McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS AND MEDI | ZONE DRIVER RAHAL HOPE TO PUT DIFFICULT WEEKEND IN LAS VEGAS BEHIND THEM WITH A STRONG FINISH IN THE 24TH ANNUAL TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH
LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 11, 2007) --- After a disappointing weekend in 2007 Champ Car World Series season-opener in Las Vegas last weekend, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal are hoping familiar surroundings will lead to familiar results at this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
"The Las Vegas event was difficult for the McDonald's team between bad luck with the tire punctures and the mistakes," said Bourdais who charged from the back of the pack into third place before contact ended his day. "We have run well in Long Beach with podium finishes since 2004 and winning the past two races so it would be good to carry that over and do it again this year and get our season going."
The 2006 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was the beginning of a four race win streak for Bourdais last season and the bulk of his seven for the season. He not only repeated his 2005 win here last year, he scored the maximum points after setting the fastest time in both qualifying sessions, setting the fastest race lap and winning the event. He is hoping to return to that sort of weekend on the 1.968-mile course on the streets of Long Beach.
"You need something -- I wouldn't say you need luck -- but you need things not to be against you in order to win a championship," added Bourdais, who drove his motor coach from Las Vegas to Long Beach in order to see more of the United States. "Even more this year, that will be the case while we work on the reliability of these new cars."
Bourdais has the rare opportunity to win four consecutive championships this year if he can again capture the Vanderbilt Cup. He would be making history as no Champ or Indy Car driver has ever won four straight championships. Four in a row is very rare in professional sports. In fact it has never been done in either NASCAR or the NFL and it hasn't been accomplished in the last twenty years in the NBA, NHL or MLB. Bourdais and his McDonald's team are putting in long hours in attempt to accomplish this goal.
"To be able to make history with a fourth consecutive championship for the McDonald's team is a big motivation but I don't need that to go at it and work hard," said Bourdais who has won in two of his four starts here and finished third in another. "The guys put in so many hours in the off-season and again at Las Vegas. I think realistically the team has been doing a fantastic job for three years in a row now and when you get to the top the only thing you want to do is stay there so we don't need extra motivation."
Since the series started racing in Long Beach in 1984, the team has earned five wins, 9 poles and 13 podium finishes with Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Bruno Junqueira and Bourdais. That record has earned the team an inv itation to be included in the Long Beach Walk of Fame on Thursday at 2 p.m. PT near the race track. Driver Brian Redman and race promoter Chris Pook will be inducted in addition to Newman/Haas Racing.
Although his Champ Car debut ended early in Las Vegas, rookie driver Graham Rahal would like nothing more than to earn a strong result for the Medi | Zone team in Long Beach and add to the list of team results. He is currently experiencing a steep learning curve but having to learn the track layout in Long Beach like he did in Las Vegas isn't on the list.
"Both the Medi | Zone and McDonald's teams had a tough start to the season in Las Vegas but we're going to put that behind us and focus on getting the job done in Long Beach," said Rahal, who started seventh and finished fifth in the Atlantic series. "It's a place that the team has run well on recently and a place that I have experience on as well. I made my Atlantic debut in Long Beach last year. We were on pole in qualifying until the very last lap. I was told over the radio 'Hey you're on pole; you don't need to worry about pushing.' I thought everybody else was finished when they told me and I came into the pits and I was seventh so that was a bummer. In the race, on the very first lap I hit the wall -- the left hander in the hairpin on the front straight. I just brushed the wall and bent the inside suspension so the car had massive understeer the whole race. Otherwise I think we could have finished on the podium but we finished fifth."
A total of eight rookies will compete in the Champ Car race in Long Beach, but only three have never raced on the track: Robert Doornbos, Neel Jani and Tristan Gommendy. Four other rookies in addition to Rahal competed in the Atlantic series here and hope to have a slight edge. Rahal may not have been born when the first Champ Car race was run on the streets of Long Beach but he understands the significance of the event.
"Long Beach is a historic event," said Rahal, 18. "In a lot of ways it's like Monaco or any of these types of events. Number One, being next to the ocean is awesome; people love it. The atmosphere of the city is great; they really get into the event. That's why the race has become so popular. It's been around so long that a lot of people not only enjoy going to the race but they also know when it's going to happen and that they can count on it each year. For me, it's an exciting event to go to. It's tough to compare it to the Indy 500 but it's got to be up there with the best events."
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is a week-long street festival with plenty of activities for all ages. While most drivers are able to relax at the end of the day and partake in these events, Rahal will be balancing school with his racing duties -- at least for another month.
"While I'm in Long Beach my high school career will slowly be coming to a close so I won't have to worry about it too much but I do know there will be things I need to stay on top of since I will be missing school while I'm there," said Rahal, a senior at New Albany High School in Ohio. "It's going to be tough to keep up but I will try to do it early in the week and hopefully I'll just be able to relax and focus on what I have to do on track later in the week."
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach 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 12:30 p.m. local time on Sunday afternoon. Fans can watch all the racing action live on NBC beginning at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time. As always, fans can follow the action from every on-track session via the Race Director feature on the official website of the Champ Car World Series, www.champcar.ws.