CHAMPCAR/CART: Laguna Seca: Newman/Haas Racing pre-race notes

Pacificare Driver Junqueira Hopes to Continue Momentum from his Win in the Previous Race at this Weekend's Bridgestone Grand Prix of Laguna Seca; Mcdonald's Driver Bourdais Aims to Rebuild Lead in Championship MONTEREY, Calif. (September 9,...

Pacificare Driver Junqueira Hopes to Continue Momentum from his Win in the Previous Race at this Weekend's Bridgestone Grand Prix of Laguna Seca; Mcdonald's Driver Bourdais Aims to Rebuild Lead in Championship

MONTEREY, Calif. (September 9, 2004) --- After earning his first win of the season at the previous Champ Car World Series event, Round 10 of the 15-race championship in Montreal, PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira closed the gap to series points leader and teammate McDonald's driver Sebastien Bourdais from 58 to 34 points. With only four races remaining in the 2004 season, this weekend's Bridgestone Champ Car Grand Prix of Laguna Seca at the picturesque 2.238-mile Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca marks the beginning of the final charge for the championship.

"I think with four races to go the race in Laguna Seca will be really exciting," said Junqueira, who is ranked second in the championship with a total of 224 points to Bourdais' 258. "People will be trying to get better position in the championship. It's a pretty nice track for racing; I think the fans in California should come to watch. I think in Laguna Seca we will be able to use the Push to Pass button in Turn 1. It's a very difficult track to pass on but let's see. Last year I was faster than (race winner, Patrick) Carpentier and there was no push to pass. Maybe if I had that edge, I could have passed him. I hope this year I can get the pole and not worry about it."

In his three previous races here, Junqueira earned his best finish last season in his first here with Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) where he started and finished second to Canadian Patrick Carpentier by a mere 0.844 seconds. His other finishes include a fourth place in 2002 and a seventh place in his rookie race here in 2001. After earning top-four finishes seven times in 10 races this season, including one win and four second-place finishes he is looking forward to returning to a track he feels he and the team perform well on.

"I like the track in Laguna Seca; it's a proper road course," said Junqueira. "Last year we were really good at the test and again on race weekend. I was on the provisional pole on Friday but on Saturday a red flag came out at a bad time in qualifying and I also got caught in some traffic and lost the pole by a small amount. In the race, (Paul) Tracy passed me and I went to third but then passed him back. I had the fastest car but I just couldn't get by (Patrick) Carpentier and I finished second. It was frustrating because that was a weekend when the PacifiCare car was very strong and we were capable of winning. We are going to try to have a better weekend this year and hopefully we can get a win in Laguna Seca. I love the track and it would be great to get a win there."

A win here by either driver would be the fourth here in a points event and fifth overall ('91 Marlboro Challenge invitational) for NHR and their 80th to date. Cristiano da Matta won the event in 2002 while Michael Andretti won in 1992 as well as the 1991 race and invitational Marlboro Challenge (non-points). Of their 84 pole positions seven have come at this track (Da Matta - 2002; Mi. Andretti 0x2022 1991, 1991 (non-points), 1992; Ma. Andretti 0x2022 1984, 1986, 1987). In addition, the team has earned a total of 15 podium finishes here (see chart on following page). After a third place finish evaporated due to a pop off valve failure late in the race here last year, Sebastien Bourdais hopes to reach the potential of he and his McDonald's team this year.

"We had a pop-off value fail last year late in the race," said Bourdais. "It was pretty unfortunate. The thing went wide open, the spring broke and we had no boost anymore. We were going to be P3 because Paul Tracy was in pretty big trouble after an incident in pit lane and it would have probably been another podium finish for the McDonald's car but it never happened. We know we were pretty strong, we worked our way through the weekend but did not get the result like many races last year but this year is different and I'm sure we'll be plenty fast."

Bourdais started on pole in the previous event in Montreal but mid-race contact with rookie A.J. Allmendinger led to a 15th place finish which caused his pre-race margin over second place in the Championship to shrink from 58 points to 34. When he came to Laguna Seca last season, it was the only track he had seen prior to race weekend as the team had scheduled a pre-season test here prior to race weekend. In his second season in the series, he has improved on each of the tracks he has returned to and he hopes Laguna Seca is no exception.

"For sure we are going to work through the weekend on the evolutions we have learned on the setup to try to improve the car from last year," said Bourdais. "But all in all I know the car better, Craig (Hampson) knows me better and I know the track better. There is no reason to think we won't be in better shape than we were last year. The whole package is easier to manage. Everything has been working well so far preparation-wise this season. The whole McDonald's crew is really unified and we're just giving our best every single weekend. The best situation is to start the race from the front. We need to start up front; we won't win all of the races but it would be nice to win more before the end of the season."

After six poles and five wins in 10 races so far this season, Bourdais and the McDonald's team have built momentum toward a strong finish in the 2004 championship. In addition to leading the race in eight of the 10 events, he set the fastest lap of the race five times. His sixth pole of the season and 11th in his 28th start in Montreal earned him a 39 percent average of starting on pole. His 15th front row start in 28 races earned him a 53 percent average. He currently leads the point standings with 258 points over Junqueira, 224, and third place Paul Tracy who has 203. Twelve drivers are still in contention for the championship but more could fall to the wayside in this weekend's event. Although there are four races remaining in the season, he believes his win in Denver, where an opening lap incident sent him from first place to the last running car on track could be the decisive moment for his season.

"Denver could possibly be something we look back on and say 'That's where we won the championship,' said Bourdais who was recently nominated as a candidate for SPEED TV's third quarter Driver of the Year. "It was very important to be able to come back from where we were. We had a very fast car and that's really what it takes to win a championship. We'll just keep our heads down and stayed focused and continue as we have been working. Everything has been working well so far preparation-wise this season. The whole McDonald's crew is really unified and we're just giving our best every single weekend. The best situation is to start the race from the front. We need to start up front; we won't win all of the races but it would be nice to win more before the end of the season."

With four races remaining in the Championship, the top five in the standings are separated by just 77 points and 12 drivers are still mathematically in contention to take the 2004 title. Junqueira and Bourdais hope to earn strong finishes and narrow down the competition to a two-man battle.

The 80-lap Bridgestone Champ Car Grand Prix of Monterey will get underway Sunday at 1 p.m. PT and can be seen live on HDNet as well as Spike TV (ET). Spike TV will air the race on a tape delayed basis at 4 p.m. in the Pacific time zone.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Cristiano da Matta