McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS AND MEDI | ZONE DRIVER RAHAL HOPE SECOND HALF OF SEASON SEES THEM POST CONSISTENTLY-STRONG FINISHES BEGINNING WITH THIS WEEKEND'S REXALL GRAND PRIX OF EDMONTON As the Champ Car World Series embarks on Round 8 of 16 at...
McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS AND MEDI | ZONE DRIVER RAHAL HOPE SECOND HALF OF SEASON SEES THEM POST CONSISTENTLY-STRONG FINISHES BEGINNING WITH THIS WEEKEND'S REXALL GRAND PRIX OF EDMONTON
As the Champ Car World Series embarks on Round 8 of 16 at the Rexall Grand Prix of Edmonton this weekend, McDonald's driver Sebastien Bourdais finds himself in unusual territory while ranked third in the series standings after three "Did Not Finish's" (DNF' s) in the seven races thus far. His third DNF came at the previous race in Toronto when Robert Doornbos hit him from behind causing his race to end in the tire wall while Doornbos was able to continue on to finish sixth and take over the points lead by three over Bourdais (164-161) and two over Toronto winner Will Power (162).
Not including his ranking of 13th and third after Rounds 1 and 2 this season, the last time Bourdais was ranked anything but first or second was in his first championship-winning season in 2004 when he was ranked fourth for one event after Round 3 of the season on the Milwaukee oval. He moved up to third, then second before regaining the lead three races later and went on to win his first title. Despite the fact that his three DNF's in the seven races so far this season nearly reach his total of four in the past three years combined (2004-2006), Bourdais is optimistic that the team will continue to be consistently competitive for the remainder of the season.
"It seems like every year it's a three man battle and it looks that way again with Doornbos, Power and myself," said Bourdais. "It is tight and intense and will probably go this way until the end. A lot of things can happen but that's what the championship fight looks to be shaping up as. We will keep on plugging away and doing our job and hopefully we'll manage to get it done. Our strength has been to try to keep the same intensity throughout the whole race season and not being particularly better at one event than the other, just always being there. Obviously we've had our share of DNF's this season which isn't ideal. We would like to not have any in the second part of the season. We can't really afford any more DNF's. We'll see what happens and hopefully we'll have a better second half of the season."
Bourdais won the inaugural event here in 2005 after starting tenth and looked like a strong bet again last year after he started from pole and led 55 of 85 laps on the 1.973-mile temporary street course at Edmonton's City Centre Airport in Western Canada. Unfortunately the handling of the race car went away midrace and Justin Wilson dropped Bourdais to a second place finish. "The McDonald's car was really awesome with really good handling to start with last year in the first stint but when we put on the standard Bridgestone tires the balance of the race car went away from us," recalled Bourdais. "I just watched Justin (Wilson) disappear from us in the distance."
Round 8 in Edmonton is the third and final event of Champ Car's "Canadian Triple Crown" and a trophy will be given to the team averaging the best finishing position over the three events disputed north of the US border (Mont Tremblant, Toronto). Team Australia's Will Power and Simon Pagenaud are sitting at the top of the triple crown standings while RSPORTS teammates Alex Tagliani and Justin Wilson are second. Bourdais and teammate Graham Rahal are currently ranked third. Rahal, driver of the No. 2 Medi | Zone entry, started third and finished second in the Atlantic race held here last year and would like nothing more than another podium finish here.
"Edmonton was a good event overall for us last year," said Rahal. "It's always fun going to a place that has a huge crowd which Edmonton does for sure. For me last year it was a little difficult because we could never be the quickest but certainly this year with the Medi | Zone team we have been making huge strides and I hope we continue that in Edmonton and be right up front. Toronto was a setback for us but we are going to put that behind us and try to be up front again in Edmonton.
In the seven previous events this season Rahal has qualified in the top-10 all but once, led two races and finished a season-high second in Houston where he became the youngest podium finisher in series history. He has run in the top-two positions in four of seven races but his finishing position has been limited due to a variety of reasons. In addition to gaining valuable experience while dicing with other drivers at the front of the pack, the 18-year-old has also adapted well to the step up to the more powerful Champ Cars. The Edmonton track is the most physically demanding of the season and Rahal is confident he is ready for the experience.
"The biggest challenge the Edmonton track presents is that it is very physical," said Rahal who is ranked ninth in the standings with 101 points. "For any of the drivers in a long distance race, it will really wear you out. It wasn't so bad in the Atlantic race but this one will be a lot longer and more difficult. With pit stops and such in the Champ Car race, you should get a 20 second break every once in a while though. I feel physically fit enough. So far this year I have been able to handle a heavier steering effort than Sebastien or most of the other drivers so I feel pretty happy with my physical training. I think this team as a whole, both the Medi | Zone side and the McDonald's side, will perform well like we have at most of the tracks so far this year."
"It is a tough course because there is not a lot of rest on the track," added Bourdais. "It's very much like the Cleveland track when it's hot. You go from one corner to the next without a break and the grip level is really high and there are high speed corners so G-force wise its pretty exhausting. With the bumps, you get a lot of kickbacks in the steering so the combination of everything makes it a pretty tough race."
The past two years the Edmonton Grand Prix has drawn over 371,000 fans to the City Centre Airport to watch the drivers of the Champ Car World Series battle for victory. In its 2005 debut the Edmonton Grand Prix drew more than 200,000 fans for the three-day event setting a Champ Car record for a Canadian race. In its second year, Edmonton set the third-highest attendance figure ever posted at a Canadian race. Rahal is expecting another large crowd this year as well as a wide-open race that anyone can win. "The main competition this year has been Sebastien, of course, and (Robert)
Doornbos, who is doing a great job so he'll be tough to beat," said Rahal. " The Team Aussie cars are strong also. On any given weekend it can be anybody though and hopefully this weekend it will be us. We've just got to beat everybody."
Practice and qualifying will take place on Friday and Saturday with the Rexall Grand Prix of Edmonton starting at 3:00 p.m. local ET on Sunday. Live coverage of the race will be provided by ESPN in the United States and in Canada on Global starting at 2:30 p.m. ET.