HISTORY IN THE MAKING IN AUSTRALIA AS SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS CLOSES IN ON RECORD-TYING THIRD CONSECUTIVE CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP INDIANAPOLIS (October 18, 2006) - In order to join Ted Horn as the only driver in the 97-year history of...
HISTORY IN THE MAKING IN AUSTRALIA AS SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS CLOSES IN ON RECORD-TYING THIRD CONSECUTIVE CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP
INDIANAPOLIS (October 18, 2006) - In order to join Ted Horn as the only driver in the 97-year history of Champ Car racing to win three consecutive championships, all Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) needs to do is finish ninth or better on the streets of Surfers Paradise. Given the fact that the Flying Frenchman has two podium finishes in his three starts on the 2.795-mile street course and is the defending champion, one could predict that this season's trip to Australia will result in Bourdais having to buy an extra seat on the way home for the Vanderbilt Cup.
Except for the fact that nothing has ever been predictable when it comes to Champ Car racing in Surfers Paradise.
The Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford has conducted 15 events on Australia's alluring Gold Coast since 1991, and while the list of racewinners reads like a Who's Who of Motorsport, no driver has ever won more than once in Surfers Paradise. Only three times in those 15 years has the polesitter won the race, but even more intriguing is the fact that only four of the 15 polesitters (including the three winners) have ever finished on the podium. Eight former series champions have scored victories on the Aussie street course - which is the fastest of any street course on the Champ Car calendar - but the event has also yielded first-time wins to the likes of John Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mario Dominguez (#8 Pemex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
The streak of 15 races without a repeat winner is the longest in the annals of Champ Car history, and has started to have an influence on qualifying as well, as Dario Franchitti's 1999 pole marked the last time that anyone has led Surfers Paradise qualifying more than once. Dominguez and Bourdais are joined by Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole in The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) on the list of former Australia winners that are looking to break the event's streak, with Junqueira returning to the track for the first time since his 2004 victory.
Junqueira has rebounded from a tough early-season stretch with podium finishes in two of his last three starts and is challenging for a top-five position in the season-ending points. He has had a number of strong runs on the challenging Surfers street course, and has led in each of his last three starts there. He has started third or better in each of those visits and has paced a total of 55 laps in the three events. Tracy heads to an Australia course where he has had unparalleled qualifying success, having started in the top four in each of the last 10 trips to Surfers Paradise. American open-wheel racing's leading active driver in terms of wins, starts and laps led, Tracy holds down the fourth spot in the standings and heads to the Gold Coast in hopes of reprising his 1995 win. He too has had strong runs there, having led in five of his 12 starts, but his '95 win and a third-place run in the rain-soaked 2002 event are his only podium visits.
A pair of third-year drivers are the only things that stand between Bourdais and his date with the record books as the season heads into its final two stops. A.J. Allmendinger (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) are the lone pilots with a mathematical chance of upending Bourdais, although the pressure to perform is greater on Wilson as the weekend opens. Wilson, who has top-eight finishes in each of his previous visits to Surfers Paradise, must earn each of the 70 points available to him over the season's last two events in order to stay in the hunt, meaning that if the third-year RuSPORT driver fails to lead Friday's first round of qualifying in Australia, he is eliminated from title contention.
Allmendinger is just 58 points behind points leader Bourdais and comes to Australia with the momentum of a victory in Road America three weeks ago. The win was Allmendinger's fifth of the season, and gives him the chance to be the first driver since Kenny Brack in 2001 to lead the series in victories without winning the championship. The young Californian has run well in his previous two trips to Australia, finishing as the runner-up to Bourdais a year ago, while finishing sixth in his 2004 rookie campaign.
Bourdais himself isn't going to make things easy on his pursuers, as he looks to become the first repeat winner in Surfers history. The Frenchman has started on the front row in each of the last five races, and only a last-lap tangle with Tracy in Denver has kept him from a string of six consecutive podiums, a run that started after a harrowing accident in Cleveland that saw Tracy's car climbing over Bourdais' Newman/Haas mount and actually resting on his head for a short time.
The hometown fans will have more than just a token reason to cheer for the first time in the 15-year history of the event as Australian Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will look to seal the deal on the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year Award.
Power, who saw a six-race streak of top-10 finishes end with an off day in Road America, has led the rookie points since the second race of the year but has seen that advantage shaved to seven points over CTE Racing - HVM rookie Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Power made his Champ Car debut in Surfers Paradise last season and was in the hunt for a top-five finish before being caught up in a late-race accident. Clarke has used a tremendous late-season surge to climb back into consideration for the rookie crown, stringing a trio of top-six runs together, capped by a Road America trip where he scored his first Bridgestone Pole Position. The Brit is in the top 10 in points for the first time all season and is just 14 points out of the top five with two races to run.
Clarke's teammate Nelson Philippe (#4 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has also surged to the front in the last two months, scoring top-five results in three of the last four events. The run has propelled the Frenchman into the top five in points with two races to go, but he heads to a track where success has been tough to come by, as Philippe has started 14th in each of his prior two visits, and scored his best finish of 10th in his rookie campaign of 2004.
Oriol Servia (#6 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) returns to the site where he scored his first Champ Car pole a year ago, and will be fighting to craft a similar weekend this year as he tried to hold on to a berth in top 10 in points. Ending the year 10th or better in the standings earns the driver a piece of the year-end bonus money, which starts at $50,000 for the 10th-placed driver. Each rung on the ladder earns the driver an extra $10,000 up to fifth, with each step from fifth to second netting each driver an extra $50,000. Servia enters the Australia race weekend tied with Dominguez for the eighth spot, but is in the middle of a battle that could see a $150,000 swing. The two driver tied for eighth are only 15 points out of the fourth spot in the points, but both are only six points away from finishing 11th and out of the points fund. Both drivers started on the front row on the Gold Coast last year and were both caught up in the aforementioned first-lap accident. Dominguez has had more success on the Surfers layout, winning in 2002 and placing third in 2004.
Honorary Aussie Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) finds himself on the wrong side of the bonus money at the moment, but could make up some ground with a strong performance. Just 10 points out of tenth, Tagliani heads to a Surfers Paradise track where he was earned four top-seven finishes in his six starts including a podium finish in 2001.
This year's Lexmark Indy 300 will also feature long-awaited Champ Car debuts for a pair of drivers, both of which tested Champ Cars in the preseason while exploring the possibilities of scoring a full-time ride in the series. RuSPORT will host the series debut of Australian star Ryan Briscoe (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), running the team's second car for the first time since Cristiano da Matta's testing accident in August. One of the most versatile drivers in the sport today, Briscoe has competed in V8 Supercars, Grand-Am sports cars and Indy Racing League machines this season, and will make his series debut in front of his home crowd this weekend.
The other new Champ Car pilot moves up from the Champ Car Atlantic ranks as Andreas Wirth (#19 Sonny's Bar-B-Q Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) lines up for his first start. Wirth burst onto the American scene in 2004 when he won the Formula BMW championship, and has spent the next two seasons in Atlantics. The German finished third in this year's Atlantic standings, earning six podium finishes in 12 starts.
Last year's Atlantic champion Charles Zwolsman (#34 Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) continued his steady show of improvement at Road America, scoring career-bests in qualifying position and race result. He scored the third-place starting spot with some timely qualifying strategy, then rolled to a seventh-place finish, marking his sixth consecutive top-10 finish. His run has vaulted him to 13th in the points and has him standing third in the rookie standings.
This weekend's Lexmark Indy 300 can be seen on same-day tape on Sunday, October 22 on SPEED beginning at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. SPEED will also broadcast a 30-minute show covering the highlights from Friday and Saturday qualifying, which will air Sunday afternoon at 3:00 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.