MEXICO CITY, MEXICO (October 7, 2003) --- The 2.786-mile Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez drew raves from the Champ Car World Series drivers last year in the return of Champ Car racing to the Mexico City facility after a 21 year absence. PacifiCare...
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO (October 7, 2003) --- The 2.786-mile Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez drew raves from the Champ Car World Series drivers last year in the return of Champ Car racing to the Mexico City facility after a 21 year absence. PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira echoed the praise of the facility and calls it his second favorite venue on the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford schedule. Other than Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., where Junqueira won from pole earlier this year, the Brazilian can think of no better place to continue his pursuit of the coveted Vanderbilt Cup, the award given to the season-ending Champion.
"I like a lot the track in Mexico City," said Junqueira of the faculty that produces top speeds close to 200 mph. "Last year was the first time I raced there and I really loved it. I'm looking forward to returning this year. After Road America, it's my second favorite track of the year. There are lots of fast corners and long straights. It is a long track and it's very difficult to put a good lap together. I just love it!"
Despite the 2002 Championship already being earned by Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) driver Cristiano da Matta when the Champ Cars returned to the facility, the event drew a massive raceday crowd of 174,866 last year and became an all-time CART record, surpassing the previous mark of 116,000 set in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2001. It was also estimated to be the largest single-day crowd ever to witness a sporting event in Mexico. The three-day turnout of 351,972 turned out to be an all-time CART record, surpassing the 316,000 that moved through the turnstiles that same weekend in Monterrey 2001. A large crowd is again expected and will witness a four-way title battle between points leader Paul Tracy (204), Junqueira (191), Michel Jourdain (171) and Junqueira's teammate Sebastien Bourdais (142).
"For sure the race in Mexico City is the biggest race of the year for the CART Series," added Junqueira. "There will be between 300-400,000 people there over the weekend. I want to be on pole again and put the PacifiCare team on the podium. The race in Mexico City will be very important for the Championship. Now every point is important. I think that I have a big opportunity in Mexico City to get a win."
Junqueira finished out of the top five for only the fourth time this season in the previous event in Miami although he was in contention for a second place finish before an unfortunate collision with race leader Adrian Fernandez and finished ninth. With three races remaining this season including Mexico City, Junqueira not only hopes to close the gap of 13 points behind leader Paul Tracy (204-191), he also hopes to build a gap on third place ranked Mexican Michel Jourdain, who will no doubt have the support of the large crowd as well as the added pressure of performing at home.
In the 2002 event, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) driver Christian Fittipaldi had a shot at pole but started second and was a contender for the win or at least a podium finish but trouble in two of his three pit stops as well as ultimate exhaust system failure ended his race after 67 of 73 laps. Cristiano da Matta started 12th but he moved from 8th place to 2nd on his final pit stop due to fast pit work. NHR's performance combined with Junqueira's experience from starting on pole and driving to a third place finish with his previous team have him confident of a competitive weekend.
"I was really fast and started on pole," remembered Junqueira. "I battled with Tony (Kanaan) on the first lap and went off course and then fell back to ninth place. Then I started gaining positions and passing people and finished third."
While Junqueira's title hunt may extend to the season-finale, Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais had a chance to clinch the 2003 Jim Trueman "Rookie of the Year" title at the previous race in Miami until he was hit by Paul Tracy after he had passed the Canadian for third place. The contact ended the day for both drivers. To clinch the honor in Mexico City, Bourdais needs to depart the race with 14 more points than fellow rookie Darren Manning which computes to a fifth place or better finish. Despite not having any experience on the 16-turn course, Bourdais is confident that he and NHR will be competitive here.
"To be very honest the most I have heard about the next two races in Mexico City and Australia are about the two parties," said 24-year-old Bourdais. "Both events are going to be a lot of fun. Obviously the Lilly car, I think, is going to be very good again on this track. Since the beginning of the year we have been performing well and I'm optimistic as usual for a good result."
Bourdais is currently in fourth place in the championship standings with 142 points to leader Tracy's 204 with a maximum of 68 points in the three remaining events. His tangle with Tracy in Miami not only hurt his outside chance at the Championship, he lost six points worth of ground on third place ranked Michel Jourdain (171) and is now 29 points back. To make matters worse, his 14-point advantage over fifth place ranked Patrick Carpentier also took a hit and he is now only six points ahead (142-136). Bourdais needs to strong finish to solidify his goal of a top-three rank by season's end.
The Frenchman is the first rookie in Champ Car history to start in the top six in 10 consecutive events. Two-time series champ Alex Zanardi held the previous record at nine. By earning the pole position in his Champ car debut in St. Petersburg, Bourdais became the first driver to accomplish the feat since Nigel Mansell won the pole for the '93 Australian event - also while driving for NHR. He followed that pole up with one in the next event in Monterey, the only other race in Mexico, as well as one in his oval racing debut in Germany and on the temporary street course in Cleveland. Bourdais believes the strong performance should carry over to the race in Mexico City.
"I started on pole in Monterrey, Mexico and it would be great to start on pole here as well," said Bourdais. "The team has performed well on this type of course and Bruno won the pole there last year so I think we have a strong database and we should be able to get the best out of it."
In addition to being a favorite course for any driver who has experienced it, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is unique due to being at the high altitude of 7500 feet. The engineers and drivers are faced with the added challenge of coming up with a set-up that works well with the thinner air that reduces the downforce on the car by approximately 25 percent. A record setting total of six Mexican drivers will be in the field this weekend but regardless of nationality all of the drivers will enjoy putting on a good show for the fans.
"It will be the last road course race of the year and we hope to do very well," said Bourdais who will race with a new paint scheme for this event. "The fans in Monterrey (Mexico) earlier this year were incredible and I expect it to be the same in Mexico City. You were shaking when the Mexican guys were on the front straightaway and all of the crowd was yelling for them. It was unbelievable. That's what we are competing for. We just want to put on a good show and if the crowd is enjoying it, that's all we want."
The Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante Presented by Banamex/Visa will take place on Sunday, October 12 at 4:00 p.m. and will be televised live on SPEED Channel. Live audio coverage of the CART Champ Car World Series is available for qualifying on Saturday, October 11 beginning at 2:45 p.m. as well as the race on Sunday beginning at 4:00 p.m., on the official web site of the CART Champ Car World Series, www.champcarworldseries.com. All times Eastern.