CHAMPCAR/CART: Victories harder to come by in 2006

Loaded 2006 Champ Car World Series Field Makes Victories Harder To Come By INDIANAPOLIS (April 26, 2006) -- The fact that two-time defending Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford champion Sebastien Bourdais ( ...

Loaded 2006 Champ Car World Series Field Makes Victories Harder To Come By

INDIANAPOLIS (April 26, 2006) -- The fact that two-time defending Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) stood atop the podium at Long Beach hardly came as a surprise to any race fan that has seen the Flying Frenchman do his business over the last three years.

What was a surprise was the ease with which he dispatched the field, roaring to a 14-second win over second-placed Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) after leading 70 of 74 laps. The margin was the largest in a Long Beach race since 1995, but more impressively came over one of the most talented field ever put together in Champ Car competition.

The 18-car field has combined to score 83 Champ Car victories, 76 poles and five series titles despite the relative youth of the lineup. The average age of the 2006 driver roster, which contains six rookies, is 27.6 and Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) are the only drivers in the field to have made 100 Champ Car starts. Nine members of the 2006 lineup have Champ Car victories on their resumes while 11 of them have podium finishes to their credit, a number that is more impressive when you consider the Long Beach lineup featured six rookies.

And while the results are impressive for a lineup with such little Champ Car experience, a look at the career accomplishments of the 2006 field sheds even more light on the level of talent that this year's roster brings to each and every race.

This year's field has scored 11 titles among what are considered as the top-level junior formula in the world (Champ Car Atlantic, FIA International F3000 and Indy Lights), and has earned 45 victories in 50 poles in those three series alone. Going deeper into the background of this year's crop of drivers reveals numerous other championships in national F3 series, Formula Fords and various other open-wheel and national karting series.

"It's just as tough or tougher to win a race here as it has ever been," said Vasser after the event. "It's a serious fight because there are a lot of good drivers in the field who have already had successes not only here but in other top series."

Along with the pedigrees of returning Champ Car stars such as former FIA International F3000 champs Wilson, Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole in the Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) or Indy Lights titlists Oriol Servia (#6 Gulfstream/Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Cristiano da Matta (#11 Sonny's BBQ Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), the rookies have earned plenty of resume builders before ascending to the Champ Car ranks.

Katherine Legge (#20 Gulfstream/Optium Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and 2005 Champ Car Atlantic champion Charles Zwolsman (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) each scored three Atlantic wins a year ago, while 2004 Formula Ford Festival winner Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing -- HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and 2003 Formula Holden champ Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) joined former Formula 1 pilot Antonio Pizzzonia (#8 Rotax/Rocketsports Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and 2005 Formula Megane king Jan Heylen (#19 Sonny's BBQ Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) in the rookie class.

The season opener showed the potential of the rookie class as four of the first-year pilots -- including three making their Champ Car debuts -- finished in the top 10. All but one were still running at the end of the race and all avoided the first-turn melee that took out a quartet of the series' top drivers.

"It's a great mix of veterans and young talent. This year, we have a lot of strong rookies that have come into the series," said RuSPORT's A.J. Allmendinger. "They're young drivers that the racing world in general might not be too familiar with, but they have entered the series and are amazingly quick, and they have mixed in very well with the talent that's been here for the past several years.

That growth continued as the series ventured to Portland for open testing after Long Beach as the field got a chance to test their skills on the permanent road course at Portland International Raceway. The top four rookies were less than 1.5 seconds off the track-record pace set by two-time series champion Bourdais as the gap between the top and the bottom of the grid got event tighter.

"I think in the first couple of races, you'll see some separation from the top of the grid to the bottom, because the rookies are learning," Allmendinger continued. "But as we get into the middle of the season, the younger drivers should be able to mix up the grid. It should be very exciting from mid-season on."

The progress of Champ Car's next generation will continue at the second round of the 2006 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season, which takes place Saturday, May 13, as Reliant Park in Houston is transformed into a stage for the 750-horsepower scream machines of the Champ Car World Series. Fans can follow all of the race action on SPEED, which the race beginning at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. In addition, fans can keep up-to-date with every session via the Race Director feature available on the official website of the series, www.champcar.ws.

-ccws-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Bruno Junqueira , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Katherine Legge , Jan Heylen , Charles Zwolsman , Will Power , Cristiano da Matta , Dan Clarke