McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS SETS HIS SIGHTS ON 'THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY' AT THIS WEEKEND'S GENERAC GRAND PRIX AT ROAD AMERICA; MEDI | ZONE DRIVER RAHAL HOPES TO REPEAT STRONG TESTING PERFORMANCE HERE Road America was the site of the Newman/Haas...
McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS SETS HIS SIGHTS ON 'THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY' AT THIS WEEKEND'S GENERAC GRAND PRIX AT ROAD AMERICA; MEDI | ZONE DRIVER RAHAL HOPES TO REPEAT STRONG TESTING PERFORMANCE HERE
Road America was the site of the Newman/Haas Racing's first victory in 1983 by Mario Andretti which was appropriate since the picturesque four-mile track was also the catalyst of what has become a storied career in racing for Carl Haas, whose first experience with the sport came here. Now in their 25th season of Champ Car competition, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) hopes to add to their 101 wins and 103 poles at the track that has brought them the most success of all tracks they have competed on.
This year's Champ Car Generac Grand Prix at Road America will mark the 25th event for the series at the permanent road course and it will be the 24th for NHLR. Although they have earned nine wins, seven poles and 19 podiums at this track, the team hasn't won here since Bruno Junqueira drove to victory in 2003 despite having competitive and, sometimes, dominant cars here in recent history. The proximity of the course to the team's Lincolnshire, Ill. base makes it a 'Home Event' and a win here would be celebrated by many.
"Elkhart Lake is definitely our garden," said Bourdais, driver of the No. 1 McDonald's race car. "It's the closest race to our shop and a lot of the families of the team members come for the race and it's definitely, more than ever, a family atmosphere. It would be really good to win the one that the McDonald's team never won. There would be a big celebration if we could finally get a win at Elkhart Lake after having such a good car there."
In the three previous events Bourdais has run at Road America, he was a contender for pole every time but only won it once (2004) while intermittent rain limited his start to second place on two other occasions. He finished second to then-teammate Junqueira in 2003 but strategy played a large role in the events in 2004 and 2006 and he finished third. After starting from pole in 2004, a miscue on a restart that had the pace car in the middle of the track, the timing of the caution flags and fuel strategy dictated his third place finish. In 2006, he was fastest in both practice sessions run in the dry but both qualifying sessions were determined by strategy in the rain. He led 28 laps and built two 12+ and 15+ second leads over second place and repeatedly set the fastest lap of the race but race strategy limited him to a third place finish.
"We've had some pretty good showings at Road America but unfortunately for some reason we haven't been able to put it to together and win," said Bourdais who set the quickest time at the test held here in mid-June. "It has been a little frustrating from time to time, especially last year when we seemed to be running away with it and every time there would be a yellow, A. J. (Allmendinger) came out on top. But that's what racing is all about; sometimes it just doesn't go your way."
In nine races so far this season, the highpoint for Bourdais has been four wins while the low point has been three DNF's (did not finish). He crashed in Las Vegas, succumbed to an electrical failure in Cleveland and was hit from behind by Robert Doornbos in Toronto but has held the top spot in the point standings since Round 3 in Houston for all but one race (Toronto; hit by Doornbos) although his maximum lead has only been 20 points over second. Three straight San Jose wins looked possible at the previous race when he took the lead from polesitter Justin Wilson but he stalled during a full course caution while second and finished fifth which reduced his lead to only 10 over Doornbos (216-206). Here at Road America last year he had an outside chance to clinch the title but he knows this year's fight could last all season.
"For the championship, a win there would be just like any other win," said Bourdais. "The most important thing for the McDonald's team is to just put the car up front and have a good finish -- in the top-five if possible. It's what we're going to need to focus on for the rest of the season and hopefully if we can do that we should be in pretty good shape for the championship. It's pretty hard to put together the perfect lap on the four mile track. In the meantime, it flows very nice when you feel confidence in the car and you feel good. It flows from one corner to another and before you even know it the lap is over. It's an awesome feeling to do a qualifying lap right in Elkhart Lake. It's really, really enjoyable."
Medi | Zone driver Graham Rahal is also looking forward to returning to Road America. Although he is only 18 this will mark his fourth professional race here. He competed in two Formula BMW events here in 2004 and one in Star Mazda in 2005. In 2006, the fight for the Champ Car Atlantic championship between Simon Pagenaud and Rahal didn't conclude until the season finale. Rahal started third but didn't have a chance to challenge Pagenaud after he retired due to an electrical failure and ended the season runner-up. After setting the second fastest time at the test here in June, he is hoping for a better result this weekend.
"In testing we were very strong and Sebastien and I had two of the quickest cars there," said Rahal, who is featured in the current issue of ESPN The Magazine. "I think the Medi | Zone team can close the gap to Sebastien and have not only a shot at the podium but also at a win, which is exactly what we need to do."
Rahal has earned two fourth-place starts this season in Cleveland and Edmonton as well as a second place finish in Houston and third in Edmonton. He led the Cleveland and Mont Tremblant races and ran as high as second in three others. He currently is ranked eighth in series standings with 145 points heading into Round 10 of 16 at the fastest track of the season, and one that suits his driving style.
"I think the best parts of the track are the carousel and the kink which are the areas you hear about the most," said Rahal of the four mile permanent road course. "It's definitely very challenging; it's very, very fast. It's the fastest place we go by far. The length doesn't really stand out for me because of the speed you travel. Lap times are still pretty quick even though it's a four mile course. If you look at it in the big picture, there are three places where you go almost 190 mph and that's a lot. I think that for us we figured out a lot of things with this car that will work to our advantage so w'll see what happens."
Friday night the stars of the Champ Car World Series will be taking time out of their weekend to take to the track, not in their turbo-charged racing machines, but with their bike to benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation. In addition to Bourdais and Rahal, other drivers scheduled to participate include Paul Tracy, Robert Doornbos, Jan Heylen, Bruno Junqueira, Oriol Servia and Dan Clarke. After the event CARA Charities will be holding their 'Taste of Road America' tailgate party to benefit Champ Car Ministries and other charitable causes.
"I've been doing quite a bit of training, especially lately," said Rahal in reference to the cycling event. "Before the race weekend, I'm going to cycle as much as possible because I don't want to embarrass myself -- that's the key. Lance has always been a hero of mine. I've always been big into cycling and watching him is basically the reason. As a kid growing up, he was The Man. It's kind of a dream of mine to meet him so it's just great to help his foundation. I'm trying to get several people to ride."
Practice and qualifying will take place on Friday and Saturday with the Champ Car Generac Grand Prix at Road America starting at 2:00 p.m. CT on Sunday. Live coverage of the race will be provided by ABC at 3:00 p.m. ET.