JUNQUEIRA LOOKING FORWARD TO RETURN TO RACING IN CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES AFTER AN ALMOST ONE YEAR ABSENCE DUE TO INJURY LONG BEACH (April 4, 2006) --- No other driver in the Champ Car field has anticipated the start to the 2006 Bridgestone...
JUNQUEIRA LOOKING FORWARD TO RETURN TO RACING IN CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES AFTER AN ALMOST ONE YEAR ABSENCE DUE TO INJURY
LONG BEACH (April 4, 2006) --- No other driver in the Champ Car field has anticipated the start to the 2006 Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season as long as Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) driver Bruno Junqueira. When the green flag flies on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 9 it will have been 322 days since Junqueira competed in a Champ Car event due to an injury that sidelined him last season.
"It's going to be a special race for me since it's the first time I'll be back in a Champ Car after the Indy 500 crash," said Junqueira, 29. "It is almost one year since I have raced. I remember very well my last Champ Car race -- the one I won in Monterrey (5-22-05). Long Beach is a track that I like a lot. I've been on the podium the last three years so I have had some success there and I hope I can have another strong finish there. I hope to have a good weekend with strong qualifying, strong race, good pit stops and can get a great result in my first race back in Champ Car."
Junqueira established himself as one of the most consistent title challengers since finishing runner up to the champion in 2002, 2003 and 2004 but never in those seasons had he begun as well as he did in 2005 when he finished third in the season-opener in Long Beach and won the Monterrey, Mexico race to take over the points lead. Unfortunately perhaps his best chance to date to win the elusive title slipped away in dramatic fashion in the May 29, Indianapolis 500.
Despite competing in the one-off IndyCar event in 2005 and therefore an underdog due to limited track time, Junqueira and his Centrix Financial team were on target for a good result in the Indy 500 -- and possibly a win. Junqueira had been running a lean fuel mixture and had moved up to sixth place immediately behind eventual winner Dan Wheldon. Like his previous pit stops, he would be able to run two laps longer than those in front of him on the next one and continue to gain positions with more than one-half of the race left to continue his strategic move to the front. On Lap 77 of 200 he was passing A.J. Foyt, IV who was four laps down, when Foyt's front left wheel touched Junqueira's right rear and sent the Brazilian into the wall. A fracture to his T-12 and L-1 vertebra and subsequent four hour surgery to insert two 23 cm rods and 10 Pedicle screws sidelined him for the season. Rather than dwell on what could have been, Junqueira has spent the past 10 months looking forward rather than behind.
"My goal this year is to enjoy myself and to have great races," said Junqueira. "This year I'm not thinking about the championship -- I'm thinking about driving my best. I know that if I drive my best I can grab wins and maybe win the championship but I'm not focusing on that in particular."
It will be Junqueira's sixth race on the 1.968-mile Long Beach street course. In his previous five races here he has earned three top-three finishes in the past three events. His best result is second in 2004 after starting from pole and he finished third in 2003 and 2005 and set the fastest race lap in 2002 but contact ended his day. He finished ninth in his rookie event here in 2001. In 73 Champ Car starts, he has earned 28 podium finishes (38 percent) and eight wins and knows that having a strong team like NHR behind him can help him continue his active streak of eight podium finishes in a row.
"For sure Newman/Haas Racing is a very special team," said Junqueira. "For my 19 years of racing it's the best team I've ever raced with. The consistency of the team is the most important factor. At least half the people that actually work on the racing side have been working for Newman/Haas Racing for more than 10 years and some people have been working there since day one of Newman/Haas Racing. Because everybody knows each other, everybody knows what each other has to do and it's very important to push the projects and everything forward. I think the consistency makes the team really strong."
If history is any indication, Junqueira and his teammate Sebastien Bourdais have a strong possibility of adding to the team's win total in season-opening events. In their previous 23 seasons, NHR has earned 10 victories, four of which came at this track with the most recent earned by Bourdais in the McDonald's entry in 2005. Prior to their 2005 win here it had been an 18 year drought since Mario Andretti drove to victory in Long Beach in 1984, 1985 and 1987. Junqueira knows there will be many contenders attempting to prevent NHR from adding another win here and from finishing one-two in the season-ending standings for the third consecutive time and he welcomes the challenge.
"I think the main contenders in Long Beach and for the season will be Sebastien as usual and PT (Paul Tracy), a guy that's always fast especially in Long Beach where he has always done well," said Junqueira. "I think the guy to add this year is Justin Wilson because he's looking strong. I think it's going to be an exciting race and season. My new engineer Tom Smith is a nice guy that I have known since I joined Newman/Haas. He's always worked with Sebastien and this is the first time I have worked with him but he's been on the team for a long time and he's very smart and we are working well together. For sure we are going to get better and better with time but I think we are already at a good level for the start of the season. I think we will be able to come up with good qualifying cars and good race cars and have good races."
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place on Sunday, April 9 at 1:00 p.m. PT / 4 p.m. ET. Fans can follow the action live on NBC or via the Race Director feature available on the official website of the Champ Car World Series, www.champcar.ws. A one-hour season preview will air on SPEED Channel on Saturday at 11 p.m. ET.