McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS HOPES TO REGAIN GROUND IN TITLE FIGHT AFTER RUNNING STRONG AT THE TEST FOR THIS WEEKEND'S CHAMP CAR MONT-TREMBLANT; MEDI | ZONE DRIVER RAHAL PLANS TO CONTINUE GAINING MOMENTUM MONT-TREMBLANT, Quebec, Canada --- ...
McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS HOPES TO REGAIN GROUND IN TITLE FIGHT AFTER RUNNING STRONG AT THE TEST FOR THIS WEEKEND'S CHAMP CAR MONT-TREMBLANT; MEDI | ZONE DRIVER RAHAL PLANS TO CONTINUE GAINING MOMENTUM
MONT-TREMBLANT, Quebec, Canada --- McDonald's driver Sebastien Bourdais saw his advantage over second place in the quest for an unprecedented fourth straight title take a hit at the previous race in Cleveland when he retired with engine failure while second. Bourdais went from a pre-race advantage of 11 points to a mere three ahead of Robert Doornbos, who took over second with his fourth podium finish in five events. Bourdais has won five out of the last seven inaugural events on the Champ Car schedule and set the fastest lap at a test here in May so the team is hoping for a strong finish at this weekend's inaugural Champ Car Mont-Tremblant, the 400th event for the newly-renamed Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.
"The McDonald's and Medi | Zone cars were probably the best two cars at the test," said Bourdais, of the test at the 2.65-mile Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant permanent road course. "On our side we had a very productive test session. The track is beautiful. It's a natural race track with big elevation changes. It's blindingly fast but the only downside is that there is a possibility of big wrecks. It should be a great show for the fans for sure."
The inaugural Champ Car Mont-Tremblant race takes place in the heart of the Laurentians this weekend and will mark the official return of Champ Cars to the 2.65-mile natural road course since before the CART / Champ Car era, 39 years ago. The series last visited Le Circuit in 1968 when Mario Andretti won from the pole position. The circuit, a fast, 15 turn mix of up hills, down hills and blind corners, is known as one of the most demanding in the world and was highly rated from all the Champ Car drivers who tested there in May.
For the past five years prior to coming to Mont-Tremblant, the series has competed at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve approximately one hour away in Montreal. Bourdais won the Montreal event last year from pole and brought the team its third win at the track, fourth pole and fourth podium finish. Champ Car has many dedicated fans in this part of the country and Bourdais hopes to see many of them this weekend.
"Even though it's not in Montreal, and a drive from there, I think the fans should come because the show is going to be awesome, probably even better than it was in Montreal," said Bourdais who will see more of Canada while driving his motorhome 400 miles between Mont-Tremblant and the next race in Toronto. "Mont Tremblant is a much nicer track to drive but it's a little farther for the fans that live in Montreal. It's going to take a little bit of effort from the fans to come out but in the meantime it's not a bad place to spend a weekend. Hopefully the fans will come out."
So far this season Bourdais has won all three of the five races he finished. He retired after contact in the season-opener in Las Vegas and suffered his first race car related retirement in 49 races in Cleveland. He enters Round 6 of 16 with a three point lead over Doornbos (117-114), 12 over third place Will Power (117-105) and only 25 over fifth place Justin Wilson (92) while a race win pays 31 points. Frenchman Bourdais, who hails from Le Mans, and just returned from a quick trip to France after the Cleveland race for a Tag Heuer appearance, should feel that he never left his homeland.
"It (Mont-Tremblant) is a little like home," said Bourdais who is one of eight drivers competing this weekend who speak French. "The French Canadians have different expressions and different accents but the language is still French. It's nice to get there; it feels a little like home. The little town feels very much like a ski resort and I like those sorts of places since I'm a big fanatic about skiing."
Medi | Zone driver Graham Rahal is also a ski fanatic and is not only looking forward to spending time in the area but also continuing to make progress and carry on the momentum that saw him lead his first Champ Car race at his home event in Cleveland last weekend.
"I think the Medi | Zone team will be very competitive in Mont Tremblant," said Rahal who drove here from his home in Ohio and will stay at his mother's family home in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada before traveling to Toronto for the next event. "I think we have begun to find a setup that I truly love driving, and it should be applicable to the upcoming events. I believe with all the momentum this team has going forward, we should be among the front runners this weekend."
Le Circuit consists of a 15-corner design which utilizes the natural topography of the land and is considered one of the finest and most demanding circuits in the world. The hillsides around the track provide natural grandstands affording spectators with magnificent elevated vantage points. The first event was held on August 3, 1964, on the short 12-turn North Loop. In 1965 the circuit was expanded to its current 2.65-mile layout. Famous names like Villeneuve, Andretti, Stewart, Moss and Graham's father, Bobby Rahal, have all raced here on what Michael Schumacher described as the Little Nurburgring.
Rahal is currently tied with former Atlantic rival Simon Pagenaud for seventh place in the overall point standings as well as for second in the Rookie of the Year battle. Both drivers have 74 points to leader Bourdais' 117 and rookie leader Doornbos' 114. As a rookie, every mile of testing is beneficial and Rahal believes the progress made since testing here will show this weekend.
"The test was very helpful for us, especially at learning the circuit," said Rahal. "It is a very difficult place to learn, and getting to understand all of the elevation changes was quite interesting. I think on the setup front we have learned a lot recently -- post Mont Tremblant test, that will help us there but to return with the baseline we found in testing should also be advantageous to us."
"The track is awesome; it's very fast and the drivers have to be extremely brave," added Rahal. "I think it will host a great event and hopefully we'll get a lot of fans at the event. The area is beautiful. I'm a skier so I love going to places like Mont Tremblant. It's a beautiful area with a lot of beautiful scenery. The track is in the perfect location. Hopefully, if all the wildlife stays away it will be exciting and in a pretty setting."
The first round of qualifying will take place at 2:15 p.m. Friday while the starting line-up for the Champ Car Mont-Tremblant race will be set at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 30. Round 6 on the 2007 Champ Car World Series schedule will take place at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 1 and will be broadcast live on ESPN in the United States and on Global TV in Canada (all times eastern).