WITH TWO WINS EACH IN PREVIOUS FOUR CHAMP CAR RACES IN DENVER McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS AND HOLE IN THE WALL CAMPS DRIVER JUNQUEIRA HOPE TO KEEP LOCK ON TOP SPOT AT GRAND PRIX OF DENVER SPONSORED BY BRIDGESTONE DENVER (August 9, 2006) --- When...
WITH TWO WINS EACH IN PREVIOUS FOUR CHAMP CAR RACES IN DENVER McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS AND HOLE IN THE WALL CAMPS DRIVER JUNQUEIRA HOPE TO KEEP LOCK ON TOP SPOT AT GRAND PRIX OF DENVER SPONSORED BY BRIDGESTONE
DENVER (August 9, 2006) --- When it comes to the Mile High City, McDonald's driver Sebastien Bourdais and Hole in the Wall Camps driver Bruno Junqueira have something in common. Each has earned two wins in their three races on the 1.657-mile temporary street course around the Pepsi Center and both will be attempting to improve that statistic in this Sunday's 97-lap Grand Prix of Denver Sponsored by Bridgestone.
"I like Denver a lot," said Junqueira, who still holds the race record for his lap time in 2002 en route to victory and has led more laps here than anyone (215). "For the first two years of the race, I won and in 2004 I finished third so I have a pretty good record there. It's a track that gave me a lot of success. It's a very difficult track and it's at a high altitude and there is not much grip but it's a nice street course. I like to race in Denver; it's a big city in the U.S. and they have good race fans there and the race is very well promoted, especially the last two years so there is a lot of activity in addition to the race. The city stops and goes to watch the race; it's a pretty big deal. For myself as a driver I love it because I've had great results there."
Champ Car's previous namesake CART first held an event in the streets of the Mile High City when they raced here in 1990 and 1991 before taking a hiatus until they returned in 2002. Michael Andretti bought Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) a pole position in 1991 and Cristiano da Matta brought them their first podium here of third place in 2002 while then-Ganassi Racing driver and fellow Belo Horizonte, Brazil native Bruno Junqueira took the victory. NHR's first win in Denver came after they hired Junqueira beginning in 2003 and he earned back-to-back victories here in NHR's 350th series event. Bourdais capped a 1-2 finish for the team with second place in 2003 before winning here in 2004 while Junqueira finished third. Bourdais brought the team another win here last year after capitalizing on a mistake by then leader Paul Tracy while Oriol Servia, who drove for the team while Junqueira recuperated from his Indy 500 accident, finished fourth.
Despite showing the speed to earn top finishes, Junqueira has struggled to return to his consistent podium-finishing ways due to a variety of factors such as being collected three times in early race mishaps triggered by others but the Brazilian is buoyed by the geographical makeup of the remaining five races of the season. He hopes his previous success in Denver and the following events will help improve his current point standing of 12th place with 112 points, only 26 behind fifth place ranked Paul Tracy who has 138.
"I've had a difficult season so far," said Junqueira who started from pole here in 2002 and 2003 and second in 2004. "I usually fight for the championship and we are not near there now. Denver marks the point in the season where there are five races to go in the championship and I have won at each of those last five tracks except Mexico City where I finished second so I am looking forward to good races and I hope we can get great results and maybe win some."
From the start of the track walk on Thursday through both qualifying sessions and the race morning warm-up Junqueira and teammate Sebastien Bourdais will work together to get the best setup for the race on Sunday but once the green flag flies the motto 'May the best man win' will prevail. Last year, McDonald's driver Bourdais was looking likely to finish second to polesitter Paul Tracy until the Canadian made a mistake and handed him the lead with 35 laps remaining. He will attempt to earn three consecutive wins in four races here but knows many factors come into play in racing.
"I'm sure the McDonald's team will be competitive again in Denver but are we going to be able to win for the third time there? I can't be sure," said Bourdais, who finished third in the event in 2003 and won back to back in 2004 and 2005. "It's about as good as it gets in racing; you can always try but you'll never be sure of the result. In line with what we've been doing so far on street courses we should be good but who knows, we might struggle during the weekend."
A win in the previous race in San Jose enabled Bourdais to slightly increase his points lead over second place Justin Wilson (255-224) from 23 to 31 and 45 over third place A.J. Allmendinger with five races remaining in the championship. His five wins, one second place and two third place finishes in 9 events this season could lead one to believe he has his third consecutive title locked up but the reality is that the tight chase will most likely go down to the season finale in Mexico City in November.
"We had a great streak of wins to start the season with; four out of four," said Bourdais. "Everyone was saying we were going to run the table but I said 'If you say that you don't know racing.' Sure enough I was right. We've been very competitive; we won four races and finished on the podium three other times before we won again. We only had one DNF but that was really enough to bring the other drivers back in the (title) race so it's all about finishing and making sure you don't make any mistakes. You win when you can and finish on the podium when you can. If it's a top-five, it's a top-five and it's still pretty good."
The Denver track provides a unique challenge previously referenced by Junqueira and only experienced twice during the season: here and in Mexico City. The high altitude forces teams to attempt to compensate for reduced downforce as well as make sure the car does not overheat due to the thinner air.
"The challenge for us in Denver, the very big one, is the fact that we are racing one mile high and obviously that tends to bring the level of downforce down 20 percent from what we usually run at, at any other street races where we are at sea level so it's a huge challenge. We lose a lot of grip and the car bounces up and down so it changes the damper settings, and the way you feel the car and the way you take care of the Bridgestone tires. It's a bit of a different game. It's very challenging because reduced grip means it's easier to lock wheels, easier to make a mistake, slide. Denver is a tough track but it's been changing quite a lot over the years. It used to be a lot about survival and making sure the car was really easy to drive or at least drivable and it's getting more in more in line with what our other street courses are like so balance becomes more critical. The rules of the games have changed a little bit because of it so the McDonald's team is trying to stay on top things. Last year was a little hard for us so we'll try to be good again. The track is getting a little more grip and it changes what you need from your car; it's not the same compromise anymore."