CHAMPCAR/CART: Laguna Seca: Newman/Haas Racing race report

- PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira earned his seventh podium finish of the season in today's Bridgestone Grand Prix of Laguna Seca with his second place finish to Patrick Carpentier and closed to within 24 points of series leader Sebastien...

- PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira earned his seventh podium finish of the season in today's Bridgestone Grand Prix of Laguna Seca with his second place finish to Patrick Carpentier and closed to within 24 points of series leader Sebastien Bourdais with three races remaining in the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season. Junqueira and the PacifiCare team came to Laguna Seca optimistic after a second place finish here last year but the team struggled throughout the weekend. Junqueira crashed during the Saturday morning practice session and a difficult qualifying session led to an eighth place start. At the beginning of the originally scheduled 80-lap race around the 2.238-mile picturesque road course, Junqueira moved into sixth place after fifth and sixth place starters Michel Jourdain and Alex Tagliani made contact. He moved into fifth place on the following lap when polesitter Bourdais had to pit to replace a flat rear tire that had been cut by Paul Tracy. He held the position through two caution periods and subsequent restarts until he moved into fourth place on Lap 26 when Ryan Hunter Reay briefly went off course. He temporarily moved into third place before he made his first pit stop on Lap 30 and was able to stretch his first stint one more lap than previous race leader Tracy. He returned to the track in fifth place while new race leader Alex Tagliani and second place runner Michel Jourdain were on a different pit strategy. He moved into fourth place on Lap 38 when third place runner Tracy drove off course and had to pit to replace his damaged front wing and later moved into second place when Jourdain made his out-of-sequence stop on Lap 41. He was 13-seconds behind race leader Patrick Carpentier but the lapped car of Paul Tracy was between Junqueira and Carpentier, Tracy's teammate and Junqueira began to lose ground to the leader while trying to pass Tracy. The PacifiCare crew asked Champ Car to display the "move over" flag to Tracy as the gap grew but it was not displayed to Tracy until Junqueira was over 20 seconds behind Carpentier. Junqueira's aspirations of victory were briefly renewed when the final caution period came out from Laps 55 to 57 to remove the car of Roberto Gonzales, who was out of fuel and the field was bunched together again. Before Junqueira could attempt to challenge Carpentier, he would first need to pass another of Carpentier's teammates, 12th place Rodolfo Lavin, which he did on the restart. Carpentier's lead steadily grew and was up to nine seconds by Lap 75 of the shortened 79-lap event. Junqueira was able to close the gap to 5.395-seconds before the checkered flag. It was Carpentier's second consecutive victory here. Junqueira collected 27 points for his second place finish to increase his point total to 251 and decreased his deficit to Bourdais from 35 to 24 with three races remaining - including the next one at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where Junqueira was the fastest in the pre-race test.

Following are his post race comments:

"I am really happy," said Junqueira. "It was a good weekend for me and the PacifiCare team. We had great expectations coming here this year after running well last year. However, the car was not as good and we couldn't find the right balance. Then I crashed the morning before final qualifying and my team had to work hard to get the car ready. We started 8th, which wasn't really good, so we knew it would be hard. My PacifiCare team had good strategy and we had good fuel mileage and we were strong at the end. I am happy to finish second. The Championship is still wide open and I am still fighting hard. This really gives us a boost for us to do well in Las Vegas and keep fighting. Let's roll the dice in Vegas and see if we can win."

- McDonald's Driver Sebastien Bourdais held the lead from pole at the start of the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Laguna Seca but a flat rear tire caused by contact with Paul Tracy's front wing started what became a difficult race resulting in an eighth place finish which enabled Bruno Junqueira to close to within 24 points of Bourdais in the standings with three races to go. On the first lap of the race, which was shortened from 80 laps to 79 due to a 1:45 minute time limit, Bourdais held the lead on the 2.238-mile permanent road course while Justin Wilson was hit by Rodolfo Lavin entering the "Corkscrew" in Turn 8 and both continued. The next time the field entered the section, Bourdais drove around debris, apparently left by the previous collision, but his left rear tire was then repeatedly hit by Paul Tracy which caused it to deflate. Tracy continued but had visible damage to his front wing. Bourdais entered the pits for a new set of Bridgestone's alternate tires and also had his fuel topped off before he returned to the track in 14th place, one lap down to the new race leader, Tracy. The first caution flag of the day came out on Lap 8 when Mario Dominguez spun and stalled his car. A few cars pitted and Bourdais was able to move into 12th place and get back on the lead lap. When the race restarted on Lap 10, he moved into 10th place when Jimmy Vasser retired due to mechanical failure. The second caution period came out from Laps 12-16 for the Gaston Mazzacane and Nelson Philippe who had separate incidents. Once the race resumed, he began to close on ninth place runner Mario Haberfeld and was able to pass him on the inside of Turn 2 on Lap 18 which put him immediately behind Roberto Gonzales. He closed to within 0.2-seconds of Gonzales but was unable to pass him in the ensuing laps despite trying many times. On Lap 24 Bourdais again tried to pass the slower car of Gonzales, who had been slowing down so much at the apex of the corkscrew and other places Bourdais attempted to pass, and under braking Bourdais slid into him and both cars had to pit on Lap 25 to repair damage. The McDonald's crew replaced his damaged front wing, and added fuel and new tires before he returned to the track in 12th place, again behind Gonzales. As Bourdais was still being held up behind the Mexican, the team elected to change from a target fuel mileage of 1.8 mpg to a difficult 1.95 extreme fuel conservation strategy with the hope he could run one lap longer than Gonzales and pass him in the pits. He moved to 11th place on Lap 38 after Tracy drove off course in Turn 2 and had to pit to replace his front wing. He moved into 10th place when fifth place runner A.J. Allmendinger made contact with Oriol Servia and retired from the race due to extensive damage. On Lap 54 Gonzales ran out of fuel on course and Bourdais took over ninth place before he pitted the next time by. On the restart on Lap 57, he was passed by Tracy, who had to make a final stop before the end of the race. Once Tracy pitted and Bourdais passed Guy Smith he was in eighth place until he passed Mario Haberfeld in Turn 2 on Lap 60 for seventh place and began to pressure Alex Tagliani for sixth. At 2:38 p.m. PT, the Champ Car officials announced that the event would be a timed race rather than the previously scheduled 80-laps. He closed the 1.3-scond gap to 0.4 by Lap 72 of what would be a 79-lap race but was unable to attempt a pass so far. On the final lap, he went off course in Turn 4 after closing on Tagliani and lost one position to Haberfeld and finished eighth. He set the fourth fastest lap time of the race and collected 17 points for his finish for a total of 275 to Junqueira's 251 with three races remaining in the championship.

Following are his post race comments:

"Paul (Tracy) rubbed my left rear tire real hard with his wing and it put a big hole in it," said Bourdais. "He kept pushing and pushing and pushing on my tire until he got me sideways and punctured it. I went around the debris in the area and he just ran over it like he didn't care. After that we were trying to get back to the front and were stuck behind (Roberto) Gonzales and the struggle continued. He was slowing so much at the apex of the Corkscrew and the other corners that it was impossible to pass him. He was stopping the car so much and I was surprised once and ran into the back of him. On the last stint we were one set short on tires because we had to replace the first set after Paul cut one so we had to use a scuffed, standard set which was not the best situation. The back of the car was difficult to control and I was trying hard to pass Tagliani. On the last lap I wasn't even trying to do anything. Maybe I got too close in Turn 4 and went into the dirt which allowed Mario (Haberfeld) to pass me. It was a very frustrating race; the result didn't equal the potential."

- Up Next...The series will take two weeks off before heading to the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Bridgestone 400 Presented by Corona. Junqueira and Bourdais were 1-2 in the open test held recently for the series recently.

-nhr-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Gaston Mazzacane , Mario Haberfeld , Justin Wilson , Guy Smith , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Rodolfo Lavin , Nelson Philippe , Ryan Hunt , Michel Jourdain