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

Pacificare driver Junqueira drove to a second place finish tn today's Grand Prix of Monterey; faulty pop off valve forced Lilly driver Bourdais to retire in 17th place. - PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira was almost able to bring ...

Pacificare driver Junqueira drove to a second place finish tn today's Grand Prix of Monterey; faulty pop off valve forced Lilly driver Bourdais to retire in 17th place.

- PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira was almost able to bring Newman/Haas Racing back-to-back wins at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in today's Grand Prix of Monterey but finished second in the 87-lap race on the picturesque 2.238-mile road course. It was his fourth podium finish in seven Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series races this season and it moved him out of a two-way tie for second place in the point standings to sole position of the rank with only six points less than leader Michel Jourdain who has 89.

Junqueira earned the provisional pole on Friday but set the third fastest lap in final qualifying on Saturday. Due to his provisional qualifying performance he earned a second place start due to being guaranteed a front row start as the provisional polesitter. Under blue skies, CART Champion and current team owner Bobby Rahal gave the command "Gentlemen Start Your Engines" as the Grand Marshall. When the field came around the final turn onto the front straight, Patrick Carpentier slowed because he apparently saw Junqueira prepare to get a jump and he wanted the starter to void the attempt. When he slowed, his teammate and third place starter Paul Tracy ran into the back of his car and the yellow flag flew for the only time during the race. When the cars came onto the front straight the next time by the green flag flew. Prior to the event Junqueira had commented that it was actually better to start third than second as it was a benefit for the driver to have the inside line going into the first corner. Carpentier's pace was much quicker on the start this time and third place starter Paul Tracy gave credence to Junqueira's prediction. Until Lap 9 Junqueira was able to stay within one second of second place runner Tracy but on Lap 10 he reported to the team that he had flatspotted his left front tire which made it difficult to keep the same pace. In order to remain hopeful of a strong finish he was not able to pit for a new set of tires and had dropped 11 seconds back from Tracy by lap 23 before his first stop on Lap 24. He maintained his position when he returned to the race and was 10 seconds behind leader Carpentier and nine seconds behind Tracy. He was able to close the gap with each passing lap and on Lap 31 he set the fastest lap of the race, which held until the closing laps of the race before begin surpassed. By Lap 39 he had closed the gap to Tracy to 2.3-seconds before he encountered lapped cars. Once he got around the backmarkers he was able to close to gap to .4-seconds before his second stop on Lap 48 where the team added one turn of front wing in an attempt to improve his car. He returned to the race and was less than one second behind Tracy for the ensuing laps while waiting for the Canadian to make a mistake that would provide an opportunity to pass. That opportunity came on Lap 56 when Tracy drove wide and into the gravel in Turn 6 and Junqueira took over the position, which he held until his third and final stop on Lap 72. With Carpentier's pit box next to Junqueira's, the two crews began a shootout but unfortunately the cars left the pits in the same order as they entered and Junqueira was unable to gain the lead. For the ensuing laps he ran virtually the same pace as the leader but was unable to get enough of a run on him to risk a pass for the lead. Carpentier took the checkered flag .844-seconds ahead of Junqueira who collected 17 points, which gave him sole possession of second place in the standings with 83 points. Michel Jourdain maintained the points lead after he drove from 13th place into fourth, which brought his total to 89. Following are his comments:

"The PacifiCare car was good today but unfortunately we weren't able to win," said Junqueira. "We were a little bit faster but on this track it was difficult to pass. It wasn't worth the risk because we want to win the Championship. Last time I noticed, Michel was sixth or seventh and I thought I would have taken the lead with a second place finish. Unfortunately some guys had some problems and he moved up to fourth place. We're only six points back and there are many races left this season. Patrick was driving very well. He made no mistakes. On the second start he put the power down much earlier and I got passed by Paul (Tracy). Half way through the first stint I flatspotted my left front. My car was like the Flintstones car. Once I was able to get new tires the car was good and I could get back to the front pack. Coming to the pits for the last pit stop behind Pat and he almost crashed into the pits. It was close and I almost crashed behind him because there is no space. The only time he made a mistake, there was no room for me to pass him. Then came into the pits and the Newman/Haas team did a great pitstop. Patrick's team was close, maybe I was a little bit faster, but not enough to get a run on him. It was important to finish second to get points for the Championship."

- Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais was in fourth place with a strong possibility of finishing third when he began to experience a loss of boost pressure on Lap 60 in the 87-lap Grand Prix of Monterey and he ultimately retired in 17th place. A post race inspection by the team revealed that an electronic failure in the pop off valve that regulates engine boost was the culprit for Bourdais' retirement, which led him to drop from fourth place into fifth in the point standings.

Bourdais also experienced engine related problems in final qualifying on Saturday and was fifth at the conclusion of the session but polesitter Michel Jourdain's car failed the post qualifying technical inspection for being underweight and Bourdais moved up to a fourth place start. Once the race went green on the second attempt on Lap 2, Bourdais was passed by Adrian Fernandez and Mario Haberfeld. He held his position until his first of three mandatory pit stops each 24 laps. After a quick stop by the Lilly crew, he returned to the race in fourth place ahead of Haberfeld and Fernandez and behind Junqueira. As the stint wore on, he trailed his teammate by a gap that grew to six seconds before his second pit stop on Lap 48 where the team added one turn of front wing in an attempt to improve the handling of his race car. He maintained his position when he returned to the track and held fourth place approx. 4.5-seconds behind Junqueira until Lap 56 when his teammate passed Tracy. On Lap 57, Bourdais was trailing Tracy by a mere .5-seconds. Ultimately Tracy pitted one lap earlier than Bourdais would have had to pit and the track position would have most likely yielded a third place rank for Bourdais but the young Frenchman never got to experience that as his car began losing power on Lap 60. He attempted to reset the engine control unit from inside the car but the problem persisted although he was able to hold onto fourth place for the next three laps before he made his third and final stop on Lap 64 instead of Lap 72. The team quickly checked the components, short filled the car, replaced the tires and sent him back out in an attempt to score points for a top-12 finish. He ran in 11th place but dropped down to 14th before it was evident that he would not be able to finish in the top-12 so the team made the decision to retire from the race with mechanical failure. Carpentier took over fourth place in the point standings after he earned his fourth career CART Champ Car victory today thus dropping Bourdais to fifth. Following are his post race comments:

"I think we had a good car for the race," said Bourdais. "For sure we were not the quickest on the track but we could have finished third. I was going to pit one lap after Paul [Tracy] and we probably could have gotten a position after the stop. It's disappointing to end the race the way we did in the pits. It was the second time this weekend that we had a boost problem."

- Next Up...The CART Champ Car World Series will head north for the G.I. Joe's Portland Grand Prix at Portland International Raceway to take place on Sunday, June 22. Junqueira finished second to NHR driver da Matta who started on pole last season. Junqueira also set the fastest race lap and is looking forward to the event. The team has earned six wins at this track (da Matta - 1, Michael Andretti - 3, Mario Andretti - 2) and three poles (da Matta - 1, Mansell -1, Mario Andretti - 1) as well as 11 podium finishes.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mario Haberfeld , Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Mario Andretti , Sébastien Bourdais , Michel Jourdain