MIAMI, Fla. (September 24, 2003) --- Miami is the site of fond memories for Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) after then driver Cristiano da Matta clinched the fourth Champ Car World Series title for the team with a victory and teammate Christian...
MIAMI, Fla. (September 24, 2003) --- Miami is the site of fond memories for Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) after then driver Cristiano da Matta clinched the fourth Champ Car World Series title for the team with a victory and teammate Christian Fittipaldi completed a 1-2 domination with second place in the 2002 race here. One year later, the driver lineup may be different at NHR but the goal is still the same for this Sunday's 135-lap Grand Prix Americas Presented by Sportsbook.com.
A good finish in Miami is integral to PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira and McDonald's / Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais separate goals. With only four events remaining in the 2003 Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season, Junqueira hopes to earn his first Champ Car title after finishing second overall to da Matta and NHR last year.
Junqueira's championship bid came to an end last year in the streets of Miami with three races remaining in the season but he and the PacifiCare team hope to maintain the consistency that has seen him earn points in all but three of the 15 races to date as well as an impressive nine podium finishes. His second win of the season in the previous race in Denver from pole moved him to within 18 points of leader Paul Tracy (204-186). With a maximum of 23 points on the table in Miami as well as a combined maximum of 68 in the remaining events in Mexico City (23), Australia (23) and Fontana (22), Junqueira knows he is entering the Home Stretch of the season.
"The race is going to be really important for the Championship," said Junqueira. "Now is the time that every point is important. To get a win and to get closer to Paul Tracy in the championship is going to be really important for me."
Last year on the streets of Miami he started 10th, led 16 laps and finished fifth due to a strategical error by his former team but with da Matta's championship winning finish, Junqueira's focus had to change from winning the title to holding off all threats for second place. He also has to protect his position now as the current spread between first and fifth place is 76 points (204-128) and with a maximum of 91 points available in the final four events, the competition is fierce. Other than Tracy, Junqueira's closest pursuer is Michel Jourdain, 21 points in arrears with 165 to his 186. He and the PacifiCare team need another flawless weekend as well as a repeat of the team's 2002 performance here to remain a contender.
"Last year the race in Miami was really difficult for me," said Junqueira. "I started 10th and began moving up in the field and was leading the race but we made a mistake with the strategy and finished fifth and gave Cristiano (da Matta) the chance to win the Championship. Now that I am driving the PacifiCare car for Newman/Haas I hope to bring them the same result they had last year with Cristiano."
For only the third time in their 25-year history, CART will hold single car qualifying in Miami. In the other two events where single car qualifying was held Junqueira has qualified no lower than third (Brands Hatch, England) and won the pole in the other event (Denver). Starting position is crucial to finishing position on the tight 1.15-mile and the usual qualifying procedure could have had an overwhelming impact on the championship if single car qualifying hadn't been implemented thus giving each driver and opportunity to run his fastest lap time unimpeded by traffic.
"The Miami track is in a very nice part of downtown," said Junqueira. "It's not a long track and that's why CART decided to hold single car qualifying so that everyone will have a chance to get a clear lap in qualifying. It will be difficult for everyone but I hope the PacifiCare car will be really fast on cold tires and I am able to put the car on pole and repeat our last race in Denver."
While Junqueira is aiming for the title, Bourdais could clinch the 2003 Jim Trueman "Rookie of the Year" title this weekend if he scores seven more points than closest challenger Darren Manning. If he is able to accomplish the feat it would be the earliest in the season that the rookie crown has been decided since Juan Montoya took rookie honors en route to the 1999 series title. While Bourdais would be happy to earn the honor, his immediate goal of winning a race or two before the season is complete should help him meet the goal.
"Basically the fight for the Championship is gone now for us," said Bourdais, the reigning International F3000 Champion. "There is a saying in racing "It's first or nothing." That's going to be our motto for the last four races and hopefully we can put the McDonald's / Lilly car in winner's circle as much as possible. The team finished 1-2 in Miami last year and also at the last race. It would be great to do it again in Miami."
For the third of a three-race deal, Bourdais will carry the McDonald's colors along with Lilly. So far the scheme has brought him success. In his first race in the McDonald's / Lilly scheme, Bourdais drove to victory in Cleveland while he finished second in Denver. While many drivers in this year's field raced on the track last year, rookie Sebastien Bourdais has only driven on parts of the course in a rental car or his recently purchased SUV as a resident of Miami. He is looking forward racing near his U.S. base and to the new challenges this track will bring.
"Racing in Miami will be very cool," said Bourdais, who resides in the same condo building that former NHR driver da Matta lived in. "For sure I know a lot of people here now. I'm going to sleep in my own bed and it should be a fun weekend. The track will be similar to the one in Denver (finished second) which was tricky. The surface was slippery and the turns were tight. There is also the chance for some Florida showers, which should make things even more challenging."
Bourdais is currently in fourth place in the championship standings with 142 points to leader Tracy's 204. He is only 23 points behind third place Michel Jourdain who has 165 and 14 ahead of fifth place ranked Patrick Carpentier (128) so the frontrunners are not only aiming to improve their position in the few races remaining, they are trying to protect their position. A good finish for Bourdais in Miami could not only help him clinch "Rookie of the Year," it could help solidify his top-four season-ending rank.
To improve racing conditions, Champ Car Race Operations and the Grand Prix Americas staff have reworked the Miami circuit for this year's event, adjusting the course further east along Biscayne Boulevard and eliminating the portion of the circuit that encircled the parking lot from last season. The result is that six low-gear corners were eliminated and wide corners in Turns 10 and 11 have been constructed to create additional passing opportunities on the 1.15-mile circuit.
As residents of Miami, Junqueira and Bourdais have been busy with promotional events in Miami for the past month and race week will be no different. Junqueira has already made appearances for Bridgestone and Ford as well as took a role in helping select Miss Grand Prix and unveiling the commemorative event poster with Bourdais. Both drivers will made more appearances around town this week as well as at the Gala on Thursday and PacifiCare's function on Friday night.
The popular CBS crime drama CSI: Miami will film a Champ Car-themed episode this weekend in Miami, shooting a show that will deal with a fictional murder at the race track. The show, which will air Monday, November 10, will feature current Champ Car teams and personnel and will include on- and off-track footage shot at the race. CSI Miami actors Adam Rodriguez (Eric Delko) and Rory Cochrane (Tim Speedle), helped kick off weeklong festivities for the Grand Prix Americas Monday by joining members of the Champ Car Fast Lap program in a media outing at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne on Monday. Junqueira joined the actors and City of Miami mayor Manny Diaz along with rookie driver Ryan Hunter-Reay for an afternoon of fun and speed on a specially-designed course set up in the park. Junqueira gave Cochrane a taste of speed while Hunter-Reay thrilled Rodriguez before the actors received a tutorial behind the wheel at the end of the day in the specially prepared Ford SVT Mustangs made a few quick laps around the track.
As part of its new title sponsorship deal with the Trans-Am series and also strengthening its relationship with the Champ Car World Series, mega-concert promoter Motorock signed music legend Elton John to perform Saturday night in conjunction with the Grand Prix Americas at Miami's American Airlines Arena. Motorock has also arranged for Kid Rock to be in concert at the same location on Friday.
"It's going to be really exciting for me to race in Miami," added Junqueira. "It's going to be the first time I have raced at home since I moved there at the end of last year. I'm so close I could walk to the track. I have a lot of friends from Miami that are coming to the race and also a lot that are coming from Brazil and I hope I can have a good race for them. The Miami race is the closest CART race for them to come to. I think half of Brazil is coming to the race and I hope I can get a good result. Me and Sebastien are planning a big Bar-B-Q for the Newman/Haas team at my house on Wednesday to start the week and another one on Sunday night at one of the clubs in town. Hopefully I'll have a good race and will be very happy for the party."
The Grand Prix Americas Presents by Sportsbook.com will take place on Sunday, September 28 at 1:00 p.m. and will be televised live (1 p.m.) or tape delayed (4:30 p.m.) on CBS Sports depending on the area. Saturday's Final Qualifying session will be televised on SPEED on a tape delayed basis beginning at 8:00 p.m. that night. Live audio coverage of the CART Champ Car World Series is available for qualifying on Saturday, September 27 beginning at 1:00 p.m. and the Grand Prix Americas on Sunday, September 28 beginning at 1:00 p.m., on the official web site of the CART Champ Car World Series, www.champcarworldseries.com. All times Eastern.