CLEVELAND, Ohio (July 2, 2003) --- Fireworks aren't the only thing that will entertain fans at this year's US Bank Presents the Grand Prix of Cleveland. The battle for CART's Champ Car World Series title will continue on the wide-open 2.1-mile ...
CLEVELAND, Ohio (July 2, 2003) --- Fireworks aren't the only thing that will entertain fans at this year's US Bank Presents the Grand Prix of Cleveland. The battle for CART's Champ Car World Series title will continue on the wide-open 2.1-mile temporary road course at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport and PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira hopes to jump from second into the lead while McDonald's/Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais hopes to return to his season-high rank of fourth.
Junqueira has put together the most consistent season so far of all drivers in the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series but still hopes to earn his first victory of the year as well as his third overall. Seven top-five finishes including four podium finishes in eight events so far this season is quite an accomplishment but Junqueira wants to take the top-spot on the rostrum and not only close his deficit of four points to leader Paul Tracy who has 99 but also pull ahead in a tight points race that has the top three drivers separated by only eight points while fourth through eighth place are divided by less than 20 at the halfway point of the season.
"The PacifiCare team is going to try to win our first race of the season and gain some points on the rest of the Championship contenders and try to pull out a gap because it's really tight right now," said Junqueira, who has been in Ohio since Sunday for testing. "I like to race in Cleveland. I think it is a great track for the fans because they can see all of the race track and it's very wide so it's a track where you can see a lot of passing."
In 2002 he started eighth but his engine blew while in fourth place and he retired in 13th. In his rookie season in 2001, he started 16th but came into contact with the rear of Christian Fittipaldi's car while attempting to enter the pits and retired in 23rd place. Although he has yet to see the checkered flag in Cleveland, he knows this year's event will be his best chance at victory.
"Cristiano (da Matta) was leading the race last year before his engine blew so I know Newman/Haas has a good set-up for this track," said Junqueira. "Unfortunately I haven't have very good luck in Cleveland yet but I think we can turn that around this year. I was fourth last year but my engine blew late in the race but the No. 1 PacifiCare car will be really strong on that type of track and we will try to fight for the win."
The event has been on the CART schedule since 1982 and NHR has competed here since their rookie season in 1983, earning two of the team's 70 victories at this track (Michael Andretti 1991, Mario Andretti 1988). Cristiano da Matta was en route to earning a record-setting fifth consecutive victory here last year after having led the first 19 laps until engine failure brought an end to his bid. Of their 73 pole positions, four have come at this track with their most recent coming in last year's event (Da Matta - 2002; Michael Andretti 1989; Mario Andretti 1984, 1983). In addition, the team has earned a total of nine podium finishes here (see chart).
While the official name is The U.S. Bank Presents The Cleveland Grand Prix it has been known as The Roar by The Shore but this year's event will add a new attraction to the dedicated fans. For only the second time in CART's history and first on a road course, the event will be held at night under world-renowned Musco Lighting in what will be the world's largest outdoor lighting project. Musco, which has lent its temporary and permanent lighting facilities to events ranging from The Olympic Games to rock concerts, will erect a minimum of 21 lighting towers to illuminate the racing circuit. By way of comparison, Musco states that a typical college football game requires four towers, Ground Zero in New York required five towers, and the Battle of Big Horn outdoor golf match required eight towers
"It's going to be the first experience for me as well as CART on a road course at night but the night race in Milwaukee was such as success and I think Cleveland will be even bigger," said Junqueira. "The fans were already great there for the regular race and I think this will be an even bigger party for them. It was so hot for the race last year that I think the drivers and the fans will enjoy this even more. I'm really happy to come back and race at night."
Although Junqueira's teammate Bourdais hasn't been as consistent in terms of scoring points as his veteran teammate so far this season, the rookie has been competitive in most all of the events. Third place finishes in the past two races in Laguna Seca and Portland eluded him and he retired from both races but he is hopeful of a better result in Cleveland.
"We are due for a good result after not finishing the past two races," said Bourdais. "It is good to know that we could have finished third in those races but that also makes it harder to accept than if we were running farther back. We have the potential to run well but I hope we can also start finishing the races again. Apart from our two wins we have not scored many points and we plan to turn that around in Cleveland."
After his back-to-back wins in England and Germany he held a season-high rank of fourth place but he has not added to his current total of 53 points since his ninth place finish in Milwaukee and dropped to seventh entering Round 9 of 19 in Cleveland this weekend. Despite begin ranked seventh overall, Bourdais still holds third place to veterans Jourdain (324) and Tracy (269) for most laps led with a total of 218 and remains in the lead for Rookie of the Year honors. The reigning Formula 3000 Champion grew up on road and street courses and is hopeful that his aggressive driving style will excel on the wide-open layout at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport and that he can bring a strong finish to the team's new co-primary sponsor McDonald's.
"I have heard that the Cleveland race is a good one from a drivers perspective because the track is so wide open and you can push yourself harder without the increased risk of hitting the wall like on street courses," said Bourdais. "It's great to have a new sponsor in McDonald's and we will try to put the McDonald's / Lilly car on the podium."
Series partners Bridgestone and Ford will hold special activities this weekend. Bridgestone, which is based in nearby Akron, Ohio, will host 700 guests and employs nearly 1,000 people in its Akron Technical and Research Center, which handles the engineering and design work on all of the consumer tires sold in North, South and Central America. In addition, the plant designs and produces most of the Bridgestone Potenza race tires, including all the race tires that will be used by the Champ Car teams in Cleveland.
In addition to their Ford Fan Fest which will be held on Wednesday night in the trendy warehouse district, Ford will unveil a special car at the event. Former NHR driver and CART champion Mario Andretti will pilot one of the three existing Ford GTs, the reincarnation of the legendary Ford GT-40 that won Le Mans, when the Ford Motor Company lends the machine to the Champ Car World Series for pre-race pacecar duties for the U.S. Bank Presents the Grand Prix of Cleveland. The fabled GT-40 beat the world's best in endurance racing in the 1960s and piloted Mario and Bruce McLaren to the checkered flags at Sebring in 1967.
The US Bank Presents the Cleveland Grand Prix will take place on Saturday night, July 5, and will be broadcast on a tape-delayed basis by CBS Sports the following day at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The race broadcast will be preceded by qualifying coverage on SPEED Channel starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Friday. Live audio of the CART Champ Car World Series is available for final qualifying on Friday and the U.S. Bank Presents The Cleveland Grand Prix on Saturday on the official web site of the CART Champ Car World Series, www.champcarworldseries.com.