CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: NHR searching for their first win of season

Newman/Hass Racing heads for the Beach in search of their first win of the season in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach -- sponsor PacificCare prepares for 'home' event. LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 9, 2003) --- Pre-season championship ...

Newman/Hass Racing heads for the Beach in search of their first win of the season in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach -- sponsor PacificCare prepares for 'home' event.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 9, 2003) --- Pre-season championship favorites Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) will hit the beach this weekend in search of their first win of the season in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Round 3 of 18 in the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Racing enthusiasts say that the best win is the next one and NHR couldn't agree more. They would not only like to win their fourth race at this venue but they would also like to produce a good result for Cypress, Calif.-based sponsor PacifiCare.

The team would like to carry over the competitiveness they displayed in the 2002 Long Beach race but unlike last year, they hope to have a trouble free event for their 2003 driver lineup of Bruno Junqueira and rookie Sebastien Bourdais. In the 2002 event, former driver Cristiano da Matta looked set to match a CART record fourth consecutive victory after he built a seven second lead on the field. Unfortunately he was taken out of contention when he was hit while attempting to pull out of his pit box on his second of three stops and ultimately finished eighth. Da Matta's teammate Christian Fittipaldi ran as high as third but retired with transmission failure. In total the team has earned seven pole positions, seven podium finishes and three wins here - the most recent coming in 1987 by Mario Andretti.

After earning two top-five finishes as well as a trophy for setting the fastest race lap in the two events so far this season Junqueira plans to make his third race with NHR as well as his third on the streets of Long Beach a charm. To increase the odds of earning a strong results, history is on his side as the car displaying the prestigious No. 1 has won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach 12 times in 28 years.

"Last year I started in third place and ran the fastest lap of the race but I had some problems and crashed," said Bruno Junqueira, driver of the No. 1 PacifiCare Ford/Lola/Bridgestone race car. "I didn't score any points so I want to improve on the qualifying position as well as the finish. This year, for it to be PacifiCare's home race and an event that they also sponsor, it will be very special for us as well as an important race to put the car on the podium. I think Newman/Haas Racing and myself are delighted to have PacifiCare on our car this year. It's their first year in motor racing. They are putting in a big effort and really doing a lot of things that are pretty nice. I qualified well here last year and Newman/Haas led the race with Cristiano and probably could have won it if they didn't get hit in the pits. Both of those things should help us to have a good car this year and hopefully add something extra for the PacifiCare car and start from the pole, lead the race and win."

His teammate Bourdais, driver of the No. 2 Lilly race car, will continue to get acclimated to his new surroundings in Long Beach as one of nine rookies in the Championship. Bourdais was the first driver since Nigel Mansell (1993) to win the pole position in his first two Champ Car events although Mansell accomplished the feat in the first and third races of the season after a practice accident prevented him from competing in the second (Phoenix). The only CART driver to have ever won the first three pole positions of the season was Mario Andretti in 1987 however no rookie has ever accomplished the feat. Although Bourdais would rather won the pole and the race, he would be more than pleased to earn his third consecutive pole in the series and bring NHR its 10th pole in the past 18 races.

"I'm looking forward to the Long Beach race," said Bourdais, 24. "I watched the last few races on TV. I think it compares a bit to Monaco. As I won in Monaco, had the pole, I would enjoy to do it again."

The young Frenchman has led the race from pole position in both events to date but would like to have his first trouble free race in the series in Long Beach. After a brush with the wall ended his race in St. Pete and another difficult race in Mexico that included radio failure, a troubled pit stop and another race-ending brush with the wall, Bourdais and the Lilly crew know that the competitive momentum will result in a strong finish soon.

"We started very well, said Bourdais. "We had two poles. To be honest, I was really surprised to get these results. It's a lot higher than the expectations we could have had since the beginning of the year. After the (initial) test, we all knew that it was possible to get some good results, but it's always a bit of a surprise to get two poles like that in a row, especially in Monterrey, because we started pretty far off the pace. It's been a bit of surprise to get the second one, especially. But during the races, we were leading in both of the first events, and we didn't succeed to get the final result. It's a bit of frustration. But, anyway, we were also competitive on both weekends. All I can expect is to finally win one soon."

In it's 20th season on the CART schedule and 28th to hold a racing event, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is a one of the most celebrated events of the season not only for the excitement produced by the 750-horsepower Champ Cars but also for the party like atmosphere of the weekend. An annual celebrity race, as well as a concert and historic car race make the three-day event one-of-a-kind.

The Toyota Pro Celebrity race features luminaries from the world of entertainment doing battle in identically-prepared Toyota Celicas as they battle for bragging rights on the same street course that will host the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, model Angie Everhart and Olympic skiing champion Picabo Street will join entertainers such as Adam Carolla, Peter Reckell and Jesse James in the Saturday race, which will also see a contingent of Pro racers such as Jeremy McGrath, Milka Duno and Shawna Robinson.

Multi-platinum recording artists the Gin Blossoms will add their name to the growing list of popular rock bands that have performed at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach's Rock-N-Roar Concert Series when they take center stage after the races on Saturday, April 12. The concert will be held on the Fountain Music Stage, located in front of the Terrace Theater at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, at approximately 5 p.m. on Saturday and is free to all Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Saturday ticket holders.

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will celebrate its F1 roots during the weekend as classic Formula One cars will roar again in the Historic Grand Prix. A Sunday morning race will feature the actual F 1 cars that ran at Long Beach from 1976-83, including Mario Andretti's 1978 world championship-winning John Player Lotus 79, and cars driven by Gilles Villeneuve, Keke Rosberg, Niki Lauda and Tom Pryce.

Television coverage for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will kick-off with live coverage of Saturday's Qualifying session beginning at 4:30 p.m. while race coverage will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 13 with the 30-minute pre-race show. Coverage of the 90-lap race will begin at 4:00 p.m. All three programs are on SPEED Channel and all times are Eastern.

-NHR-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Milka Duno , Shawna Robinson , Bruno Junqueira , Christian Fittipaldi , Mario Andretti , Niki Lauda , Sébastien Bourdais , Jeremy McGrath , Keke Rosberg , Peter Reckell , Jesse James