CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland: Round five preview

Bruno Junqueira Leads Champ Car World Series Points Battle as Series Rolls into Cleveland For The 23rd Time INDIANAPOLIS (June 25, 2004) -- The home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will get the volume cranked all the way up this weekend as...

Bruno Junqueira Leads Champ Car World Series Points Battle as Series Rolls into Cleveland For The 23rd Time

INDIANAPOLIS (June 25, 2004) -- The home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will get the volume cranked all the way up this weekend as the 750hp turbocharged scream machines of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford take to the runways of Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport for the 23rd time.

Continuing a North Coast tradition that began in 1982, this year's U.S. Bank Presents the Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland will roll onto the 2.106-mile airport circuit July 1-3 in an event that signals the opening stretch of a demanding summer. Cleveland kicks off a summer run that will feature three races in both July and August, where for the teams and drivers of the series will find out if they have what it takes to capture the Vanderbilt Cup.

The chase for the trophy currently is headed by Newman/Haas Racing's Bruno Junqueira (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) after four races, despite the fact that the fourth-year Brazilian veteran has yet to win a race and his led only six laps so far. Junqueira has built his lead on the strength of a consistently-fast car that has carried him to second-place finishes in three of the year's first four events.

Junqueira has improved each time he has visited the physical Cleveland track, posting a personal-best third-place finish a year ago in a thrilling duel with Paul Tracy (#1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) where the two swapped positions twice on the final lap. Qualifying success has played a major role in Junqueira's hot start as he continues on a roll from last year that has seen him post 14 consecutive top-10 qualifying runs.

The qualifying success in the Newman/Haas camp is not limited to Junqueira however, and if it continues it could help defending Cleveland race winner Sebastien Bourdais re-write the Champ Car record book. Bourdais, who won last year's Cleveland event from the pole, could become the first driver in Champ Car's Modern Era (1979-present) to start each of the first five races of the year from the front row if he can repeat the feat at Burke Lakefront Airport. The Frenchman thrust himself right back in the thick of the points race two weeks ago in Portland, leading 85 laps en route to a win from pole that has him just seven points behind his teammate.

But the Newman/Haas ponies are not the only thoroughbreds in the field as Patrick Carpentier (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Tracy have made themselves a factor in the title race as well. Like Junqueira, Carpentier has used consistency to get to the top, although he has found himself fighting through the field on occasion to get there.

Carpentier made one of the bigger charges of the season two weeks ago in Portland to stay in the second spot in the championship chase, climbing from 13th to finish fourth. He is the only driver this season to have completed every scheduled lap and is also the only driver to finish in the top four in each start this year, leading to his current standing just six markers behind Junqueira. Carpentier has tasted victory champagne on the shores of Lake Erie before, having won from the outside of the front row in 2002.

His teammate and defending series champion rebounded in Portland to earn the 60th podium finish of his career, propelling Paul Tracy right back into the title hunt. Tracy joins Bourdais and Carpentier as one of three previous Cleveland winners in this year's field, earning that distinction with a win from pole in 1993. He is fifth on the all-time list of laps led at Cleveland and is just 83 orbits shy of tying Cleveland leader Emerson Fittipaldi. Tracy has the longest current top-10 qualifying streak in the series, having gridded in one of the first 10 positions in each of the last 17 Champ Car events.

The track record holder around the demanding Burke Lakefront circuit is back for another try as well as Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) returns for his 12th Cleveland start.

His 1998 polewinning lap of 56.417 seconds (134.385 mph) is still the standard for the North Coast track although race-day successes have been harder to come by. His only Cleveland podium came in 1995 in a race that saw him maneuver from 15th to finish third although the 1996 series champion has led in four different Cleveland events.

There are a pair of drivers that have yet to score Champ Car wins in Cleveland but who know their way to Victory Circle from their Toyota Atlantic days. Ryan Hunter-Reay (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who dominated in scoring a win in Milwaukee this year, finished ninth in his Champ Car debut a year ago, but scored a win from pole in the 2002 Atlantic event in Cleveland. Hunter-Reay is a close fifth in the points after four races and leads the series in laps led.

The other former Atlantic winner is quickly climbing the Champ Car results list as RuSPORT's A.J. Allmendinger (#10 BG Products/Red Bull Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has finished fifth and sixth respectively in the last two races. Allmendinger also won from pole in last year's Atlantic event, and has used his last two races to vault into the top 10 in the point standings.

He has not however, taken the lead in the battle for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award as Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing's Justin Wilson (#34 Mi-Jack/Conquest Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has the point position in that hunt. Wilson set a new career Champ Car best with a fifth-place run in Portland in a race that featured an exciting duel with Allmendinger that went on for nearly half the race. Wilson has a pair of second-row starts to his credit already and finds himself in the sixth spot in the points.

Alex Tagliani (#8 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is another driver that has strung together some solid Cleveland runs in the last three seasons. The native of Montreal has three consecutive finishes of ninth or better, including a charge from 14th to fifth in 2002. The 1997 Atlantic polesitter in Cleveland, Tagliani could find himself as high as fourth in the standings with a good run this weekend.

His Rocketsports Racing teammate Nelson Philippe (#17 LeasePlan Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will be making his first visit to Cleveland and is looking to reprise his top-10 run from Monterrey, Mexico. The rookie has kept his nose clean this year, finishing each of the year's four events, and is third among rookies in laps completed.

Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Oriol Servia (#11 Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) are both coming off of their best Cleveland performances and will look to make that final step to the podium this weekend. Dominguez placed fifth last year, while Servia started fourth and finished sixth in the best of his three Cleveland starts.

The U.S. Bank Presents The Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland will take place Thursday through Saturday July 1-3, with the 97-lap race getting underway at 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday. The Toyota Atlantic Championship, the Motorock Trans-Am Series as well as the new Formula BMW USA series will join the Champ Cars for a full weekend of action on the shores of Lake Erie.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Mario Dominguez , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Emerson Fittipaldi , Nelson Philippe
Teams Conquest Racing