after victories in Elkhart Lake ('01), Japan and Denver ('02).

"I'm looking forward to racing on an oval again," said Junqueira. "I really enjoy oval races but one of the best things about CART is that they hold races on road and street courses and ovals. You have to be good on all types of courses to win the Championship."

Still receiving congratulatory messages from friends and fans alike, rookie Sebastien Bourdais is almost ready to put his victory in England behind him in order to concentrate on the next challenge - his debut in American-style oval racing. Ironically his first taste of oval racing will not come in the United States but in Germany. Bourdais underwent a two-day test at the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval on April 16-17 and is ready for this new experience.

"I'm looking forward to the new challenge of racing on an oval," said Bourdais. "I tested for two days in Phoenix and it was quite an eye-opening experience. I watched the oval races on TV but I didn't fully appreciate the skill needed until I did it for myself. Before I thought 'Wow, how hard can it be?' But it is a real test of ability and it's definitely mentally challenging. You don't know where the limit of the car or yourself is but you don't want to have a big moment. It requires 110 percent concentration 110 percent of the time. I'm looking forward to this new challenge."

Despite a strong start in the first three events that had seen him win two pole positions and lead in each of them, Bourdais' top finish was 11th place in St. Petersburg. His victory at the historic Brands Hatch track vaulted him from 16th place in the point standings to sixth with 27 points to leader Paul Tracy's 64.

"It was great to win a race after a few lost opportunities to do it sooner," said Bourdais who was able to celebrate his first victory in Champ Cars with his parents who traveled from Le Mans, France for the event. "The feeling was unbelievable. Everyone on the Lilly team was really happy about this accomplishment. It was good to get that behind us and earn some points in the Championship and move up to sixth place."

Although a win here would be the first for NHR in Germany after having scored victories in the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan and England, both Junqueira and Bourdais have already celebrated victory in Germany. Junqueira won the Formula 3000 round held in Hockenheim, Germany in 1999 and the 2000 event at the Nurburgring en route to earning the season-ending Championship title while Bourdais won the 2002 race at the Nurburgring from pole in his Championship-winning season.

"My best memory of racing in Germany came last year," said Bourdais. "I won the Nurburgring race from pole in F3000. I don't know if we can have as good of a weekend as that in my first oval race but of course we will try."

After a one-year hiatus from racing in Germany, the series will return to the area for their second event and first since 2001. Junqueira started 15th and finished 11th in the 2001 in front of nearly 150,000 fans over the course of the weekend but his results are not the first thing that comes to mind when he recalls the event.

"The fans in Germany are great," said Junqueira. "When we raced here in 2001, I remember it rained everyday and we didn't run but there were so many fans at the track anyway and they were so excited to have us here. On race day 90,000 fans were here. Unfortunately Alex (Zanardi) had his accident. It will be so great to see him. It will be really good for the fans to see him and it will be really great for the drivers as well because he is a role model to us because of the way he handled a very bad situation. He is amazing."

Alex Zanardi, one of the most personable drivers to have gotten behind the wheel of a Champ Car, will serve as the Grand Marshal for this year's German 500. More impressive is the fact that the 1997 and '98 CART champion will make an unprecedented return to the cockpit of a 750hp Champ Car less than two years after suffering the traumatic amputation of both legs during an accident at the 2001 Champ Car race at EuroSpeedway Lausitz. Zanardi will be driving a specially prepared race car with hand controls that will allow him to finish the final 13 laps of the race that he did get to complete in 2001.

Coverage of the German 500 will be available live via the official website of the series, www.champcarworldseries.com. CBS will televised the event on a tape-delayed basis on Sunday, May 11 at 1 p.m. Eastern time.

-NHR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Sébastien Bourdais