Championship contenders emerge as Cart Champ Car World Series opens second half of season with Molson Indy Toronto
INDIANAPOLIS (July 8, 2003) -- The first half of the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford has seen a number of intriguing results including the early-season power of Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and the emergence of rookie Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
But the stars of the CART Champ Car World Series have plenty of headlines still to make as the 2003 campaign makes the turn for the back half of the schedule. This weekend's Molson Indy Toronto in the streets of the Ontario capital will be the launch point for the second half of the season as the teams and drivers jockey for position in the battle for the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup.
As he was for the entire month of June, Tracy is ahead on points in the 19-round title bout, holding the top spot by a scant eight digits over Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Always a fan favorite in his native Canada, Tracy will attract even more attention this time around as the Ontario native will be making his first Canadian start since joining the home-country Player's/Forsythe Racing team.
He brings a wealth of Toronto experience to the 1.755-mile street course, having followed the field to the historic Prince's Gate 11 times in his career. Tracy has one Toronto win under his belt, having taken the checkered flag from the outside of the front row in 1993, and has finished in the top 10 in eight of his 11 events. Tracy continues to climb into the rafters of Champ Car history as he chases his first series title, having become just the fifth driver to make 200 career starts last weekend in Cleveland and also last weekend becoming the sixth driver to lead 3,000 laps of Champ Car competition. He has already led 336 laps this year, a number that Tracy has not reached since 1997.
Meanwhile, right behind Tracy, Junqueira has parlayed five podium finishes into a prime spot in the title hunt, and is threatening to make Champ Car history if he continues his current track. The Newman/Haas Racing pilot is within easy reach of the series lead as he sits eight points behind the leader despite the fact that he has yet to win a pole or a race this year. Al Unser won the 1983 CART Champ Car title with no poles and just a single win to his credit, using a consistent run of strong finishes to claim the crown.
Junqueira is using the same tactic, having finished in the top five in eight of the year's nine races, with only an opening-lap crash in Milwaukee marring that streak. He will have to overcome similar luck in Toronto to keep that record intact however. In his two previous starts at Exhibition Place, Junqueira has been the victim of contact that left him out of the points. Last year it was an incident with Townsend Bell that ended his day after he had started third, a crash that led to an on-track shouting match between the two.
His Newman/Haas teammate has been on the literal flip side of that coin in a breakthrough rookie season as reigning FIA F3000 champion Bourdais leads the loop in poles and joins Tracy at the top with three wins. However, a myriad of problems -- most of which were not his doing -- has the Frenchman in fifth place in the standings despite his success. He achieved a new personal standard last weekend at the U.S. Bank Presents The Cleveland Grand Prix, earning his first-ever win in the United States when he paced the final 33 laps under the lights at Burke Lakefront Airport, winning from the pole for the second time this season.
The Molson Indy Toronto crowds are always among the largest on the schedule and the event has attracted a three-day total of over 160,000 fans for every event since 1994. Much of the focus of those fans falls on the trio of Canadian-born drivers, with huge throngs of people following the every move of Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone as well as Tracy.
Despite having the fewest races of the three, it is Rocketsports Racing's Tagliani that has had the most success in the Toronto streets. The Montreal native has finished in the top seven in each of his three starts including a second-place run in 2001. Carpentier is still looking for his first Toronto top-five, with his previous best being a seventh-place finish in 2000. The Player's/Forsythe driver comes into this season's Toronto visit in the fourth spot in the points, making the climb up the standings on the strength of eight top-eight finishes including a win from the pole at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The only other driver with a Molson Indy Toronto win under his belt also comes in with the glow of victory still fresh in his mind. Owner/driver Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) claimed his first-ever CART Champ Car victory with a 1996 Toronto win and has finished in the points in six of his last seven trips. Fernandez became the first driver since Bobby Rahal in 1992 to post a victory as an owner/driver when he took the checkered flag at Portland three weeks ago.
The Molson Indy Toronto could be a watershed event for the fortunes of Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) as the Spaniard continues to close in on his first series win. Six top-six finishes have catapulted Servia to sixth in the championship and a victory on race day would be a memorable birthday present for the four-year veteran, who will turn 29 on Sunday.
One race removed from scoring his first championship point of the season, Max Papis (#27 PK Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) heads to a Toronto track that has seen him place in the top eight in each of his last four visits. Papis has apparently found the secret to passing on the Exhibition Place streets as he has made up at least 12 spots from his starting position in three of his last four Toronto starts.
Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will look to rebound from a pair of races that have seen him spend his day wading through the field after early spins. He fell from the lead to place 12th after a Portland altercation, and recovered from a first-lap spin in Cleveland that dropped him to 17th to place seventh. The misfortunes have left the Team Rahal driver 20 points out of the championship lead but he has maintained his series lead in laps completed (1,143 of 1,151).
Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is following up on his Rookie-of-the-Year winning campaign by setting new team standards. Dominguez has established a new Herdez team record by putting together seven consecutive top-10 finishes, breaking a team mark that goes all the way back to when the squad was known as Bettenhausen Motorsports when current series team owner Stefan Johansson scored five straight top 10s from 1992-93. Dominguez ran a strong fifth last weekend at Cleveland and is eighth in the series standings -- and stands just 13 points out of the top five.
Dale Coyne Racing will welcome the CART Champ Car debut of Alex Sperafico (#19 Dale Coyne Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) this weekend at Toronto as the former Barber Dodge Pro Series and FIA International F3000 driver will stand in this weekend for Gualter Salles. Salles, who has been in the #19 car for three of the last four events, will miss the Toronto event due to a previous commitment. Sperafico, who tested the Coyne car last week at Mid-Ohio, is no stranger to those in the CART Ladder System as he competed in parts of three seasons in the BDPS and took a season-opening victory in 2001 at Sebring. He ran nine races in the FIA International F3000 Championship last season with European Minardi and finished seventh in the BDPS season opener this year at St. Petersburg.
Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) moved into 17th on the series career laps led list last weekend in Cleveland as he paced 15 orbits of the Burke Lakefront Airport circuit and heads to a Toronto track that has seen him earn top-10 finishes in six of the last seven seasons. His teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) knows the way to the Toronto victory podium, having won there in Barber Dodge competition in 2000 and comes to Canada after posting his second top-10 of the year with a ninth-place run in Cleveland.
The Molson Indy Toronto will see live television coverage for qualifying and race day, with SPEED Channel carrying live final-round qualifying Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time with the race being broadcast live on CBS Sports starting at 12:30 p.m.