CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland: Round six preview



INDIANAPOLIS (June 21, 2006) - The first chink finally appeared in the seemingly-impenetrable armor of two-time defending Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) last weekend in Portland as the series leader failed to win a race for the first time in 2006.

His third-place finish in Portland allowed a pair of drivers to actually make up points on the championship leader for the first time this year, but may also have given a number of drivers new hope in closing the 30-point gap that Bourdais has on the field just five races into the 2006 campaign. The Champ Car militia will adjust aim and prepare another volley just five days after the checkers fell in Portland as the series hits Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport for the 25th running of the Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank.

The longest-running temporary circuit event on the Champ Car schedule, the Grand Prix of Cleveland provides one of the best settings on the circuit for spectators as fans can see nearly all of the 2.104-mile layout from their frontstretch grandstand seats. And over the years, the spectators have had plenty to keep them busy as the wide-open course, combined with its treacherous first turn, has set the stage for some of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport to showcase their skills.

From Bobby Rahal's first Champ Car win in a three-hour marathon and Alex Zanardi's charge to Victory Lane from a lap down to Roberto Moreno's first win and Bourdais' victory in the first nighttime road-course race in series history, the history of Champ Car racing is punctuated by great Cleveland moments.

Both Bourdais and defending race winner Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) have a chance this weekend to inscribe their names even more prominently into the Cleveland annals, as they look to join Emerson Fittipaldi and Danny Sullivan as the only three-time winners of the Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank. Tracy won from pole in Cleveland a year ago, taking advantage of his second consecutive Cleveland pole to lead 45 of 91 laps en route to his 30th career win.

Tracy and his Forsythe Championship Racing team will likely benefit from a major infusion of confidence brought on by new FCR signee A.J. Allmendinger (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who scored the first victory of his Champ Car career last weekend in Portland. The popular Californian led 100 of 105 laps in his maiden voyage with Forsythe in taking the win and now heads to Cleveland with the team that has won two of the last four Cleveland events. Allmendinger is no stranger to success on the shores of Lake Erie, having chased Tracy to the flag from second place last year, leading 19 laps on his way to the runner-up spot.

Allmendinger's former teammate Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is also poised to make his move in Cleveland as he searches for his first 2006 win after four runner-up finishes in five starts. Wilson is the only driver in the series that could take the series lead from Bourdais in Cleveland, and sits just 30 points behind the two-time champ. Wilson has shown flashes of brilliance on the challenging Burke Lakefront Airport layout, having earned the first front-row start of his Champ Car career there in 2004. His ride that day was short-lived however as his race ended - as so many others before him had in Cleveland - after an opening-lap crash in the white-knuckle first turn that is the staple of the Cleveland event.

That first corner has been the site of many a car's early demise throughout the years, and has featured incidents in the first lap in five of the last six seasons. The long, wide frontstraight narrows done to a two-wide strip of raceway and doubles back 120 degrees to the right at the end of the straight. The inviting turn has prompted many drivers to try and make big moves up the inside at the start, but much like the matador of Hemingway lore, at the last minute the cape is pulled away and the horns are revealed, usually leading directly to contact of some kind. The corner is not discriminating in who it takes out, claiming front-row occupants in 2004 and seventh-row starters last year.

The Portland event was a ray of sunshine for Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) as he scored his first pole of the year and ran to his first top-five finish. The result boosted the Brazilian into the top ten for the first time this season as he looks forward to a Cleveland track where he has run well in the past. Junqueira has podium finishes in Cleveland in each of his last two visits including a second-place effort in 2004.

There are a number of other drivers in the field for this weekend's event that will be hoping to reprise past Cleveland successes as they look to make gains on the series points leader. Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is still clinging to a top-10 spot in the points despite having to miss the Milwaukee event, and comes to the North Coast with a string of five consecutive top-10 finishes in Cleveland. The Team Australia driver led five laps on his way to a fourth-place run a year ago and took a podium finish the year before that.

Oriol Servia (#6 Bell Micro/Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is another driver looking to continue his climb with the help of some Cleveland courtesy. Servia ran the fastest lap of the race last year on the shores of Lake Erie on his way to a podium placing. The Catalunyan is also in the top 10 in points for the first time this year and has finished sixth or better in each of his last three Cleveland starts.

Cristiano da Matta (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will look to make up for a mistake that cost him a chance for his first Cleveland win a year ago, coming to the track this weekend on the heels of his best race of the year. His Portland run was his first with RuSPORT, and he took the new car to a season-high qualifying position (fifth) and his second top-five run of the year. Da Matta was on pole in 2002 and led the first 19 laps in what could have been a fifth consecutive race win before a mechanical problem ended his day.

Andrew Ranger (#27 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) continues to be one of the success stories of the first half of the year as the 19-year-old Canadian tenaciously holds on to the fourth spot in the points. He has done it with solid race-day performances, finishing at least four spots higher than he has qualified in each of the season's first five events. Ranger has earned the championship point for gaining the most spots in four of the five races so far this year and is just 13 points behind third-placed Allmendinger in the standings.

The Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year battle is still as tight as it ever was through five races, but a topsy-turvy showing in Portland has scrambled the list of suspects vying for the Jim Trueman Trophy. Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) used the best weekend of his Champ Car career to vault into the rookie points lead, using a sixth-place finish to overtake Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Katherine Legge (#20 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) in the standings. Clarke's run promoted him to the first spot where he holds a one-point lead over Legge, while Power - who ran the fastest lap of the race in Portland - is now four points behind Clarke in third. Legge is the only driver of the three to have prior experience on the Cleveland track, having raced in the Champ Car Atlantic doubleheader there a year ago.

That doubleheader yielded a pair of victories for Charles Zwolsman (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) last year as the Dutchman used those two wins as a springboard to the series championship. Zwolsman has done well in protecting his car through the first five races of his rookie Champ Car season, and stands sixth in the series in the number of laps completed.

This weekend's 25th Anniversary Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank can be seen live Sunday, June 25 on CBS Sports beginning at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time. SPEED will re-air the broadcast on its cable network July 5 beginning at 12 p.m. Eastern. As always, fans can follow the action from every on-track session via the Race Director feature on the official website of the Champ Car World Series,


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Bruno Junqueira , Bobby Rahal , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Oriol Servia , Danny Sullivan , Sébastien Bourdais , Katherine Legge , Emerson Fittipaldi , Andrew Ranger , Charles Zwolsman , Will Power , Cristiano da Matta , Dan Clarke