CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland: Round five preview

UNPREDICTABLE CHAMP CAR SEASON CONTINUES AS SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS LEADS TIGHT PACK OF TITLE HOPEFULS TO CLEVELAND INDIANAPOLIS (June 22, 2005) -- A good bit of speculation was made at the beginning of the 2005 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car ...

UNPREDICTABLE CHAMP CAR SEASON CONTINUES AS SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS LEADS TIGHT PACK OF TITLE HOPEFULS TO CLEVELAND

INDIANAPOLIS (June 22, 2005) -- A good bit of speculation was made at the beginning of the 2005 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season about the increased talent level present throughout the series' driver roster, but nothing proves a point like results.

Through the first four events on the road to the Vanderbilt Cup, four different drivers have won races, four different drivers have won poles and eight different men have ended up on the podium. This weekend, 14 drivers will be looking to extend that streak, while those that already have Champ Car victories hope to be the first to double up, as Champ Car heads to the shores of Lake Erie for the Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank.

Cristiano da Matta (#21 Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) became the latest to join the ranks of racewinners with a stirring run from 10th in Portland, giving PKV Racing its first Champ Car victory, while Justin Wilson (#9 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) became the fourth different polesitter of the 2005 season when he paced Portland qualifying. Both have been close to taking Cleveland glories in the past but close on the body-pounding Burke Lakefront Airport course gets you little more than a pat on the back when the smoke clears over the oldest temporary race course on the Champ Car circuit.

The man that has stood tallest on the 2.106-mile course over the past two years leads the pack the Cleveland again in 2005. Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) carries the number-one plate on his Newman/Haas Racing machine, a plate partially earned with a Cleveland romp a year ago. Bourdais led 88 laps en route to his 2004 victory, a win that followed a 2003 Cleveland race that saw the Frenchman score victory from the pole, outlasting his pursuers and the elements on a hot, difficult North Coast night.

Bourdais leads the series points race again in 2005, and comes to Cleveland looking not only to widen his advantage, but also to become the first driver to win three consecutive events in the 24-year history of Champ Car racing at Burke Lakefront Airport. The Newman/Haas driver has neither started nor finished any worse than sixth this year, and is tied for the series lead in races finished and laps completed.

His main antagonist, as it has been for much of his three-year Champ Car career, is America's active victory leader among open-wheel drivers Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Tracy stands just 11 points in arrears of Bourdais after four races and has one of the year's race wins to his credit, scoring an impressive win in Milwaukee. Tracy beat the field to the Cleveland checkered flag in 1993, but has yet to make a return trip to Victory Lane. The Canadian has been strong in Cleveland, winning the pole a year ago before being eliminated in a first-lap crash, and scoring three other podium finishes since the 1993 victory.

There are a number of drivers in the field that appear ready to make it five winners in five races, with a key few hoping to follow in the footsteps of drivers such as Bobby Rahal and Roberto Moreno who took their maiden Champ Car wins in Cleveland. RuSPORT's Wilson nearly broke his duck last weekend in Portland, rolling from pole and pulling away to a 10-second lead through the first half of the race. He suffered the first on-track heartbreak of the Champ Car season soon after however, as a failed oil pump ground his Ford-Cosworth XFE to a halt. Wilson earned the first front-row start of his career on his last trip to Cleveland, but his day ended before the starter could put the green flag away, as the Brit was a victim of a first-lap, first-turn crash.

His RuSPORT teammate seems equally poised to make the jump to Champ Car race winner as A.J. Allmendinger (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) comes to town after earning front-row starts in each of his last two races. The Californian started fourth and finished sixth a year ago in his first Cleveland Champ Car race, and won from pole there on his way to a Toyota Atlantic title in 2003.

Two-time Cleveland polewinner Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is seeking his first race win on the shores of Lake Erie, hoping to build on a run of success that has seen him finish in the top-10 in four of his last five trips to Northeastern Ohio. Vasser and da Matta have combined to show their PKV Racing team, of which Vasser is a part-owner, its best start in its three Champ Car seasons with Vasser winning the pole at Milwaukee and da Matta taking the win last week.

Mario Dominguez (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) took a little bit of time to adjust to his new Forsythe Championship Racing mount, but only a little as he roared to a season-best fourth-place run last week in Portland. Dominguez has top-10 runs in each of his last two Cleveland trips including a fifth-place effort in 2003, and also has Burke Lakefront experience from his days in the Indy Lights series.

Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is another veteran that has fit right in with a new squad in 2005, taking his Team Australia mount run by Derrick Walker to a pair of fourth-place qualifying spots. Tagliani has proven that he knows his way around the organ-rattling Cleveland layout during his career, filling out the podium a year ago, and finishing ninth or better in each of his last four visits to the North Coast.

Newman/Haas Racing suffered a rare mechanical problem in Portland on the #2 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone of Oriol Servia, who comes to Cleveland this year on the heels of a strong performance on the demanding circuit a year ago. Servia, then with Dale Coyne Racing, started 13th, but gobbled up nine spots on the way to the front, ending the day in the fourth spot. The Spaniard is another of the drivers in the field that logged a number of Cleveland miles in the Champ Car Driver Development system, starting second in a pair of Indy Lights starts in 1998 and '99.

The members of the 2005 Champ Car rookie class have shown themselves worthy in the early going as well, with Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year point leaders Andrew Ranger (#27 Tide/Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Timo Glock (#8 DHL Global Mail Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) making early season noise. Ranger became the youngest Champ Car driver to earn a podium finish with a second-place run in Monterrey while Glock has kept pace with three top-10 finishes. Ranger had another strong run last week, setting a new career best in qualifying by taking the seventh spot on the grid. He came home in seventh, placing just ahead of fellow first-year drivers Ronnie Bremer (#55 HVM Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Bjorn Wirdheim (#4 HVM Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

Glock's Rocketsports Racing teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 Briggs & Stratton Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) comes to Cleveland trying to reprise some of the success he had in the developmental formula, even more important after a difficult start to the 2005 season. Hunter-Reay has one top-10 finish in his four starts this year but comes to a Cleveland track where he won from pole in the 2002 Toyota Atlantic event.

Rookie Ricardo Sperafico (#11 Sonny's Real Pit BBQ Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) had his best Champ Car event last week, setting new personal highs for starting and finishing position, taking the checkers in 13th. Marcus Marshall (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has shown improvement as well and is the only driver in the field to have finished better than he has started in each of the year's four races.

The 24th running of the Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank gets underway with practice and qualifying Friday June 24, with final qualifying set for the following day. Sunday's race will get underway at 2 p.m. Eastern and can be seen live on CBS Sports.

Fast Facts

WHAT: U.S. Bank Presents The Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland

WHERE:  Burke Lakefront Airport, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

WHEN: Friday -- Sunday, June 23-25

SUPPORT EVENTS: Toyota Atlantic Championship, Trans-Am, FF2000, SPEED World Challenge Touring and GT, Formula Drift

CHAMP CAR SCHEDULE (All times local):

FRIDAY, JUNE 23
Trans-Am practice, 10:30 -- 11:00 a.m.
Champ Car practice, 11:15 a.m. -- 12:30 p.m.
Atlantic practice, 12:45 -- 1:15 p.m.
Trans-Am practice, 2:15 -- 2:45 p.m.
Champ Car qualifying, 3:00 -- 4:00 p.m.
Atlantic qualifying, 4:15 -- 4:45 p.m.
Trans-Am qualifying, 5:30 -- 6:00 p.m.

SATURDAY, JUNE 24
Atlantic qualifying, 8:15 -- 8:45 a.m.
Trans-Am practice, 9:00 -- 9:15 a.m.
Champ Car practice, 10:15 -- 11:15 a.m.
Atlantic race, 12:45 -- 1:45 p.m.
Champ Car qualifying, 2:00 -- 3:00 p.m.
Trans-Am race, 3:30-- 4:45 p.m.

SUNDAY, JUNE 25
Atlantic warmup, 8:15 -- 8:30
Champ Car warmup, 10:00 -- 10:30 a.m.
Atlantic race, 11:00 -- 11:50 a.m.
U.S. BANK PRESENTS THE CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF CLEVELAND, 2:00 p.m.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: SUNDAY, JUNE 25 -- CBS Sports, U.S. Bank Presents The Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland, 2 p.m. (LIVE)

2004 CHAMPION:  Sebastien Bourdais

2004 POLESITTER: Paul Tracy

TRACK 211; 1994, Al Unser Jr., 122.703 mph (1:27:32.000), based on 85 laps (179.010 miles).

RACE ROUND: 5 of 14 in the 2005 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.

CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES POINTS LEADERS: 1, Sebastien Bourdais, Newman/Haas Racing, 106; 2, Paul Tracy, Forsythe Championship Racing, 95; 3, Justin Wilson, RuSPORT, 77; 4, A.J. Allmendinger, RuSPORT, 74; 5, Cristiano da Matta, PKV Racing, 73.

-ccws-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Ricardo Sperafico , Justin Wilson , Al Unser Jr. , Jimmy Vasser , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Bjorn Wirdheim , Ronnie Bremer , Marcus Marshall , Andrew Ranger , Timo Glock , Dale Coyne , Cristiano da Matta
Teams HVM Racing , Dale Coyne Racing