Pacificare driver Junqueira and Lilly driver Bourdais hope to duplicate their pre-season test rank of first and second respectively for this weekend's Grand Prix of Monterrey and bring team consecutive one-two finishes here. MONTEREY, Calif....
Pacificare driver Junqueira and Lilly driver Bourdais hope to duplicate their pre-season test rank of first and second respectively for this weekend's Grand Prix of Monterrey and bring team consecutive one-two finishes here.
MONTEREY, Calif. (June 11, 2003) --- If pre-season test results are any indication, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) is on the right track when they return for this season's Grand Prix of Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira and Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais ended a pre-season test at this track in January ranked one-two and hope to duplicate that performance as well as the performance of the team in the 2002 event here.
Not only did Cristiano da Matta win from pole in the 2002 event here but the win put the Brazilian on a roll that saw him match a CART record for consecutive wins at four as well as lead 11 of the remaining 13 events (including two more wins) en route to clinching the Championship. Christian Fittipaldi's second place finish was further evidence of the team's strength here and Junqueira is optimistic about being able to continue the trend through race weekend.
"The Newman/Haas team finished 1-2 here last year and I think the team has the ability to finish 1-2 again this year since we ran 1-2 in the pre-season test," said Junqueira who hopes to earn his first win of the season this weekend. "I think the No. 1 PacifiCare car can finish P1 and the No. 2 car can finish second. I would like that but I bet Sebastien would prefer the other way around," added Junqueira with a laugh.
In his two previous races at the 2.238-mile permanent road course, Junqueira earned his best start of third and best finish of fourth place in last season's event but he is looking forward to returning there to race in the very cars he was envious of.
"I remember that last year I was very good there but not as fast as the Newman/Haas guys Cristiano and Christian but now I am going back in a Newman/Haas car and I think I will run much, much better and try to get the win. After setting the fastest lap time in the pre-season test as well as the fact that Cristiano won from pole there last year and Christian finished second makes me confident that the PacifiCare car will be good there on race weekend."
Junqueira displayed the consistency that wins Championships after he finished in the top-five in the first five events of the season with a highest finish of second place to teammate Bourdais in Brands Hatch, England and was the only driver to have completed every racing lap. A bad start in the Milwaukee event led to his first retirement from a race this season as well as his drop from a two-way tie for the Championship lead with Paul Tracy to third. In addition to strong performances historically at Laguna Seca, the team also fared well on the next venue in Portland, Ore. and he is planning on collecting as many of the 23 points available in each of the races and return to his early-season consistency.
"I think you have to start thinking about the Championship since the first race," said Junqueira, who is only 11 points behind first place Michel Jourdain in the point standings with 66. "You have to score points and try to do the best job you can. At the first race in St. Petersburg they gave 20 points for the win and at the last race of the year in Fontana they will give the same number -- 20 points. You just have to try to be as consistent as possible and score points throughout the season and if you can do that then at the end of the year for sure you are going to have a shot at the Championship."
Despite not having any experience on any of the tracks prior to race weekend in the first six events of the season, Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais earned three pole positions and two victories. After experiencing oval racing for the first time in his racing career at the past two events in Germany and Milwaukee, he is not only looking forward to returning to a road course - he is also looking forward to competing on a track he actually has had experience on prior to race weekend. A large portion of the Champ Car field participated in the two-day test at Laguna Seca in January and Bourdais emerged as the fastest driver on the first day with Junqueira bettering that time on the second day as well as setting the fastest overall time of the two days. He is looking forward to being able to build on that success instead of spending time getting acclimated to a new layout for the first time this season.
"I think Laguna Seca is a race track where I'm probably going to be quick because it's the only one so far that I will have had experience on before the race and also because it is more like a European track," said Bourdais, 24. "I just enjoy that kind of road course but it's also going to be a tough race because Bruno is very quick on that type of course and I think that PT (Paul Tracy) and (Patrick) Carpentier were not so far back when we tested there and they were just discovering their cars. I think I will have a good car in my hands though and the Lilly team should have a good weekend."
Largely on the strength of points earned from back-to-back wins in England and Germany, Bourdais vaulted from 16th to fourth place in the point standings with 53 points but emphasizes that while he could appear to be a contender for the title, he is still a rookie and plans to concentrate on each individual event.
"With or without thinking about the Championship, you want to do well in the races," added Bourdais. "We have the car to do the job and I am able to do it so lets take the races one by one and do as best as we can. Hopefully at the end of the year you count the points and you are there."
A win here would be the fourth in a points event and fifth overall ('91 Marlboro Challenge invitational) for NHR and their 71st to date. Cristiano da Matta won the event last year while Michael Andretti won the 1991 race as well as Marlboro Challenge invitational event (non-points). Of their 73 pole positions seven have come at this track (Da Matta - 2002; Mi. Andretti - 1991, 1991 (non-points), 1992; Ma. Andretti - 1984, 1986, 1987). In addition, the team has earned a total of 14 podium finishes here (see chart on following page). Because of the historical performance of the team, Bourdais agrees with Junqueira that a 1-2 finish is possible this weekend.
"I think we have a good package to do the job as we have had since the beginning of the season so I don't see any reason not to be able to finish 1-2 again," said Bourdais. "It's always tough to put a 1-2 finish together though. We did it in Brands Hatch and it doesn't happen often so hopefully it will happen again.
This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of Ford Motor Company, which was founded on June 16, 1903 by 39-year-old entrepreneur Henry Ford. The historic occasion will be celebrated on the grounds of Ford Motor Co.'s World Headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., from June 12 - 16. Over the past century Ford Motor Co. has put a strong emphasis on racing, and rightfully so, since funding to start the company came from a race won by Henry Ford in 1901. All series drivers will help commemorate the event by donning Ford Racing hats throughout the weekend.
The Grand Prix of Monterey will take place on June 15, and will be broadcast live by CBS Sports at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The race broadcast will be preceded by qualifying coverage on SPEED Channel starting at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time Saturday.