CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Round three preview

Player's/Forsythe's Paul Tracy looks to make Champ Car racing history as he seeks third straight win to open season. INDIANAPOLIS (April 7, 2003) - Champ Car World Series stalwart Paul Tracy ( ...

Player's/Forsythe's Paul Tracy looks to make Champ Car racing history as he seeks third straight win to open season.

INDIANAPOLIS (April 7, 2003) - Champ Car World Series stalwart Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was just looking to get off to a good start with his new Player's/Forsythe squad but after a pair of wins to start the 2003 campaign, the veteran finds himself on the brink of making series history.

Dominant wins in St. Petersburg and Monterrey kicked off the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford campaign, and now gives Tracy a chance to become the first driver since the formation of CART to win the first three races of a season as the Champ Car World Series heads to Southern California for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Three wins to start the season is not just unique to Champ Car, but is also an extremely rare feat in any form of North American auto racing. Al Unser Sr. was the last U.S.-based open-wheel driver to open with three wins, taking the first three races of the 1971 USAC Champ Car season, while no NASCAR driver in the last 30 years has won the first three races of the year. No IRL driver has ever turned the trick and in the top two classes of NHRA Drag Racing, only Funny Car driver Frank Hawley has taken the first three events of the year, Hawley winning the first three races en route to the 1983 championship.

In looking to etch his name in the history books, Tracy will be heading to familiar territory as he hits the 1.969-mile Long Beach street course. It was on those streets where the Canadian made his Champ Car debut in 1991, and the course was also the site of the first of Tracy's 21 series victories when he overcame a punctured tire to outduel Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi to win the 1993 event. He has earned three consecutive finishes in the top seven heading into this year's event including a 2000 win that saw him come from 17th on the starting grid.

The Long Beach event is one of the most eagerly-anticipated on the calendar as the race has evolved into one of the premier happenings in Southern California, drawing over 200,000 fans over the weekend in each of the last 10 seasons. The event features not only the 750hp Champ Cars, but also the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship and the Toyota Pro Celebrity race, which sees stars from the entertainment world doing battle in identically-prepared Toyota Celicas.

The massive crowd that is expected will have most of their eyes on Tracy, but there will be plenty of other drivers to watch as the points leader will have a pack of hard-charging foes nipping at his heels as he chases that third straight win - a pack that includes a pair of pilots that appear to be on the verge of their first series victories.

Team Rahal's Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has shadowed Tracy in both of his 2003 wins, with the eight-year veteran earning career-best second-place finishes in each of the first two races. Jourdain returns to the site of his Champ Car debut looking for that elusive first win, but has already gotten off to his best-ever start and holds an eight-point edge on the rest of the field as he sits in second place in the standings.

Rookie Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has been the class of the field in early-season qualifying after earning poles for his first two starts, but race-day strategies have precluded the former FIA International F3000 champion from parlaying his qualifying success to podium finishes. Bourdais is the first driver since Nigel Mansell to start on pole for the first two starts of his Champ Car career, but has more bonus points from qualifying (3) than he does from race finishes (2).

His teammate Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has not had the qualifying success of his rookie stablemate, but has made up for it once the green flag drops. The Brazilian has a pair of top-five finishes to his credit and holds down the third spot in the season standings after two races. He earned his first-ever top-10 Champ Car finish at Long Beach in 2001 and started third there a year ago before retiring after 51 laps.

The streets of Long Beach actually hold a number of fond memories for some of the Champ Car veterans as it has been the site of many memorable firsts. American Spirit's Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) earned his first top-10 there in 1992, and started his current run of seven consecutive top-10 Long Beach finishes in 1996 with a win that helped him earn the series championship.

Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) made his Champ Car debut in Long Beach in 1993 and has earned five top-10s on the Southern California streets, while Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) carded his first-ever top-10 in the shadow of the Queen Mary with a sixth-place run in 2000. Servia matched his career high in Monterrey three weeks ago with a fourth-place starting spot, but is still searching for his first top 10 of the year.

Coming off of his first podium finish for Rocketsports Racing, Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will being looking to duplicate his rookie success in what will be his fourth Long Beach start. Tagliani rode his new mount to third place in Monterrey three weeks ago and is looking to break a two-year Long Beach scoring drought, going scoreless on the SoCal streets after a fourth-place run in his rookie season, in what was his second-ever Champ Car start.

Crafty veteran Roberto Moreno (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has been the man to watch on race day for those fans that enjoy watching a driver coming up through the field. His qualifying efforts have left him to start 15th and 14th respectively in the year's first two races, but the Brazilian has come away with finishes of fifth and sixth to plant himself into the fourth spot in the season standings. Moreno has not had the best of luck in his previous Long Beach visits, as mechanical problems took him out of a couple of promising runs - most notably in 1997 - although he has tallied points in each of his last two visits.

The rookie drivers continue to acquit themselves well in their debut seasons as eight first-year pilots are already on the scoreboard with championship points. Chief among those is Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing's Mario Haberfeld (#34 Mi-Jack Conquest Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) who scored a fourth-place finish in the season opener, while a quartet of drivers sit in a tie for 10th in the title hunt. Of those rookies, only Patrick Lemarie (#27 PK Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has any experience on the Long Beach streets - albeit on a differently configured 1.586-mile course - as he competed in the CART Toyota Atlantic race in Long Beach in 1994, where he would finish 17th after starting fifth.

The third round of the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford will take place on April 11-13 with one round of qualifying each on Friday, April 11 and Saturday, April 12. The 29th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will get underway at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, April 13. Saturday qualifying and Sunday's race will be televised live on SPEED Channel, with Sunday's race to be preceded by a 30-minute pre-race show.

Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Veteran racing teams such as Newman/Haas Racing, Player's/Forsythe Racing, Team Rahal, Patrick Racing and Walker Racing will compete with many new teams this year in pursuit of the Vanderbilt Cup. CART Champ Cars are thoroughbred racing machines that reach speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, showcasing the technical expertise of manufacturers such as Ford Motor Company, Lola Cars, Reynard Motorsport and Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC. The 18-race 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford will be broadcast by television partners CBS and SPEED Channel. CART also owns and operates its top development series, the Toyota Atlantic Championship. Learn more about CART's open-wheel racing series at www.champcarworldseries.com.

-cart-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Lemarié , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Nigel Mansell , Sébastien Bourdais , Emerson Fittipaldi , Frank Hawley , Michel Jourdain
Teams Conquest Racing