CHAMPCAR/CART: Mexico City: Season finale preview

CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES TO PUT WRAPS ON SUCCESSFUL 2006 SEASON AT MEXICO CITY INDIANAPOLIS (November 11, 2006) - With this year's Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford championship returning to its newfound home in...

CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES TO PUT WRAPS ON SUCCESSFUL 2006 SEASON AT MEXICO CITY

INDIANAPOLIS (November 11, 2006) - With this year's Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford championship returning to its newfound home in Tampa, Florida, the focus of the 2006 season finale shifts to the here-and-now as 18 drivers head to Mexico City's challenging Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez looking to stake their claim on a spot in the new-look 2007 Champ Car World Series.

The Gran Premio Telmex Presentado por Banamex will feature an intriguing mix of veterans looking to raise their stock battling alongside a new generation of prospective Champ Car pilots making their first trips to the demanding Mexico City road course. Making things more interesting this weekend is the fact that while this will be the fifth consecutive season that the Champ Cars have traveled to one of the world's most populous cities, drivers veteran and rookie alike will face a new layout that incorporates the fabled Peraltada turn for the first time.

The Peraltada was an infamous 180-degree high-banked sweeping turn when the track was constructed in 1962, testing the mettle of both man and machine. It was on this corner where Ricardo Rodriguez (one of the two racing brothers for which the track is named) lost his life in a non-points Formula 1 race in '62. The corner is a tamer version of the one where a number of F1 drivers - including the legendary Ayrton Senna - were involved heavy crashes, but will be new to the Champ Car field as the previous track layout wound its way through the baseball stadium that was built on the inside of the turn.

New layouts have yet to prove much of a problem for three-time series champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) as the Newman/Haas driver has won on each of the last five inaugural events on the Champ Car calendar, including this year's maiden voyage in Houston. Mexico City is a track that carries particularly fond memories for Bourdais as it was there in 2004 where the Frenchman led wire-to-wire to clinch his first Champ Car title, narrowly avoiding disaster when he spun on the entrance to the stadium complex while leading by 14 seconds, but righted the ship and went on to the win.

But as good as Bourdais was in winning the title a second time last year, it was RuSPORT's Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) that was the dominant force in Champ Car's last trip to Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Wilson rolled from pole and led 65 of 70 laps last year in pacing a 1-2 RuSPORT sweep, but will have to overcome a broken wrist to repeat his feat in 2006. Wilson missed the Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise after breaking a bone in his hand early in the weekend, but is slated to return to the cockpit this weekend. The move could be worth an extra $50,000 for Wilson as he needs just 17 points to pass the inactive A.J. Allmendinger for second in the series standings. The second-place season finish, which pays a bonus of $250,000 as opposed to $200,000 for third, will go to Wilson if he finishes seventh or better in Sunday's 66-lap race.

Of course, no matter what action takes place on the track, the majority of the focus of the huge crowd will be on Mario Dominguez (#8 Pemex/GISCA/Del Valle Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), as the popular Mexican veteran looks to reprise his 2003 Mexico City podium that thrilled the crowd more than Paul Tracy's victory. Dominguez comes to his hometown race fresh off of his best 2006 effort, carrying the Rocketsports machine to a second-place finish in Australia. With Tracy sitting out the Mexico City event due to an injury, Dominguez could vault all the way to fourth place in the final standings with a strong performance. Currently sixth with one race to run, the Mexican veteran is 16 points out of the fourth spot heading into the weekend.

But in order to get into that fourth spot, Dominguez will have to content with the most recent entrant into Champ Car's winner's circle. Nelson Philippe (#4 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) became the youngest driver ever to win a Champ Car event when he held off Dominguez for the victory in Surfers Paradise, and climbed to fourth in the season standings with the win. Philippe has had a breakthrough season with a quintet of top-five finishes, as has the entire CTE Racing - HVM organization. The team, which only had two top-five finishes between two cars all last season, has exploded in 2006 with Philippe and rookie contender Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Clarke's hopes for the rookie crown took a hit in Australia but his resume of six top-10 finishes this year includes a podium finish in Road America, which came in a race where he started from pole for the first time in his young career.

The man Clarke is chasing for Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year honors carries the momentum of his first Champ Car pole into the weekend as Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) looks to sew up the rookie crown. Power, who thrilled his home fans by pacing both qualifying sessions in Surfers Paradise and leading the first 13 laps of the day, leads Clarke by 15 points heading into the weekend. Power does have a slight advantage over Clarke in the fact that he competed at Mexico City a year ago, scoring the first top-10 of his series career, placing 10th after starting 13th

Another driver looking to make a big jump in the standings - and therefore a big jump in the post-season bonus money - makes his return to Mexico City after missing the 2005 race with an injury. Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole in The Wall camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) sits between Dominguez and Power in the season standings, but may be the most well-poised to make a jump, given his prior successes on the 2.8-mile layout. Junqueira sat on the pole for the 2002 event and has never started lower than third at Mexico City in his three previous starts. He has been on the podium twice, including finishing as the runner-up to teammate Bourdais in 2004, but has yet to lead a single lap at the track.

As was the case last season, the 2006 season finale will provide a couple of drivers with their first taste of Champ Car competition. But while the two drivers making their debuts this weekend have never started a Champ Car race, they are at polar opposites of the experience scale. Buddy Rice (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and David Martinez (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will carry the flag for the Indianapolis-based Forsythe Championship Racing squad in Mexico City, Martinez taking over for the injured Paul Tracy while Rice steps into the #7 car vacated by Allmendinger. Rice, the 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion as well as the 2000 Champ Car Atlantic Series titlewinner, has been a regular in the Indy Racing League with three-time Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal's squad. Martinez has never competed in the upper tier of American open-wheel racing, but has spent the last two seasons in Champ Car Atlantic competition, finishing fifth in each of the last two seasons. Both drivers tested the Forsythe Champ Cars last week at MSR Houston in preparation for their Mexico City debuts.

One of the drivers that made his first Champ Car start one year ago at Mexico City comes to this year's event in the nation's capital riding a seven-race streak of consecutive top-10 finishes. Charles Zwolsman (#34 Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) finished 13th in his debut a year ago, but has shown steady and consistent improvement this year, and has finished a career-high seventh in each of the last two races. His seven-race top-10 streak is the best among the deep and talented Champ Car rookie class this season, and has propelled him to 13th in the season standings with one race to go.

A pair of series veterans come to Mexico City in a tense battle for the final berth in the season-long top ten, and the $50,000 bonus that goes with it. Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) currently holds the 10th position in the points while PKV Racing's Oriol Servia (#6 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) sits just five points back. Of the two, Servia has had the better luck in Mexico City with three top-10 results in his four prior starts, including a fourth-place finish a year ago. Tagliani also had his best Mexico City effort a year ago, finishing eighth after starting 11th.

The battle for the top 10 also includes second-year driver Andrew Ranger (#27 Wal-Mart/Tide Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who is currently a single point ahead of Tagliani in the standings. Ranger solidified his spot by earning his first top-five of the 2006 season, with a fifth-place run in Surfers Paradise, coming from 12th on the starting grid to claim the fifth spot. Ranger, who has been earned the championship point for gaining the most positions in a series-high four races this year, followed the same modus operandi a year ago in Mexico City, storming from 17th on the grid to place ninth.

Along with the debuting drivers, a pair of pilots will enter their second Champ Car weekend having shaken the first-race jitters in Australia. Dale Coyne Racing's Andreas Wirth (#19 Sonny's Bar-B-Q Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Ryan Briscoe (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) each had successful opening runs with their respective squads in Surfers Paradise, Wirth gaining eight spots from his grid position to finish ninth while Briscoe started and finished 11th.

This weekend's Gran Premio Telmex Presentado por Banamex can be seen live on SPEED on Sunday, November 12 beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. SPEED will also broadcast a 30-minute show covering the highlights from Friday and Saturday qualifying, which will air Saturday evening at 10:30 p.m. 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.

-credit: ccws

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Bruno Junqueira , Bobby Rahal , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Ricardo Rodríguez , Mario Dominguez , Ayrton Senna , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , David Martinez , Andrew Ranger , Charles Zwolsman , Will Power , Andreas Wirth , Dan Clarke
Teams Conquest Racing