CHAMPCAR/CART: Mexico City: Newman/Haas Racing preview

Same Team, Same Dream; Bourdais or Junqueira to Become Champ on Sunday MEXICO CITY, Mexico (November 3, 2004) --- In their 21 previous seasons, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) has earned four championships with drivers Mario Andretti (1984), Michael ...

Same Team, Same Dream; Bourdais or Junqueira to Become Champ on Sunday

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (November 3, 2004) --- In their 21 previous seasons, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) has earned four championships with drivers Mario Andretti (1984), Michael Andretti (1991), Nigel Mansell (1993) and Cristiano da Matta (2002). Despite earning 85 wins, 81 poles and 200 top-three podium finishes to date since first competing in 1983, the team is in unfamiliar territory this weekend as their two drivers head to the Champ Car World Series season-finale in Mexico City in a head-to-head battle for the same dream - earning the 100-year old Vanderbilt Cup. Regardless of the outcome, NHR will better their best overall team performance of first by da Matta and fifth by Christian Fittipaldi in 2002 since becoming a two-car team in 1989 as they are already guaranteed a 1-2 finish in the 2004 season standings.

PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira drove to victory at the previous race in Australia and kept his championship aspirations alive heading into this weekend's Gran Premio Telmex/Tecate Presented by Banamex season-finale in Mexico City, Mexico. Only 22 points separate Bourdais and Junqueira (335-313) with Bourdais needing only a ninth place or better finish to clinch his first Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford title but the underdog Junqueira hopes to earn the maximum points possible in order to be in a position to capitalize should Bourdais encounter a mechanical failure or be involved in a race incident.

"For sure Sebastien will need to make a mistake or have a problem in Mexico City for the PacifiCare team to win the Championship," said Junqueira, who will celebrate his 28th birthday on Thursday. "Well done Newman/Haas Racing for guaranteeing a 1-2 finish in the championship no matter what happens in Mexico City though. They did a good job this season. The PacifiCare team is going to work hard and be there in the front in Mexico City. If Sebastien has a problem, I'll be there to win the championship. The race in Mexico is going to decide the championship and it's going to be a really important weekend. We have to try to do our best and win the race."

In addition to his two wins this season in Montreal and Australia, Junqueira has earned nine podium finishes in 13 races to date. That consistency as well as the fact that the 2.786-mile Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez permanent road course suites his driving style has him optimistic about the weekend. He started on pole here in 2002 and finished third but was in second place last year but finished seventh due to an ailing engine in a difficult race that started with a stomach ailment which forced a pre-race visit to Champ Car's Medical Unit.

"My race last year in Mexico City was very hard," recalled Junqueira, whose previous championship came in 2000 in the FIA International Formula 3000 series. "I qualified second but I had a big stomach problem. I was doing very well in the race, running second just behind Tracy, for sure still a contender, but unfortunately we had a problem with the engine. It started to lose power and I started to drop back and I finished seventh. It was not a great result but it's a track I like a lot and it suits my driving style. It's a proper road course with high speed corners. It's one of my favorite tracks of the year. The first year I was on pole and I hope I can do it again and have a good race this year."

Not only does Junqueira need to attempt to collect every point available - a maximum of 35 - in order to win his first championship after finishing second overall the past two seasons, his title bid will also rely on Bourdais gaining little if any points. Given this fact, perhaps Bourdais will run a conservative strategy to finish ninth or better while Junqueira and the remainder of the field will be attempting to win. Despite the fact that 13 drivers in Sunday's 19-car field will be looking for their first win of the season, Junqueira doesn't think the season-finale will be any different from the other races this season but he still hopes luck will factor into the outcome.

"A lot of guys are going to take big risks to try to win the race since it's the last race and they have no chance to win the championship but it's the kind of thing you see throughout the year," remarked Junqueira, who still holds the track record for his pole-winning lap in 2002. "Some guys just want to get good results in the races. The PacifiCare team wants to get a good result to give everything to try to win the championship. My girlfriend Luciana came to Montreal from Brazil and brought me luck and I won the race. My youngest sister Caroline came to Australia from Brazil and brought me luck again. Luciana will be coming to a race for the first time since Montreal and hopefully she'll bring me good luck again."

Bourdais came to NHR as the reigning FIA International Formula 3000 champion and finished fourth in the season-ending standings in his rookie season in 2003. This year, Bourdais took over the series points lead for one race after Round 2 in Mexico but regained it after Round 6 in Toronto and went on to increase his lead over second place to a season-high of 58 points after Round 9 in Denver. Contact in two races, coupled with competitive runs by Junqueira, has now trimmed his lead to 22 points -- the smallest it has been since he regained the position, but he is still optimistic of earning the title.

"We still have a strong shot at winning the championship but the McDonald's team really needs to finish (the race) in Mexico City," said Bourdais, 25. "We can't afford to have any mechanical failures or get caught up in an accident. "It's going to be a scary start over there this year."

Bourdais and the McDonald's team have attempted to start up front in order to limit being included in opening lap melees. By doing so, they have set a series record with his streak of 14 consecutive top-three starts dating back to the final race of 2003. The last time he failed to start in the top-three was here in Mexico City where he qualified fourth after getting a slow start to the weekend while he and the team worked on alternate setups. Bourdais believes the team will start off strong this year after finishing a mere 1.782-seconds behind race winner Paul Tracy on this track last year.

"I think we're going to improve our starting position hopefully and that could help us avoid an opening lap accident," said Bourdais, whose previous championship came in 2002 in the International Formula 3000 series. "We struggled in practice last year; we started with two completely different setups between Bruno and I because the team didn't really know what would be fast around there from the year before. It proved to be that Bruno's setup was faster so we merged to it and made some improvements for warmup on race day. I think if we can start the weekend with the baseline from last year we should be in pretty good shape for the event."

Heading into the season-finale Bourdais leads the series with the most wins (six), poles (seven), laps led (443) and qualifying average (1.7). While impressive, Bourdais would rather focus solely on the Mexico City race as a stand-alone event rather than the race that will declare the winner of the Vanderbilt Cup, a contest that has been decided before the season finale the past four years.

In addition to the Mexican fans being treated to a shootout for the championship, they will have the opportunity to cheer for Mexican drivers Mario Dominguez, Michel Jourdain Jr., Rodolfo Lavin, and Roberto Gonzalez. If the 2003 race was any indication there should be plenty on hand as the event set a new series record for event attendance with 402,413 fans and the Sunday crowd of 221,011 set a new record for single-day attendance making it the largest road racing event in North America.

"One of the nicest things in Mexico is the fans," said Junqueira, who speaks Spanish as well as English and his native Portuguese. "Last year had over 400,000 people during the weekend. To have 220,000 people at the track on race day - that's incredible; it makes the drivers feel very good that so many fans come out to our race. It's one of the most exciting races of the year for me, just because of the fans."

"The fans are very impressive," added Bourdais. "To have over 200,000 people around the race track for the race is amazing. It's also really motivating because you get to feel the excitement. There are so many fans there asking for autographs, they come out in huge numbers. That is the reward we have got to give them. They are standing here in the hot sun trying to get an autograph and the least we can do is try to sign as many autographs as possible."

In addition to the fight for the $750,000 bonus that goes along with the Vanderbilt Cup for the champion, there will be a six-figure sidebattle going as drivers chase the $100,000 Corona Cup. The inaugural Corona Cup goes to the Champ Car driver that scores the most total points in the two Mexican races, and will also be decided this weekend. Bourdais leads the way in the Corona Cup points after his win in Monterrey, while Junqueira is seven points behind in second. The Corona Cup and its $100,000 prize will officially be awarded Sunday night at the Champ Car Awards Banquet, to be held at the Camino Real in downtown Mexico City.

On Sunday Bourdais and Junqueira stand a good chance to better the team's best start of second place here in 2002 by Christian Fittipaldi and best finish of second place by Bourdais (2003) and da Matta (2002). Regardless of the finishing results it will be the most monumental season-ending race in the 22-year history of the team. Although the day is sure to end with a 1-2 finish in the championship for NHR as well as the best season in their 22-year, illustrious history, the season isn't over until the checkered flag flies. Every member of the team lives by the credo that the next win is always the best win and that could be the one up for grabs on Sunday.

The Gran Premio Telmex/Tecate Presented by Banamex will get underway with qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday, with the 63-lap season finale taking the green flag at 3 p.m. Central Time on Sunday, November 7. The race can be seen live at 4 p.m. Eastern Time on Spike TV.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, #2 McDonald'sFord-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone:

- IN MEXICO CITY: Will be his second race here. Started fourth in 2003 and finished second.

- IN MEXICO: This will be his fourth race in the country of Mexico. He has earned two poles in the country (Monterrey 2003 & 2004) and one win (2004 Monterrey). With his 2004 win in Monterrey he leads the Corona Cup, a contest that will award the driver who has the most cumulative points from the race in Monterrey and Mexico City, Mexico with $100, 000 USD.

- 2004 OVERVIEW: In 13 events this season, he has won SEVEN poles and SIX races as well as set the fastest race lap five times. Became the first driver since former NHR driver da Matta (2002 - 19 total races) to earn seven poles in one season. Is the first driver to have made 13 consecutive top-three starts to begin a season as well as the first driver to have started in the top-three 14 consecutive times, dating back to the 2003 season-finale in Mexico City.

- LEADS 2004 POINT STANDINGS WITH 335 (+22 over second place): Earned one point for being fastest in final qualifying in Long Beach although he started second to his teammate Junqueira, who set the fastest overall time in qualifying. Ran the fastest lap of the race and finished third...Won the Monterrey, Mexico race from his second consecutive pole at the track as well as set a new track record for his fastest race lap and took over the points lead for the first time in his CCWS career...Started second in Milwaukee but crashed on 50/250 laps and dropped to fourth place in standings with 62 points...Won from pole in Portland after he led 85 of 94 laps...Provisional pole was taken from him in Cleveland on Thursday after CCWS stewards ruled he blocked the qualifying lap of Ryan Hunter-Reay. He started third and won his third race of five this season after leading 88 of 97 laps to move him to second in the standings...Started on pole, led 75 of 84 laps, ran fastest race lap and earned his third consecutive victory in the series as well as his fourth of the season to earn the points lead...Failed to match a series record fourth consecutive victory in Vancouver when he started third, moved into second on the first lap but finished fifth in Vancouver due to a different fuel strategy employed by other teams. Set the second fastest race lap...Started from his fourth pole of the season at Elkhart Lake but finished third due to a race decided on fuel strategy...Won his fifth pole in Denver but contact on the first lap dropped him to 15th place. Charged back to lead the final 11 laps and win by a seven second margin over Paul Tracy...Earned his sixth pole of the season and 11th in CCWS career for a 39% average. Led 26 laps but contact with rookie Allmendinger ended his race in 15th place to close his pre-race lead from 58 points to 34 over second place Junqueira, who went on to win the race. Set the fastest race lap...Led the first lap in Laguna Seca from his seventh pole of season but was hit by P. Tracy on L2 entering the Corkscrew which resulted in a flat tire. Dropped to 14th, was in 9th place when contact with R. Gonzales forced hit to pit for a new front wing. Was in seventh place on the final lap when he went off course and ultimately finished eighth. Points lead narrowed to 24 over second place Junqueira, 275-251...Started third and won back to back superspeedway events after he led 100 laps in Las Vegas to gain four more points on Junqueira (307-280)...Had a chance to clinch the championship in Australia if he gained an additional seven points over his teammate (total of 35). Was the provisional polesitter which allowed him to increase his lead to 28 points over Junqueira. Set the third fastest time in final qualifying but started second based on his prov. pole. Junqueira was able to gain a position on him after his second stop and he ultimately finished second and lost ground in the points lead (335-313, 22 point difference).

- NINE WINS / 12 POLES: Bourdais has earned NINE wins ('03 - England, Germany & Cleveland; '04 - Monterrey, Portland, Cleveland, Toronto, Denver, Las Vegas) and 12 POLES ('03 - St. Pete, Monterrey, Germany, Cleveland, Australia; '04 - Monterrey, Portland, Toronto, Elkhart Lake, Denver, Montreal, Laguna Seca).

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA, #6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone:

- IN MEXICO CITY: Will be his third race here. Set a track record in qualifying in the inaugural race in 2002 with his pole and finished third for Ganassi Racing. Started third in 2003 and fought food poisoning on race day as well as reduce engine performance and dropped from second to seventh place. Is also ranked second in the Corona Cup standings, an award of $100,000 USD will be given to the driver with the highest number of cumulative points from the race in Monterrey, Mexico and Mexico City.

- 2004 OVERVIEW: Finished in the top-four 10 times in 13 races, including TWO wins and SIX second-place finishes. Set the fastest race lap five times.

- SECOND IN 2004 POINT STANDINGS WITH 313 (-22 to Bourdais): Started on pole, led one lap and finished second in Long Beach...Drove to a second place finish after starting fourth in Monterrey, Mexico...Qualified 10th and finished 5th on the only oval race on the schedule in Milwaukee but moved into the lead of the standings with his finish...Maintained points lead after started and finished second in Portland. Was the provisional pole sitter on Friday but received a penalty in Saturday's qualifying and settled for a second place start. Ran the fastest race lap...Started sixth in Cleveland but finished second despite dropping to 13th due to avoiding an opening lap accident. Was his fourth second place finish of the season and third 1-2 for the team. Also set the fastest race lap...Started third in Toronto but was involved in an opening lap accident with Mario Dominguez and retired in 18th place. Lost lead in standings to teammate Bourdais who won the event...A suspension failure led to a crash in final qualifying and he started eighth and finished fourth in Vancouver...Started fourth in Elkhart Lake and ran as high as second place before fuel strategy and contact led to a 15th place finish...Started second in Denver but failed to win his third consecutive race here and finished third. Led the first 39 laps...Won his first race of the season in Montreal after he started fourth and led the final 25 laps...Started eighth and finished second in Laguna Seca to close his deficit to points leader Bourdais from 56 to 24 with three races remaining...Started fourth in Las Vegas and challenged Bourdais for the win while dueling side-by-side for the final 20 laps on the superspeedway to finish 0.06-seconds behind Bourdais. Set the fastest race lap...In Australia, he set the second fastest time in final qualifying but started third as Bourdais was guaranteed a front row start based on being prov. polesitter. Quicker pit stop enabled him to pass Bourdais prior to taking over the lead of the race and subsequently win. Closed his pre-race deficit to Bourdais of 28 points to 22 (335-313). Set fastest race lap.

- SEVEN WINS / EIGHT POLES / 25 TOP-THREE PODIUMS: Won SEVEN races (Elkhart Lake '01, Japan & Denver '02, Elkhart Lake & Denver '03, Montreal & Australia '04) and EIGHT poles ('01-Nazareth; '02-Japan, Elkhart Lake, Denver, Mexico City; '03-Elkhart Lake & Denver; '04 Long Beach). Finished on the podium a total of 25 times (2nd - Portland & Chicago '02, England, Laguna Seca & Vancouver '03, Long Beach, Monterrey, Portland, Cleveland, Laguna Seca & Las Vegas '04; 3rd - Elkhart Lake & Mexico City '02, St. Pete, Long Beach, Cleveland and Toronto '03, Denver '04).

What They're Saying About...

Sebastien Bourdais, #2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone: "We still have a strong shot at winning the championship but the McDonald's team really needs to finish (the race) in Mexico City. We can't afford to have any mechanical failures or get caught up in an accident. It's going to be a scary start over there this year.

"I think we're going to improve our starting position hopefully and that could help us avoid an opening lap accident. We struggled in practice last year; we started with two completely different setups between Bruno and I because the team didn't really know what would be fast around there from the year before. It proved to be that Bruno's setup was faster so we merged to it and made some improvements for warmup on race day. I think if we can start the weekend with the baseline from last year we should be in pretty good shape for the event.

"The fans are very impressive. To have over 200,000 people around the race track for the race is amazing. It's also really motivating because you get to feel the excitement. There are so many fans there asking for autographs, they come out in huge numbers. That is the reward we have got to give them. They are standing here in the hot sun trying to get an autograph and the least we can do is try to sign as many autographs as possible.

"Mexico City is another race track that has fairly long straightaways and for sure having P2P is going to be a huge help. I don't know how many shots we're going to get though. The main straight is so long that you might only get four shots out of the allotment. You're going to have to use it at the right time."

Bruno Junqueira, #6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone: "For sure Sebastien will need to make a mistake or have a problem in Mexico City for the PacifiCare team to win the Championship. Well done Newman/Haas Racing for guaranteeing a 1-2 finish in the championship no matter what happens in Mexico City though. They did a good job this season. The PacifiCare team is going to work hard and be there in the front in Mexico City. If Sebastien has a problem, I'll be there to win the championship. The race in Mexico is going to decide the championship and it's going to be a really important weekend. We have to try to do our best and win the race. A lot of guys are going to take big risks to try to win the race since it's the last race and they have no chance to win the championship but it's the kind of thing you see throughout the year. Some guys just want to get good results in the races. The PacifiCare team wants to get a good result to give everything to try to win the championship. My girlfriend Luciana came to Montreal from Brazil and brought me luck and I won the race. My youngest sister Caroline came to Australia from Brazil and brought me luck again. Luciana will be coming to a race for the first time since Montreal and hopefully she'll bring me good luck again.

"My race last year in Mexico City was very hard. I qualified second but I had a big stomach problem. I was doing very well in the race, running second just behind Tracy, for sure still a contender, but unfortunately we had a problem with the engine. It started to lose power and I started to drop back and I finished seventh. It was not a great result but it's a track I like a lot and it suits my driving style. It's a proper road course with high speed corners. It's one of my favorite tracks of the year. The first year I was on pole and I hope I can do it again and have a good race this year.

"This is the first year to use P2P in Mexico City. There is a very long straight there. You are going to be able to use it and pass the guy in front and it's going to be exciting for the fans in Mexico. One of the nicest things in Mexico is the fans. Last year had over 400,000 people during the weekend. To have 220,000 people at the track on race day - that's incredible; it makes the drivers feel very good that so many fans come out to our race. It's one of the most exciting races of the year for me, just because of the fans."

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Nigel Mansell , Mario Dominguez , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , Rodolfo Lavin , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing