CHAMPCAR/CART: Road America: Round 12 preview

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS NEARS HISTORY-MAKING THIRD CONSECUTIVE CHAMP CAR TITLE AS SERIES JOURNEYS TO ROAD INDIANAPOLIS (September 19, 2006) - When Sebastien Bourdais ( ...

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS NEARS HISTORY-MAKING THIRD CONSECUTIVE CHAMP CAR TITLE AS SERIES JOURNEYS TO ROAD

INDIANAPOLIS (September 19, 2006) - When Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) claimed his first Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford title, he clinched on the final day of the 2004 season by romping to a win in Mexico City. He locked up his second title on the next-to-last race of the 2005 season, finishing off the title chase in style again, taking victory on the streets of Surfers Paradise, Australia.

Now the legend-in-the-making has a chance to do what only one other man in all of American open-wheel racing has ever done, as Bourdais has a record-tying third consecutive Champ Car World Series title in his sights as the series heads to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin for the 12th race of the Champ Car season. Bourdais could match Ted Horn as the only driver in series history to win three straight Champ Car crowns, and could do so simply by scoring eight more points than both A.J. Allmendinger (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) at this weekend's Champ Car Grand Prix of Road America.

If Bourdais can earn the maximum 35 championship points available this weekend, something he did at the series' last race in Montreal, then Allmendinger or Wilson would have to finish second and lead a lap in order to prevent Bourdais from hoisting the Vanderbilt Cup at the end of the day. Under the current Champ Car points system, with five separate bonus points available for various performances, both Wilson and Allmendinger could keep themselves alive in the hunt for the championship simply by finishing ahead of the Frenchman.

Bourdais has been strong in his previous two visits to the 4.048-mile classic Road America layout, starting on the front row and finishing on the podium both in 2003 and in '04, but has yet to win at Elkhart Lake. His Newman/Haas Racing team has had more than a little success there however, capturing Road America wins with Mario and Michael Andretti, Cristiano da Matta, Christian Fittipaldi and Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

Allmendinger and Wilson both have only one Road America start to their credits, that coming in their Champ Car rookie campaigns of 2004. Wilson and Allmendinger are the only drivers other than Bourdais to win a Champ Car race this season, but both need to rebound from disastrous results in Montreal if they are to carry the title bout to another round.

Allmendinger has made his money in qualifying this year, and is the only driver to start fourth or better in every race this season. He has scored front-row starts in each of the last two events, but suffered a rare mechanical failure while leading in Montreal that doomed him to a 17th-place finish. Wilson has gridded third or better in five of the last six events, but lost touch with Bourdais in the title chase after a 14th-place run in Montreal.

But championship dreams aside, there are plenty of drivers in the rest of the field that have already climbed the top step of the Road America podium, including winners of four of the last five Champ Car events held in Elkhart Lake. However, prior success guarantees nothing on the challenging Road America circuit as victory in seven of the 23 previous Champ Car events went to first-time race winners including 2004 victor Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

Tagliani is likely the happiest driver in the paddock to see the gates of Road America as the Canadian has scored three consecutive podium finishes on the four-mile layout. His 2004 victory was the first of his Champ Car career as well as the first for Rocketsports, and came on a day where he started a distant 13th in the field. In fact, he has not started on the front row for any of his three podium finishes, but did grid in the first rank in 2001. The Team Australia driver ended a string of three consecutive DNFs with a seventh-place result in Montreal, and is currently embroiled in a five-way battle for the eighth through twelfth spots in the championship where the five drivers are separated by just four points.

Junqueira is another driver that likely had the Road America date circled on his calendar long ago, as the Newman/Haas pilot returns to the site of his first Champ Car victory. Junqueira had a string of three straight Elkhart Lake podiums beginning with his win in 2001, returning to place third after scoring the pole in 2002 and then leading all 34 laps to win on a rain-soaked Sunday in 2003. The Brazilian is currently atop the aforementioned five-way battle for eighth as he leads Tagliani and Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing sophomore Andrew Ranger (#27 WalMart/Tide Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). For his part, Ranger has yet to make a Champ Car start at Road America, but did score a podium finish in the 2004 Champ Car Atlantic event, both starting and finishing in the third spot.

Ranger made his way into the top-five in points on the strength of steady race-day performances, making up spots after qualifying out of the top 10. Now Ranger and his Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing squad have improved their qualifying performances, starting in the top 10 in each of the last five races, but have tumbled to 10th in the standings owing to three consecutive DNFs.

Outside of the battle for the Vanderbilt Cup, CTE Racing - HVM continues to build a case for the story of the year as the Indianapolis-based team continues its remarkable resurgence. Nelson Philippe (#4 Wellbox Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) picked up his personal-best third consecutive top-five finish with a third-place run in Montreal, and was chased to the checkered flag by stablemate Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Clarke's fourth-place finish was his second straight top-five and marked the first time ever that CTE Racing - HVM had put both of its cars in the top five in back-to-back races.

But Clarke's late-season charge has failed to put much of a dent in Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year points leader Will Power's (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) advantage as Power has been equally strong over the last four events, finishing sixth or better in each. The Team Australia rookie has charged all the way to the sixth spot in the points, and is just six markers behind Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) in his quest for a berth in the top five. Power's lead in the rookie points is 20 over Clarke, with another 30 points separating Clarke from the rest of the first-year field.

Tracy is a two-time Road America race winner and a three-time polesitter on the Elkhart Lake track, and has led in six of his previous 13 starts on the high-speed circuit. Tracy returns to the site of his first-ever Champ Car pole looking to join Mario and Michael Andretti along with Emerson Fittipaldi as the only drivers ever to win three Champ Car races at Road America. His last Elkhart Lake win came in 2000, but the Canadian star has struggled since, finishing out of the top 10 in each of his last four trips to the Wisconsin road course.

Mario Dominguez (#8 Pemex/Rocketsports Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will join his third team of the 2006 campaign as he vaults to Rocketsports for the final three races of the season. The veteran had scored top-10 finishes in three of his last four starts in his Dale Coyne Racing machine, but will make the change to the Rocketsports squad in his final push for a top-five position in the points. Currently seventh in the points, Dominguez is just 13 points out of fifth - where he has finished in each of the last two seasons. He will have Tonis Kasemets (#18 FlexOVit Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) as a teammate, as Kasemets returns to the paddock after missing the last three events. Kasemets has historically been strong at Road America, with a resume that includes a wire-to-wire win in the Atlantic event last season.

Charles Zwolsman (#34 Mi-Jack/Conquest Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) makes his triumphant return to Road America this season, revisiting the track where he clinched the 2005 Champ Car Atlantic title, putting the finishing touches on a rags-to-riches story that saw him go from a one-off deal at the start of the year, all the way to the series title. The Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing pilot continues to improve during his rookie Champ Car season, and comes to Road America after posting a career-best eighth-place finish in Montreal. The result also extended a five-race streak of top-10 finishes for the Dutchman.

Katherine Legge (#20 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is third in the rookie standings, but is just one point ahead of the charging Zwolsman. Legge had a strong run in last year's Atlantic visit to Road America, finishing as the runner-up to Kasemets, placing second after starting third.

This weekend's Champ Car Grand Prix of Road America can be seen live Sunday, September 24 on SPEED beginning at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. SPEED will also broadcast a 30-minute show covering the highlights from Friday and Saturday qualifying, which will air Saturday night at 11:30 p.m. 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.

-credit: ccws

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Mario Dominguez , Sébastien Bourdais , Katherine Legge , Emerson Fittipaldi , Nelson Philippe , Andrew Ranger , Charles Zwolsman , Will Power , Cristiano da Matta , Dan Clarke
Teams Conquest Racing