CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Newman/Haas Racing preview

AFTER WINNING THEIR FIFTH CHAMPIONSHIP NEWMAN/HAAS RACING STILL HAS MANY THINGS TO ACCOMPLISH -- BEGINNING WITH WINNING THE TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 18 YEARS LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 7, 2005) --- The April 10...

AFTER WINNING THEIR FIFTH CHAMPIONSHIP NEWMAN/HAAS RACING STILL HAS MANY THINGS TO ACCOMPLISH -- BEGINNING WITH WINNING THE TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 18 YEARS

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 7, 2005) --- The April 10 running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will mark the beginning of the 23rd season of Champ Car competition for Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) and despite having had their best season ever in 2004 when McDonald's0x00ae driver Sebastien Bourdais brought the team their fifth series title and PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira finished second, they have many things yet to accomplish.

NHR has earned five championships with drivers Mario Andretti (1984), Michael Andretti (1991), Nigel Mansell (1993) Cristiano da Matta (2002) and Bourdais (2004) but they have yet to earn back-to-back titles. Advancing technology and new competition rules allow for a constantly moving "goalpost" and NHR thrives under those conditions. The prospect of another championship title being up for grabs has Bourdais thinking about getting his season off to a strong start in the 81-lap race on the 1.968-mile temporary street course as he did here in 2004 when he started second and finished third.

"It's always important to start the season in good shape," said Bourdais, who is currently overseeing the building of his first house in St. Petersburg, which is largely being funded by his earnings from winning the title. "Last year the McDonald's team came to Long Beach definitely having (winning) the championship on our mind but we had to deal with new rules on race strategy and we knew we were going to play it safe with both Bruno and I on the front row. You cannot win the championship by being hard on the first race or winning it but you definitely can lose it. If you don't finish the first races of the season, you put yourself out of contention very fast and that's the key. A championship is very long and if you're not consistent, always there at the finish, it doesn't really matter where you are as long as you're in the top-five, you take yourself out of contention. For sure a podium finish in Long Beach (in 2004) was plenty satisfying for me."

Bourdais will be one of four past champions to compete in the series this season. He is joined by 2003 champion Paul Tracy, 2002 champion and former NHR driver Cristiano da Matta and 1996 champ Jimmy Vasser. Both da Matta and Vasser joined Bourdais and Junqueira for a visit to the Los Angeles area Ronald McDonald House in advance of race weekend on Wednesday. A top-three start for Bourdais in Long Beach would also extend his existing record for 15 top-three starts that dates back to the 2003 season-finale in Mexico City.

Despite earning 82 wins, 86 poles and 202 top-three podium finishes to date since first competing in 1983, NHR has only earned three wins in Long Beach, and none since 1987. Mario Andretti brought the team all three of their victories here (1984, 1985, 1987) as well as three of their eight poles (same years). Michael Andretti (1991, 1992, 1995), Nigel Mansell (1993) and Bruno Junqueira (2004) all stared the race from the enviable pole position but the team has yet to win again here since 1987. Junqueira hopes to change that with a good finish in Long Beach and continue the momentum that enabled him to finish runner up to the champion the past three of his four seasons in the series -- a feat not accomplished since Johnny Rutherford did so from 1974-1976.

"It's really important for the PacifiCare team to have a good race in Long Beach since it's the first race of the year," said Junqueira, who has finished on the podium the past six races in the series. "We need to get a good amount of points and start the season strong to build some momentum. It would be nice to start the season with a win or at least a good finish. This will be my fifth time to race in Long Beach and I like the track a lot; its one of my favorite street courses. It's very challenging and I did well there the past two years so I hope I can do well again and get my first win there this year."

In his four previous races here his highlights include one pole, and two podium finishes -- second place in 2004 and third in 2003. He hopes to carry the momentum of two wins, six second-place finishes and 10 top-three's from 2004 to the 2005 season and earn his first win at this track as well as -- ultimately -- the Vanderbilt Cup, the award given to the series champion.

"Last year was a pretty good race; I was on the pole," said Junqueira. "At the start Paul Tracy passed me and put me second and I followed him the whole race and just couldn't get by. Last year was the first time we used Push to Pass and Tracy used it on the start to pass me and that was the deciding point of the race. Even with P2P, I couldn't get by him at the end of the race. This year I hope I can have a good qualifying, start from pole and use P2P as much as I need to keep the front. Long Beach is a very important race for us because it's the location of the PacifiCare headquarters in Cypress so its also a very busy weekend for us but I enjoy it a lot because they really get you pumped up for the event."

In the 22 previous season-opening races, NHR has won nine of those (41 percent average) including the three wins here by Mario Andretti. Other season-opening wins have come in Monterrey, Mexico (2001 & 2002 -- da Matta), Homestead, Fla. (1997 & 1998 - Michael Andretti), Australia (1993 - Mansell) Phoenix (1988 - Mario Andretti). Newman/Haas Racing is long overdue for a win on the streets of Long Beach.

For 2005 the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford will have inaugural events in Edmonton, San Jose, California and Ansan, South Korea. Also new this season will be the elimination of the mandatory pit window that has been in effect the past two seasons. Teams now have the ability to employ a number of different strategies in regard to pit stops as they fight for the top step of the podium.

The 31st annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will get underway with qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday, with the 81-lap season-opener taking the green flag at 1 p.m. Pacific Time on Sunday, April 10. The race can be seen live at 4 p.m. Eastern Time on NBC.

Driver Quotes:

Sebastien Bourdais, #1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone:

"Last year the McDonald's team came to Long Beach definitely having (winning) the championship on our mind but we had to deal with new rules on race strategy and we knew we were going to play it safe with both Bruno and I on the front row. I got kind of screwed a bit with the starting procedure because I couldn't engage the Push to Pass since I couldn't pass the S/F line in front of (polesitter) Bruno, and, the S/F line is really far in LB so I had to wait, wait, wait to make sure I wasn't going to get a penalty for that and PT just drove by us and he got us at the braking zone. After that I was not in a really good position and I just hung on there. It wasn't too bad of a race, we had a pretty quick race car but it was really difficult to pass also and it was probably better to start the season with a podium finish than to try desperately to win the race and end up in the barrier.

Did Paul Tracy's Pass Surprise You? "Yeah, I was kind of surprised I have to say because the year before he was really taking care of making sure he was going to finish the race and he put a really strong emphasis on that and that move definitely wasn't safe at all he nearly stuffed it in the wall . He was really that close to start the first race in the tires at the first corner so yes I was kind of surprised especially since you already know the course is slippery. And it's the first one so you really don't want to mess around too much but, yeah, "Great Job" to PT; he made it through and won the race so it was pretty good but he could have felt pretty stupid hitting the wall after the first braking zone of the season. PT is a guy you need to pay attention to all the time. He's always on top of his game and really trying very hard on anybody including his teammates and everything. He's a real and true competitor and he's working hard and sometimes it's not very clean but you have to give him credit for trying very hard for sure.

"It's always important to start the season in good shape. You cannot win the championship by being hard on the first race or winning it but you definitely can lose it. If you don't finish the first races of the season, you put yourself out of contention very fast and that's the key. A championship is very long and if you're not consistent, always there at the finish, it doesn't really matter where you are as long as you're in the top-five, you take yourself out of contention. For sure a podium finish in Long Beach was plenty satisfying for me."

What Happened at the Start of the '04 Race To Cause So many Crashes?: "Yeah, well it's always a tricky corner and there always lots of reasons not to make it through. Everybody was kind of shooting from the back to get a position and I was also surprised at that because usually at the first race you don't usually see that. We had a very quiet 2003 season about the starts and a pretty messy one in 2004 so we'll see how it goes for 2005."

Bruno Junqueira, #2 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone:

"Long Beach is a very important race for us because it's the location of the PacifiCare headquarters in Cypress so its also a very busy weekend for us but I enjoy it a lot because they really get you pumped up for the event.

"This will be my fifth time to race in Long Beach and I like the track a lot; its one of my favorite street courses. It's very challenging and I did well there the past two years so I hope I can do well again and get my first win there this year.

"Last year was a pretty good race; I was on the pole. At the start Paul Tracy passed me and put me second and I followed him the whole race and just couldn't get by. Last year was the first time we used Push to Pass and Tracy used it on the start to pass me and that was the deciding point of the race. Even with P2P, I couldn't get by him at the end of the race. This year I hope I can have a good qualifying, start from pole and use P2P as much as I need to keep the front. Second was a good result for the first race of the year and my PacifiCare car was very fast last year there so I hope it's going to be the same this year or ever faster.

"For sure the most exciting corner in Long Beach is Turn 1; that's where most of the passing happens. Some happens in Turn 9 as well but Turn 1 is pretty exciting. Last year there was a big crash at the start of the race in Turn 1. It was the first race of the year also so hopefully this year everyone will calm down and know it is a long race season and there are a lot of laps to run in Long Beach as well so I hope we can have a clean start. Ultimately, I hope we can get on pole again and not have to worry about it and just go for it.

"It's really important for the PacifiCare team to have a good race in Long Beach since it's the first race of the year. We need to get a good amount of points and start the season strong to build some momentum. It would be nice to start the season with a win or at least a good finish.

"Long Beach is one of the most important races in Champ Car and in America. It's a race that been around a long, long time in a very nice place in California. Long Beach is a very nice city and the race is promoted well. It's very nice when we race in front of the very big crowd there -- over 100,000 people so it's very nice for the drivers as well."

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Paul Tracy , Nigel Mansell , Mario Andretti , Sébastien Bourdais , Cristiano da Matta , Johnny Rutherford