CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston: Top-three finishers press conference, part 1

An interview with: SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS GRAHAM RAHAL ROBERT DOORNBOS MERRILL CAIN: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us for our top three press conference following a very exciting third round of the Champ Car World...

An interview with:

MERRILL CAIN: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us for our top three press conference following a very exciting third round of the Champ Car World Series here at the Grand Prix of Houston. We're joined by our top three finishers in today's race.

We'll start out, get some opening comments from each one of the drivers. We'll start out first with the driver who finished third this afternoon, driver of the #14 car for Minardi Team USA, Robert Doornbos. Robert earned his second podium finish of the season today. Finished second at Las Vegas. Started 13th, finished third this afternoon. He earned a bonus point for improving the most positions in today's race.

Robert, what can you say? A very exciting race for you. You earned some great positions in the race, not only with your performance but also some good strategy as well.

ROBERT DOORNBOS: Thanks for the extra point. I didn't know that worked. No, the race was amazing. I think I made the biggest jump at the start. I had a really good start, rolling start. I really get the hang of it. I went on the inside. I think I passed five or six guys into turn one, which was quite close, quite exciting. And then we just had a really good pace.

Was very happy with the car. I was feeling comfortable with the car, saving a lot of fuel in comparison to the previous two weekends where I struggled a bit with the saving fuel thing because, you know, I'm really not used to it. But I learn quick. This time it went really well.

So, yeah, a good strategy. I mean, the guys, obviously Michael Cannon, my engineer, and Rob, his strategy partner, they're very experienced and it worked out today so I'm very happy.

MERRILL CAIN: Overall, give us a comment about the way your rookie season has started out. Joining the new team, your performance, you rose up to third overall in the standings. The start to the year you've had has been incredible.

ROBERT DOORNBOS: Yeah, it's been very good. We obviously had a very good one in Vegas where we just were competitive every session really. To finish on the podium on your debut is great. Long Beach, mechanical problem. But, you know, that happens in racing. You have to set yourself over it. Luckily there was only five days in between the next race, so we could take our revenge for a good result.

The beginning of the weekend we were really struggling around this place. I mean, I've never seen such a bumpy circuit in my life. At the end, you know, I enjoyed it. I mean, during the race it was really fun driving the circuit because you just have to be committed every lap. There's no point of relax really. And the car just came together in qualifying. We messed it up. We couldn't put it together, the lap. We knew the car was quick for the race, better than what our grid position suggested. And we proved it with very fast lap times and good strategy.

So I have to say a small thank you to my physical trainer as well because the bumps, you know, was quite intense for this hour race or hour and three-quarters. I had no problems. So, yeah, I'm happy.

MERRILL CAIN: Congratulations.

Finishing second this afternoon here at the Grand Prix of Houston, Graham Rahal, driver of the #2 car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Graham Rahal. His first Champ Car podium, just his third series start. He also becomes the youngest podium finisher in the history of Champ Car. He started sixth. First American rookie to finish on the podium since A.J. Allmendinger earned two podium finishes in the 2004 season. We pointed out he's become the youngest podium finisher in series history at 18 years, 3 months, surpasses Andrew Ranger, who was the youngest previous as he finished second in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2005 at 18 years, 5 months old.

Graham, a great run for you. We talked about it, a great qualifying performance, opening day of qualifying here on Friday. The race was certainly an interesting one for you. Talk about your day.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, all around it was a good weekend for the entire team. I mean, Sebastien was obviously the man to beat from the first session. It was pretty obvious that we had good cars this weekend. For me obviously just learning and gaining more experience from him. So luckily in the race we put it together.

I mean, we knew after qualifying yesterday, it was a little disappointing being sixth because in prequalifying we were on old tires and we were really fast. So we expected to be the same. But we had some issues so we basically couldn't put a lap together and all night, you know, the team worked really hard. We sorted out our problems, came out here today, and right away the car felt really good in the race. I was able to save a lot of fuel, keep pace with Oriol and those guys.

At the end of the day, he had to pit a lap earlier than me and that was that because I had a good inlap and good outlap. Unfortunately, went yellow. But still we got ahead of him and the team did a great job on pit stops. I have to really thank them.

MERRILL CAIN: Do you get a sense of your accomplishment at a young age? It's your prom weekend, for crying out loud, and here you are on the podium, youngest podium finisher in series history. Do you get a sense of what you've accomplished?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, you know, I feel like it is my job to be here and to do this. So, you know, I try to just put it behind me and do my best every weekend. Unfortunately, it hasn't been going our way the past couple weekends. Certainly Long Beach should have been a better result for us. But finally to be here, you know, a 1-2 for the entire team, it's a great result.

You know, I'm happy for Sebastien to have another win. I think if we keep performing this way, which is how I think we should perform, we'll be up there in the championship by the year's end.

MERRILL CAIN: Congratulations. Great weekend for you.

You talked about a 1-2 finish for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, the first 1-2 since the 2005 event at the Las Vegas oval with Sebastien taking first place and Oriol Servia finishing second. Your winner here at the Grand Prix of Houston, driver of the #1 car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Sebastien Bourdais. Represents the second win of the season, the 25th career victory in Champ Car for Sebastien Bourdais. That moves him now into a tie with Gordon Johncock for 11th all time in series history. He goes 2-2 here in Houston after winning last year here.

Sebastien, a couple of incredible moves from you, especially early on in the race. You've had an interesting weekend with the penalty yesterday, early on cutting through the chicane, but through it all you've been a true champion.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I don't know, it's not up to me to say. If you say so, I guess I'll take it (laughter).

It's just been a weird weekend overall. You know, it feels really good to be back at the top here. After a great weekend at Long Beach, you know, the first 1-2 with Graham, it has been a long time for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. It feels really good because the boys worked so hard last night. Like Graham was saying, it's been a long winter, they really worked their tails off. It's paying off. It's all to their credit. I couldn't be any happier.

But, yeah, about the race, I was really, really, you know, I have to say pissed off after yesterday's qualifying. I did really think it was a bad call. I think it was undeserved. I had only been in the way of Will Power because I had been blocked myself and I was just trying to get out of the way. They can say whatever they want. But once you're out there and you're trying to find another gap, you can't evaporate on such a short and narrow track. It was really hard. So I got penalized.

I knew it was going to have a big influence at the start, which did happen. You know, there's just no room for two side by side in the chicane. I took a good start, I was on the outside, which should have never happened. And I, you know, just really had a good run. I stayed side by side with Will. I made it through the chicane, then I was facing the second curb. There was just nowhere to go. From then on I just had to shortcut.

When I looked in the mirrored to reposition myself, because I knew I had to do that, there was just no way because Wilson was in Power's gearbox. If I had to do that, I was going to give up two positions. I was just not willing to do it.

It was a pretty tough beginning of the race. And then Justin made it a bit easier for us. He got around Will. So I just had to give up that position. And then after that, we were saving fuel, saving fuel, saving fuel. And I kind of had the feeling that Justin might have been struggling a little bit to make the fuel mileage, so I just kept the pressure. And I think at some point he really, really tried to make the target, and he just, you know, couldn't keep the pace. Got a good jump out of turn 10, got around.

After that, it was a straighter shot. But pretty eventful race. I have to say it wasn't easy. We got I think quite a few things to look at the car because towards the end, it wasn't the same car as the beginning. So I'm just glad it turned out all right. You know, very happy for all the McDonald's crew.

MERRILL CAIN: Talk about the way you started the year obviously was very tough, Sebastien, but you've really corrected it at the last two events. Where are you at in terms of the new car? Do you feel comfortable with the team and the car?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It's not as satisfying as the Lola was to drive. We do struggle a little bit to get the whole four Bridgestone tires to work together throughout a race. We do hit the balance right from times to times pretty often, about you we just have a tougher time to keep it together for a full distance.

And the car is trickier to drive. It's just not as pleasant for me at least. And I have to say I'm struggling a little bit, but I guess everybody is. And it's just a new car and we just don't have the freedom to really bring it to where we'd like it to be. But it's the same game for everybody, so we're just trying to make the best of it. So far it's working out pretty good.

MERRILL CAIN: A great win for you today.

Sebastien earned a bonus point for turning the fastest lap of the race on the very last turn here with a 58.018. We'll quickly go over the top five in points unofficially after three rounds in the Champ Car World Series. Sebastien with today's performance takes over the points lead now with 73 points on the season, Will Power is in second position with 70 points on the year, Robert is in third place with 61 points earned over three races, Alex Tagliani in fourth with 57 points, and Bruno Junqueira rounds out your top five with 53 points earned on the year.

We also want to point out from our fine hosts here at the Grand Prix of Houston, the three-day attendance total here for today's race and this weekend's races, 168,259, three-day attendance total. That represents a 31% increase over last year's event here in Houston. Certainly a great weekend of racing for everyone.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I just wanted to say an extra thing for us, obviously it was a very important weekend, as Mike is now part of the team. It's his race. You know, I feel even sweeter to bring this 1-2 for him.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Alex Tagliani , Oriol Servia , Graham Rahal , Sébastien Bourdais , Robert Doornbos , A.J. Allmendinger , Andrew Ranger , Gordon Johncock , Will Power