INDIANAPOLIS (December 9, 2003) -- The Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford started its 2003 season with just as many questions as it had answers, including the query as to what effect the new exclusive alliances with Ford-Cosworth and Bridgestone would have on the on-track product as the 25th Champ Car World Series season got underway.
Also key in the minds of many was just how the crowds would respond to many of the changes that 2003 brought, including the influx of rookie drivers that were taking their first laps in the series' trademark turbocharged 750hp scream machines.
It didn't take long to determine that the on-track product would provide some of the best racing in the world as rookie Mario Haberfeld (#34 Mi-Jack/Conquest Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) showed 2002 runner-up Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) that he and the rest of his first-year buddies did not join up just to be field fillers. Their first-lap battle in the season opener in St. Petersburg was a precursor of the excitement to come, and the crowds responded in earnest as they have for the better part of two decades as the series played out its 18-race schedule.
The Champ Car World Series drew 2,397,435 fans to the track this year, marking the 18th consecutive season that the series has drawn over 2.1 million fans to its events. The per race average of 133,190 was the second-best in the last six years and was topped by a pair of series records when the races at Mexico City drew 402,413 fans while the Surfers Paradise event saw 306,184 pour through the gates. In all, nine of the year's events drew more than 110,000 fans, with increases shown not only in the aforementioned Mexico City and Surfers Paradise events, but also in Laguna Seca, Cleveland and Vancouver.
"The fan support is something that no one takes for granted here at Champ Car, and we continue to do everything we can to provide the best racing we can for our followers," said CART President and CEO Christopher R. Pook. "Our night races were extremely successful and only 38-degree temperatures in Milwaukee kept our first night race from showing a large increase. The fans pump up the excitement level at our races and we will continue to show them the best time possible."
The racing action was punctuated by displays of driving skill that were unmatched anywhere among U.S.-based racing series. Among the major racing series in the United States, Champ Car races in 2003 had the fewest accidents per race, the fewest percentage of scheduled race laps run under the caution flag and had the highest percentage of race starters to finish on the lead lap.
The series produced eight different winners in 18 races, led by series champion Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/ Bridgestone) with seven, including maiden victories for Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly/McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone). Seven different drivers won pole positions and 15 of the 19 drivers that took the green flag in the series finale had led laps in Champ Car competition this season.
"There were a lot of people that said that it should be easier to win a championship this year but that was not the case," Tracy said. "By the halfway point of the season the rookies had really gotten it together and there were a lot of guys that were capable of running up front on any given weekend. They really made us earn everything we got this season."