CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland: Round five preview

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS LOOKS TO JOIN UNSER AND FOYT AS ONLY CHAMP CAR DRIVERS EVER TO WIN FIVE STRAIGHT RACES AS SERIES HEADS TO PORTLAND INDIANAPOLIS (June 13, 2006) -- Having conquered the Milwaukee Mile for the first time in his career,...

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS LOOKS TO JOIN UNSER AND FOYT AS ONLY CHAMP CAR DRIVERS EVER TO WIN FIVE STRAIGHT RACES AS SERIES HEADS TO PORTLAND

INDIANAPOLIS (June 13, 2006) -- Having conquered the Milwaukee Mile for the first time in his career, Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford points leader Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) heads to Portland looking to add another first-time achievement to his ever-growing list of Champ Car accomplishments.

But a win at this weekend's G.I. Joe's Presents The Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland would do more than add another notch in Bourdais' belt. A victory in the 1.968-mile Portland International Raceway would elevate the Flying Frenchman to heights reached by only two drivers in the 98-year history of Champ Car racing, while also moving him one step closer to a third consecutive championship--something done only once in those same 98 seasons.

A Bourdais win at Portland - something he already has on his resume thanks to a 2004 romp from the pole position - would move him alongside A.J. Foyt and Al Unser Sr. as the only drivers in series history to win five consecutive Champ Car events. Foyt holds the all-time record with seven straight victories while Unser won five in a row on two separate occasions during his storied career.

His dominance has been as thorough as it has complete over the year's first four races. The Newman/Haas Racing driver has three poles to go with his four wins and has led 267 of the season's 443 laps, a percentage (60.2) that is second only to the 66.8 put up by Unser in 1970 - one of the years that he carded five consecutive wins. In building his win streak, Bourdais has won easily (Long Beach), overcome penalties (Houston) and fought back from a lap down (Milwaukee). He heads to a Portland track this weekend where he has led in each of his previous three visits and where he finished second one year ago.

The early-season rout has prompted a number of changes throughout the Champ Car paddock as championship hopefuls look for a way to keep in touch with the rampaging Bourdais. Three entries will have new drivers behind the wheel in Portland in one of the biggest midseason driver swap to happen in the series in many years.

Defending Portland winner Cristiano da Matta (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) made the first move, vaulting to RuSPORT to partner with last year's Portland polesitter Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Da Matta brings a litany of Portland success as well as a championship pedigree to the Colorado-based team, having won in each of his last two visits to PIR. He led 50 laps a year ago in taking his first win since returning to Champ Car from Formula One, and paced 55 laps in winning the 2002 event on his way to the series title that earned him a two-year stint in F1.

Meanwhile Wilson rolls into Portland with what appears to be his best chance to stop Bourdais' streak, coming off a 2005 Portland run in which he did everything except win the race. Wilson started from pole, then led 43 of the first 45 laps before an oil pump failure ended his day, opening the door for da Matta. Wilson has shown a proclivity for success on the Portland track, scoring his first Champ Car top-five finish there in 2004, then setting a track record on the reconfigured track on his way to the pole last season. Wilson is the only driver that has a mathematical chance of taking the series lead from Bourdais this weekend and has finished second to the two-time series champion in three of the season's four events.

American prodigy A.J. Allmendinger (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) also found a new home, slotting in alongside mentor and former karting team owner Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) at Forsythe Championship Racing. Allmendinger has rebounded well after being collected in a first-lap accident in the season opener, and is tied for fourth in the season standings. He has qualified in the top four in each race this season and has finished fourth or better in each of the last two events. He has also finished sixth or better in each of his last three visits to Portland, including a fourth place run in his titlewinning Atlantic campaign of 2003.

Tracy meanwhile, has won on seemingly every race track on the planet except for Portland. The 30-time Champ Car racewinner has run well at PIR and has finished on the podium in each of his last three Portland starts, but has yet to climb the top step of the podium. He is also trying to rebound from a pair of early-race incidents that have him mired in seventh place in the series standings.

Allmendinger's move sent Mario Dominguez off in search of a seat just one race after he became the first driver since 2000 to lose championship points as a result of an on-track infraction. Dominguez was docked seven points for initiating avoidable contact in Milwaukee, but is still tied for fourth in the series points. At the time of the writing of this event guide, his status for the Portland race had yet to be determined.

The 2006 season has been a good one for the next generation of Champ Car stars as three of the younger drivers in the series are having breakout campaigns. Andrew Ranger (#27 Tide/Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) finds himself in a career-best third position in the championship after finishing seventh or better in the first four races of the season. Ranger had one of the better runs of his rookie campaign a year ago in Portland when he started and finished in the seventh position.

Nelson Philippe (#14 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) scored his first Champ Car podium just two weeks ago in Milwaukee, and did so in convincing fashion, running wheel-to-wheel with both Wilson and Bourdais on his way to a third-place finish. Philippe has a pair of top-five finishes so far this year and has climbed to sixth in the season standings to set a new career high.

Katherine Legge (#20 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) also stepped up and is now just one point out of the lead in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year standings. Not only did Legge set a new standard for herself by finishing sixth in Milwaukee, she became the first female driver ever to lead a Champ Car race, pacing 12 laps around the West Allis oval two weeks ago. Like the other Champ Car Atlantic graduates in the field, she benefits from having run a doubleheader at PIR a year ago in the Atlantic series, scoring a podium finish in one of the weekend's two races.

Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is looking to reprise previous Portland successes in hopes of ending a season-long streak of bad luck. The Brazilian has the second-highest qualifying average (2.8) in the series this year but has just a pair of 10th-place finishes to show for his efforts. Again in Milwaukee, Junqueira was taken out on the first green-flag lap, leaving him to finish 15th. He has finished second, fourth and second respectively in his last three Portland races, although he did miss last year's race due to injury.

Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) suffered some bad luck of his own at Milwaukee as a late-race mechanical failure ended a top-five run, and shaved all but one point off of his lead in the rookie point standings. He set a new career high by qualifying fifth at Milwaukee and is still holding on to a top-10 position in the season standings. He is expected to be re-joined by teammate Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) this weekend after the veteran saw his streak of 107 consecutive race starts snapped at Milwaukee. Tagliani has been a strong qualifier in Portland, starting in the top seven in each of his last four starts, parlaying one of those into a podium position - that coming in 2003.

The Champ Car field will grow by one member this weekend as Rocketsports will field a second car for the series debut of Tonis Kasemets (#18 Flexovit Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Kasemets is another graduate of the Champ Car Atlantic series to move up to the bigger cars in 2006 and does so on a track where he won both ends of the Atlantic doubleheader a year ago. The Estonian driver will partner with Nicky Pastorelli (#8 Rocketsports Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) for what is announced as a six-race deal in 2006.

This weekend's G.I. Joe's Presents The Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland can be seen live Sunday, June 18 on CBS Sports beginning at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. SPEED will re-air the broadcast on its cable network June 24 beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern. 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.

WHOS HOT

Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) continued his assault on the record book as he collected his fourth consecutive win by conquering the Milwaukee Mile for the first time in his career. It was the third time he won from the pole position this season, but it was far from easy. The Flying Frenchman overcame a flat tire that put him a lap down to collect the victory. In three starts at Portland Bourdais has one win from the pole to his credit.

Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will resume his pursuit of Bourdais in Portland this weekend. Wilson has been on the Frenchman's heels all season collecting three runner-up finishes. The Brit has yet to finish outside of the top-five in 2006. At the Portland course last year Wilson took the pole position and led 43 of the first 45 laps, before his car was felled by mechanical problems.

Katherine Legge (#20 Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) notched her place in the Champ Car history books in Milwaukee becoming the first woman to ever lead a race, battling off a hard charging Wilson for twelve laps. At the end of the day, the Briton set another mark by finishing the race in the sixth position, which is the highest mark for a female in Champ Car competition. The finish also boosted her into second in the rookie point standings, one point from the lead.

Nelson Philippe (#4 CTE Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) scored the first podium of his young Champ Car career and managed his best-ever series finish with a third-place run on the Milwaukee Mile. The nineteen year old Frenchman battled wheel-to-wheel with Champ Car veteran Oriol Servia (#6 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) for most of the day. His third place run vaulted Philippe from tenth to sixth in the championship point standings.

Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) set a new career best mark in Milwaukee coming home in the eighth position. He currently sits in third in the rookie of the year point standings.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

A.J. Allmendinger (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will make his first start with a team other than RuSPORT and will do it on a track where he has had strong runs in the past. In Portland last year Allmendinger started on the outside of the front row and finished in fifth. In one Atlantic and two Champ Car starts Allmendinger has yet to qualify outside of the top five and finish outside of the top six.

Cristiano da Matta (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) could be considered a two-time defending race winner at Portland after his victory a year ago. The Brazilian won in 2002 on his way to the series championship, then ran two seasons in Formula 1 before returning to score victory last season. Da Matta started 10th last year and used a creative pit strategy to get in front. Once at the front of the field he ran away, winning by more than ten seconds.

Tonis Kasemets (#18 Flexovit Abrasives Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) may be making his first Champ Car career start this weekend, but he is doing it on a track that he has found some success on. In last year's two Atlantic races Kasemets scored two victories and one pole position.

Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will return to Portland after missing the event a year ago, and carries the confidence earned by a strong resume of success on the 1.968-mile track. The Brazilian finished second there in 2002 and in 2004 and made up nine spots to finish fourth in the 2003 event. Despite those strong finishes, Bruno is yet to lead a lap at PIR.

DID YOU KNOW?

Portland is the largest city in the state of Oregon. It is also the second largest city in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Only Seattle, Washington is larger. Portland is known as "The City of Roses" or "Rose City", nicknames that originated during the 1905 Lewis and Clark centennial exposition. Its climate is ideal for growing roses, and the city has many rose gardens, including the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. In fact, Portland has the highest parks-per-capita ratio of all cities in the United States. The Portland Rose Festival first held in 1907, takes place during the month of June. The first race was held during the event in 1909, in fact that year's program describes it as "Forty of the fastest cars in America to contest, driven by some of the most noted drivers in the world." Champ Car became a part of the racing festivities in 1984 and held up the tradition of assembling some of the best drivers in the world. The Grand Floral Parade is the centerpiece of the festival and the second largest all-floral parade in the United States. This year Sebastien and Claire Bourdais were the Grand Marshals of the event leading into this weekend's race.

BY THE NUMBERS

99 -- How many years the Portland Rose Festival has been a staple in the community. 50 -- How many laps da Matta led on the way to his victory here last year. 33 -- The number of breweries within the city limits, Portland is home to more breweries than any other city in the world. 23 -- This year celebrates the 23rd time Champ Car has raced in conjunction with the Portland Rose Festival. 13 -- The number of years since the Portland event has had a repeat pole winner. 9 -- How many races Sebastien Bourdais has won in his last eleven events. 3 -- The most wins a single driver has in Portland (Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr.). 0.027 -- Time in seconds that separated Mark Blundell from Gil De Ferran in 1997's Portland event as Blundell won the closest race in Champ Car history

-cc

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Al Unser Jr. , Bruno Junqueira , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Mark Blundell , Mario Dominguez , Al Unser Sr. , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Katherine Legge , Nelson Philippe , Andrew Ranger , Will Power , Tonis Kasemets , Nicky Pastorelli , A.J. Foyt , Cristiano da Matta , Dan Clarke