CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston: Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing preview



HOUSTON, Texas (April 19, 2007) --- Both McDonald's driver Sebastien Bourdais and Medi | Zone driver Graham Rahal departed the 2006 Grand Prix of Houston with something that would help them later in the season. Bourdais earned his second of four consecutive wins on the city streets around Reliant Arena and built a sizeable cushion in his bid for a third consecutive title while Rahal discovered the formula that would enable him to go on to win an Atlantic series-high five wins en route to second place rank by seasons end. Both are hoping for more of the same this weekend.

"The confidence built through starting the season strong with four wins last year was very much of a positive," said Bourdais, who led a total of 33 laps and set the fastest lap time in the 2006 Houston race. "We had a bad event in Las Vegas but the McDonald's team came back to win in Long Beach and I hope we can carry that momentum over to Houston."

This year's event will be run on Sunday afternoon rather than Saturday night like last year. Bourdais recovered from losing provisional pole on Thursday due to disqualification (under weight), and wound up with a lower than usual starting position of fifth place. At the start of the event he charged to the front and pressured race leader Mario Dominguez into a mistake to take the win.

He following his season-opening win in Long Beach up with one in Houston then went on to win in Monterrey, Mexico and on the oval in Milwaukee. He has fond memories of his charge to the front at JAGFlo Speedway at Reliant Park. "It was a pretty hectic race in Houston last year for the McDonald's team," said Bourdais, who vaulted from 13th into third in the series point standings, only 19 behind leader Will Power after his win last Sunday in Long Beach. " Definitely the hardest piece of work was passing Mario. The first four drivers to pass were kind of not easy but were surprised that I was actually forcing the issue so early on in the race. And by the time I got to Mario I think he was aware that I was on the move and he was pretty quick so it was pretty tough. It would have taken quite a few efforts to actually get to pass him but it worked out when he made the mistake."

The Grand Prix of Houston marks the third consecutive race in the 2007 Champ Car World Series season. Teams have been presented a new challenge with the addition of the all new Panoz DP01 chassis and long hours have been put in to ensure the best possible result. Newman/Haas/Lanigan team members worked until midnight on the eve of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and returned to work at 4:30 a.m. on race day. After a redeye home from Los Angeles after the race, they spent a day at home before traveling to Houston on Tuesday morning to prepare the race cars for the 1.658 mile street course in Houston. While the team was hard at work, McDonald's driver Bourdais put in more hours behind the wheel driving his motor home from Los Angeles to Houston.

"To just go to one race after another is something I used to be very familiar with," said Bourdais. "When I was in Europe I used to race six of seven weekends in a row between the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the month of June with F3000 and the FIA GT and other races. These three races in a row are definitely bringing me back in the day. Claire, Emma and I were able to make a road trip out of it in our new motor home but it will be good to get to Houston."

More time behind the wheel is also something Medi | Zone driver Graham Rahal is looking forward to. After having his Champ Car debut end on the first racing lap in the season-opener in Las Vegas, Rahal was able to qualify fifth in Long Beach and take the checkered flag for the first time in eighth place. He is looking forward to building on that experience this weekend.

"After getting a full race behind us in Long Beach the Medi | Zone team is looking forward to Houston," said Rahal, 18, who spent some time in a flight simulator at NASA's Johnson Space Center on Thursday morning. "I now have some Champ Car racing experience to build on and we can only keep improving in Houston. Last year in Houston I didn't finish the (Atlantic) race but we were very competitive. I was running second and got a little greedy and decided I was going to go for the win. I got inside Raphael Matos and I know he saw me because I was far enough beside him but he turned in and we made contact and that was the race for me. It was five laps from the end of the race but it was a good race for us last year because it was the first race where I could prove I was competitive. We went on to Monterrey, Mexico the next weekend and won the race. If I hadn't had such a good weekend in Houston, the Monterrey win may never have happened because we wouldn't have realized how capable we were of winning."

Rahal finished second in the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic championship after a title hunt that concluded in the season finale. After his eye-opening weekend in Houston last year he went on to win Round 3 of the Atlantic championship in Monterrey, which was the first of a series high five that season. Rahal is looking forward to the possibility of a strong result on a smoother track this year at Round 3 in Houston.

"I think the layout in Houston is awesome," said Rahal who started third in the Atlantic race here last year. "Given that the circuit will be a little smoother can only make the racing better. I really, really enjoyed how the city was behind the race. We had a very good turnout last year and I hope it can be even better this year. I think Houston is one of the better tracks in terms of opportunities to pass. I think it will be quite exciting and given that the circuit will be smoother will make it easier on the bodies and it will be a lot of fun."

Champ Car's previous namesake, CART, competed in Houston from 1998 to 2001 on a track around the George R. Brown Convention Center and the best result for Newman/Haas Racing was a third place by Michael Andretti in 1999. Team co-owner Carl Haas was the CEO of the entity that promoted the event with team sponsor Texaco. The series returned to the city last year when Michael Lanigan, now a partner in Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, became the promoter. A strong result would provide even more reason to celebrate.

"It's important for Mike (Lanigan) to have good results in Houston because it's become a hometown event for him since he is the promoter," added Rahal. " At the same time I don't think it puts any more pressure on us to perform better because we expect to do well every weekend. We put the same amount of pressure on ourselves to do well at every single race weekend we go to but obviously in Houston we would love to get some good results for Mike."

The Grand Prix of Houston will get underway with the first round of qualifying at 2:10 p.m. local time on Friday. The final grid will be set with Saturday qualifying at 1:30 p.m. local time with the race set to take the green flag at 2:00 p.m. local time on Sunday afternoon.

-credit: nhlr

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Graham Rahal , Mario Dominguez , Carl Haas , Will Power