CHAMPCAR/CART: Denver: Round fifteen preview

INDIANAPOLIS (August 27, 2003) - The last few drops of methanol that made their way through the fuel system of Paul Tracy's ( ...

INDIANAPOLIS (August 27, 2003) - The last few drops of methanol that made their way through the fuel system of Paul Tracy's (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) Champ Car greedily took four championship points with them at last weekend's Molson Indy Montreal as Tracy's machine coasted to the finish line on the last lap of the day.

The Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford points leader will go in search of those lost points along with a few others this weekend however, as Tracy and an 18-car pack of 750hp rocketships unleash their turbocharged fury on the streets of downtown Denver in the Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver.

Tracy has what amounts to a one-race cushion in the championship, carrying a 28-point lead into the weekend, but he heads to a tight 1.647-mile Denver street course that was ruled by Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) last season - the same Bruno Junqueira that sits in second place behind the frontrunning Tracy after 14 races.

Junqueira will hope to reprise his dominant performance from a year ago in Denver as he looks to break a two-race scoreless streak that has seen him lose the series points lead that he took with his Road America victory. The Brazilian had not gone scoreless in consecutive events since round eight and nine of last season and now finds himself not only in danger of not catching Tracy, but also of falling out of second place as a trio of drivers are nipping at his heels. He was the man to beat over the entire weekend in the inaugural Grand Prix of Denver last season, starting from the pole and leading all 100 laps en route to his third career victory.

Junqueira's race-day dominance not withstanding, the nine-turn Denver circuit provided a wide-open event last season. The high altitude forced teams to try different aerodynamic configurations as downforce was estimated to be 80 percent of what it would normally be, requiring teams to work on different setups all through the weekend. As a result, the first four sessions of last year's race were paced by four different drivers, including first-round qualifying leader Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) who had not led a road or street course qualifying session since the season opener at Monterrey. The course surface has also been improved this year in response to some of the driver's concerns from last season, resulting in a smoother track designed to provide more grip and better racing.

Chief among Junqueira's pursuers is Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante/Centrix Financial Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who vaulted back into the title hunt with a victory last weekend in Montreal. Jourdain has earned top-four finishes in four of his last five starts and only an uncharacteristic bobble at Road America has kept him from putting up 11 consecutive points-paying finishes. The Mexican pilot has used the recent stretch to climb to within seven points of second place and finds himself just 35 markers out of the series lead with five races to run.

A fierce battle rages behind Jourdain for fourth and fifth as well with Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Sebastien Bourdais (#2 McDonald's/Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) swapping positions nearly every race. Carpentier now holds the fourth spot by two points over Bourdais, making the move by virtue of his podium finish in Montreal while Bourdais suffered his worst finish of the season - placing 19th after mechanical trouble felled him on Lap 29.

Momentum will be favoring a pair of drivers that are coming off strong Montreal performances, but are still in search of a maiden CART Champ Car victory. Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) had another one of those weekends where he did everything except win, taking the pole and leading 52 of the first 55 laps of the Molson Indy Montreal, but cruelly saw defeat snatched from the jaws of victory as a pair of yellow flags and a late-race pit stop forced him to settle for a fourth-place finish.

Patrick Racing's Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) also will look to build on last weekend's performance as he stopped a three-race scoreless skid in grand fashion. The Spaniard led a Champ Car qualifying session for the first time in his career, earning a career-high second-place starting spot as a result of his leading Friday qualifying. He would then go on to match a career high with a second-place finish at Montreal, and heads to a Denver track where he claimed a pair of championship points last year with an 11th-place finish.

The two-car Herdez Competition squad also comes to Denver on a wave of good results after Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Roberto Moreno (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) put up strong showings in Montreal. Dominguez claimed his fourth top-five finish of the season with a fifth-place run while Moreno led his first laps of the season on his way to a seventh-place finish.

The series will welcome another high-profile driver with an extensive international pedigree to the show this weekend as former Formula 1 pilot Mika Salo (#27 PK Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) takes the reins for the first-year PK Racing squad. A veteran of 110 F1 starts, the 36-year-old Salo will be taking his first crack at a CART Champ Car event weekend although the former Tyrrell and Ferrari driver tested the PK racing machine two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio and had no problems.

Darren Manning (#15 RAC/Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) will have a chance to make series history this weekend as the precocious Brit looks to earn his eighth consecutive top-10 finish. Last weekend's 10th-place run equaled the series record of seven in a row set by John Jones in 1988 and one more would make him the first CART Champ Car rookie to string together eight top 10s. Manning leads all rookies in laps and miles completed and his 12 race finishes ties him with Mario Haberfeld (#34 Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) for the rookie lead.

Adrian Fernandez found a setup that he and his Fernandez Racing team liked on his last visit to Denver, parlaying that into second- and third-place starting spots for what was then a two-car effort last season. Fernandez started second after pacing Friday qualifying and went on to finish fourth on the Denver streets last season and has quietly put together a nine-race streak of points-paying finishes, including a not-so-quiet win in Portland. The streak is his best since his runner-up campaign of 2000 and was lengthened to nine races with an eighth-place finish last week.

The Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver gets underway with practice and first-round qualifying on August 29, with final-round qualifying seen live on SPEED Channel Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The 106-lap event gets underway at 1:00 p.m. local time on Sunday, August 31 and can be seen on a same-day, tape-delayed basis on SPEED Channel with a pre-race show kicking off the event at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time. In addition to the CART Champ Cars, the future series stars will also be on display as A.J. Allmendinger looks to clinch his first CART Toyota Atlantic Series championship. Allmendinger carries a 26-point lead over Ryan Dalziel into the year's penultimate race weekend and comes off a weekend in Montreal where he earned his sixth victory of the season.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Mario Haberfeld , Darren Manning , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Mika Salo , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Michel Jourdain
Teams Conquest Racing