CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: NHR aims to win season opener

NHR Aims to Win 10th Season-Opener in 22nd Season of CCWS Much Anticipated Champ Car World Series Season Set To Open This Weekend LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 14, 2004) --- After a long off-season PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira and McDonald's...

NHR Aims to Win 10th Season-Opener in 22nd Season of CCWS
Much Anticipated Champ Car World Series Season Set To Open This Weekend

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 14, 2004) --- After a long off-season PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira and McDonald's ® driver Sebastien Bourdais are happy to trade the physical training regimes that dominated their days for the challenge of racing 750hp Champ Cars in the 2004 Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 16-18, will kick off a 16-race season that will feature events in five countries on three different types of tracks. Junqueira and Bourdais hope to add to Newman/Haas Racing's (NHR) impressive record of having won nine season-opening rounds in their 21 attempts to date.

The 30th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will unveil not only a new season for the series, it will also bring to light new changes for the series. Bourdais spent the 2003 season adapting to new challenges as a rookie in the series and is optimistic about the chance to better his fourth place rank in the standings after three wins, five poles and seven podium finishes last year.

"There are so many questions about the season opener in Long Beach because of the new pit rules, point system and Ford-Cosworth's 'Push to Pass' button," said Bourdais, who went on to win the 2004 Rookie of the Year award and become the first rookie recipient of the Greg Moore Legacy Award. "I was very optimistic last year before the season and I was obviously right because we were fast in the first two races. I feel much more confident this year because I have one year of experience."

Although he earned the best qualifying average (3.67) of any driver in the series and also won the Bridgestone Grip on the Season title which was awarded to the driver who, on the whole, posted the fastest race lap on all 18 races of the year, his season was anything but easy. The challenges of the Long Beach course proved to be the most daunting for Bourdais for a variety of reasons.

"Long Beach last year was probably the toughest race of the season for me," added Bourdais, 25. "I was frustrated with the results from the first two races and then I got to Long Beach and the track was difficult to learn. Despite all of that, I was still on my way to a possible podium finish but the engine blew. The disappointment was unbelievable because our potential was much greater than our results up to that point. This year we are in a much better shape. You can't win a championship just because you have a great start to the season, but you can definitely lose it if you have a really bad start."

Although PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira, 27, wishes the off-season could have been shorter, one benefit is that he believes he is in the best shape of his life both physically and mentally. He credits the addition of Pilates to his intense program of cycling and weight training with increasing his flexibility, overall tone and ability to relax although he says he will probably put a little more pressure on himself in Long Beach than the other races this season.

"Long Beach is one of the most important races for us of the entire season because our sponsor PacifiCare is based there and I want to win the race bad for them," said Junqueira who has earned a total of five wins, seven poles and 16 podium finishes in the series. "They have been very good to me and I can't think of a better way to pay them back than to win the race for them. I think for me to be more relaxed is going to show in the results. But on the other hand I am going to put a little pressure on myself in Long Beach because it's important that I win that race. There is no better way to start the season than with a win!"

Despite having the most consistent season in his Champ Car career and earning two wins, two poles and a total of nine podium finishes in 18 events in 2003, Junqueira had to settle for a second place rank in the standings for the second consecutive season. After moving to the team from Target/Ganassi Racing in 2003 he has had a season to get acclimated at NHR and hopes to earn the Vanderbilt Cup in 2004.

"The PacifiCare Newman/Haas team is prepared for this year," said Junqueira. "We learned a lot last year by finishing second in the championship. We did a lot of work over the winter to try to improve the car and I did a lot of work to improve myself as a driver to see if we can do better this year. I think that the first part of last year, the car was not 100 percent setup for me since I was new to the team. As the year went on we did a little bit of work on the car to improve some small things because the first part of the season I pretty much drove the car that they had in 2002 and that was not the best setup for me. It was a really good car, but it didn't suit my driving style. For the second part of the year, I thought I was much faster, winning more poles, being up front more. I finished second twice. I still have a championship to win. I hope this year can be my year."

Of their nine season-opening wins the most recent came in 2001 and 2002 when Cristiano da Matta earned back to back victories in Monterrey, Mexico. In addition to attempting to earn their 10th win in a season-opener in their 22nd season, Newman/Haas Racing hopes to add to their three wins, seven poles and eight podium finishes in the 2004 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach en route to a fifth championship in the series.

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place on Sunday, April 18 and will be televised live on SpikeTV at 4 PM ET/PT as well as live HDNet at 4:00 p.m. ET.

Newman/Haas Racing, owned by actor/race car driver Paul Newman and racing entrepreneur Carl A. Haas, is the most successful team competing in the Champ Car World Series. The team will begin their 22nd season in Champ Car competition in 2004 and will attempt to score their fifth overall title after winning 73 races and 77 pole positions. Current drivers Bruno Junqueira and Sebastien Bourdais were preceded at the team by Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Paul Tracy, Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta. For more information log on to www.newman-haas.com, www.brunojunqueira.com, www.sebastienbourdais.com or www.champcarworldseries.com.

-NHR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Nigel Mansell , Paul Newman , Sébastien Bourdais , Greg Moore , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing