Pacificare Driver Junqueira and Lilly Driver Bourdais hope to put team in winners circle for 20th Annual G.I. Joe's 200 Portland Grand Prix. PORTLAND, Ore. (June 18, 2003) --- When Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) first came to compete at Portland ...
Pacificare Driver Junqueira and Lilly Driver Bourdais hope to put team in winners circle for 20th Annual G.I. Joe's 200 Portland Grand Prix.
PORTLAND, Ore. (June 18, 2003) --- When Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) first came to compete at Portland International Raceway, it was only the second season for the CART Champ Car World Series team and the first for an event that is now considered a staple of the annual series schedule. Now in it's 21st season in the CART Champ Car World Series, many things have changed at NHR since the inaugural event here in 1984 but one thing remains the same - the team is focused on earning the season-ending title just as they did in 1984 when Mario Andretti brought them their first Championship.
As the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series heads to Portland for Round 8 of 19, the battle for the title is heating up with PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira solidly in the thick of the hunt in second place. After seven events Junqueira is only six points in arrears of leader Michel Jourdain, and two ahead of third place Paul Tracy while Patrick Carpentier is lurking nearby only 19 points back. Any of the top-four drivers could depart Portland in the lead as a maximum of 23 points are available this weekend but team veteran Junqueira knows that both he and the team are capable of putting together a victory here and strengthening the title hope.
"For sure the Newman/Haas car ran strong last year in Portland and I ran strong too so I think we can carry it over to this season," said Junqueira. "I have a lot of confidence in the PacifiCare guys. They have done a great job so far this season to put us in second place in the Championship. I am new at the team but with each race we are working together better and better and hopefully our first win will come soon."
A win in the 20th annual event here would be the seventh for NHR and their 71st to date. Cristiano da Matta won the event last year while Michael Andretti won in 1990, 1991, and 1992 and his father Mario won in 1985 and 1986. Of their 73 pole positions, three have come at this track (Da Matta - 2002; Mansell 1993; Ma. Andretti - 1984). In addition, the team has earned a total of 11 podium finishes here (see chart). In his second race here Junqueira lost the 2002 event to da Matta by a mere 0.625-seconds. He is looking forward to returning to the track he calls one of the best of the season and hopes to maintain the consistency that has earned him six top-five finishes in seven races.
"I like racing in Portland a lot," said Junqueira. "It's a road course that is one of the best tracks of the year with a very fast chicane - I love it! Last year I qualified third, set the fastest race lap and finished second and was putting a lot of pressure on Cristiano - again a Newman/Haas car in front of me. Now I am really happy to return to the track with Newman/Haas and I hope I have a car as good as Cristiano did and have that little extra to win the race. We weren't as competitive as we thought we would be (at the last race) in Laguna Seca. We were able to challenge for the win and finish second but we were a little behind where we thought we would be. Other teams had caught up to us but hopefully that won't be the case in Portland."
After seven events Sebastien Bourdais leads the Rookie of the Year standings on the strength of wins in England and Germany as well as three poles but since those victories he has only been able to earn four points. Due to his immediate success in the series some had forgotten his rookie status until he faced his steepest learning curve to date - a race on the one-mile oval in Milwaukee - although he earned a top-10 finish of ninth place. A third place finish in the next event in Monterey, Calif. was a strong possibility as Bourdais was projected to be able to pit one lap later than then-third-place runner Paul Tracy but unfortunately the pop-off valve failed and he ultimately retired in 17th place. The lack of points combined with Patrick Carpentier's victory moved the Canadian ahead of Bourdais in the standings. He now resides in fifth place with 53 points to leader Jourdain's 89 but a strong finish in Portland could put Bourdais back in the thick of the hunt although he is content to take each new challenge one-by-one.
"The past two races have been a little difficult for the Lilly team so it would be good to get a good result in Portland," said Bourdais. "We are still fifth in the Championship and a good result will keep us in the hunt. We will just take it one race at a time and do the best job possible."
Five of his 36 points have come from being the fastest driver in either the Friday qualifying session, Saturday session or both as well as having led the most laps in Germany. Despite being a rookie, he is ranked third in most laps led to veterans Jourdain (282) and Tracy (227) with a total of 218. Just like the other 18 drivers who will compete on the 1.969-mile layout this weekend, it is the final lap that he wants most to lead - and complete -- this weekend.
"The team has been strong at the track historically so we hope to continue that result," said Bourdais. "A third place finish slipped from our hands in Laguna Seca but that is behind us and we are concentrating on running well in Portland. We are also going to make sure we know the reason for the problems that we had on Saturday and Sunday in Laguna Seca and make sure they are fixed and don't come back in other races."
Also taking place in Portland will be the inaugural Ford Racing Fan Appreciation Night at The Rose Garden Arena on Wednesday, June 18 from 7-9 p.m. The event is being organized by Northwest Ford dealers and sponsored by local media outlets The WB, KWJJ and KOTK. In addition to Junqueira and Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser, Adrian Fernandez, Roberto Moreno, Oriol Servia, Alex Tagliani, Gualter Salles, Mario Dominguez, Joel Camathias and Mario Haberfeld will be in attendance. Fans will get a chance to interact with Champ Car drivers in a question and answer session, in addition to obtaining autographs from their favorite drivers between 6:30 - 7:30 p.m. and again from 7:45 - 8:45 p.m. Attendees can enter to win various prizes including pace car rides, race tickets, and a VIP Honorary Pit Crew Weekend Package courtesy of Ford Racing.
The G.I. Joe's 200 will take place on June 22, and will be broadcast live by CBS Sports at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The race broadcast will be preceded by qualifying coverage on SPEED Channel starting at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time Saturday.