PACIFICARE DRIVER SERVIA AIMS TO LOCK UP SECOND PLACE IN CHAMP CAR SEASON FINALE IN MEXICO CITY AND BRING TEAM SECOND ONE-TWO FINISH IN HISTORY; McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS EXCITED ABOUT PRESSURE-FREE WEEKEND AFTER BECOMING TWO-TIME CHAMP MEXICO...
PACIFICARE DRIVER SERVIA AIMS TO LOCK UP SECOND PLACE IN CHAMP CAR SEASON FINALE IN MEXICO CITY AND BRING TEAM SECOND ONE-TWO FINISH IN HISTORY; McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS EXCITED ABOUT PRESSURE-FREE WEEKEND AFTER BECOMING TWO-TIME CHAMP
MEXICO CITY (November 2, 2005) --- Although Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) earned their first back-to-back title when McDonald's driver Sebastien Bourdais locked up the championship with a victory in the previous race in Australia, the team still has a few more goals to achieve by the time the checkered flag falls at this weekend's Gran Premio Tecate-Telmex Presented by Banamex at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course in Mexico City, Mexico.
When an injury sidelined PacifiCare driver and then points leader Bruno Junqueira only two Champ Car events into the season, NHR's goal of winning back-to-back titles for the first time in their 23-year history and finishing first and second overall again took a major hit. Refusing to be deterred by the setback to both the McDonald's and PacifiCare programs, the team worked even harder to quickly acclimate new driver Oriol Servia into the system and the Spaniard responded by producing seven podium finishes in his 10 races to date with the team and put them back on target to earn only their second 1-2 finish in their history.
"I started this season with the same team that I finished last season with (Dale Coyne Racing) and I was definitely envying my good friend Junqueira who was driving the PacifiCare car, the fastest car out there," said Servia, whose previous best season-ending rank is seventh in 2003 while driving for Patrick Racing. "The injury was not good for him but it gave me this great opportunity to drive for the best team and best sponsor in the series and it's been great. Since I've joined the team I've been on the podium almost every race or in contention for a podium. The last race of the season is very important because everyone wants to end the season on a high note. But for us especially because we are in a position to finish 1-2 in the championship and that would be great. In the history of the team they have only done it once before so it would be a great achievement and I would be proud to help them earn it by putting the PacifiCare car up there."
Servia currently holds a 34 point advantage (265-231) over third place driver Justin Wilson with a maximum of 35 points available in Mexico City and could lock up second before the race on Sunday if he earns one of the two points for being the fastest driver in Friday or Saturday's qualifying sessions. In Servia's three races here since the series made their return to the 2.79-mile, 16-turn track in 2002 after running here from 1980-1981, his best start and finish of fifth and seventh, respectively, came last season. He earned his first career Champ Car win earlier this season in Montreal and added his first pole to the record books in the previous race in Australia although he was unable to realize the potential of a win from pole due to being hit from behind before Turn 1 on the first lap. He is optimistic of having another chance at victory this weekend.
"The track in Mexico City is great; it's a real road course," said Servia. "The track provides more overtaking possibilities than other places so, although qualifying is important like everywhere else, you can still have a good race if you don't qualify well. You need a fast car obviously like everywhere else but you need a consistent car because the track is very hard on the tires especially so if the car doesn't work very well you're going to kill your tires quickly. You need good pit stops like every race but being the last race it's a key factor. At Newman/Haas pit stops are something we work a lot on and the guys always do a great job. It feels great to be in this position and try to give the PacifiCare team the results they deserve and we will try to end the season with a win in Mexico City."
Although he needed only to start the previous race in Australia to earn his second consecutive championship, McDonald's driver Bourdais claimed the Vanderbilt Cup in commanding fashion with a win to wrap up the battle with one race remaining. Last year he entered the season-finale in Mexico City still battling his teammate Junqueira for the championship but this year he can go all-out on the challenging course that sits at a high altitude of 7,500 feet.
"The goal for the season-finale for the McDonald's team will be just like in Surfer's (Australia); go for the win," said Bourdais who added his name to those of Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Alex Zanardi and Gil de Ferran by earning consecutive titles. "There is no pressure anymore championship-wise and we just want to have fun and try to keep winning races. That's the fun part of racing. There are not many times during the season that you can put the championship-thinking mode away and we are going to enjoy ourselves in Mexico City."
Despite leading every lap, setting the fastest race lap and winning from pole here last year, Bourdais had a late-race scare that saw his 17-second lead over Junqueira evaporate and put his championship bid in jeopardy. He is thankful for last year's happy ending and hopes to be part of another 1-2 finish at the track and give the team a nice send-off after a challenging season.
"Last year when the championship was on the line and I went off course was definitely a big scary moment," said Bourdais who recovered to finish four seconds ahead of Junqueira to win the title. "We knew we had to finish and we were comfortably leading the race and we had this small misunderstanding with Mario (Dominguez) and I found myself slightly touching the grass and the car went for a spin. I kept the foot down to keep the revs up and definitely the only big problem was if I had stalled the engine. Thankfully that didn't happen and we were able to bring McDonald's a championship and Newman/Haas Racing a 1-2 finish (in the standings). That's the goal again this weekend and it will be only the second time the team has been able to do it. With the extra work in May, Bruno's injury and all of the hard work the team has put in this season, they really deserve a 1-2 finish. It would be nice to end the season with a 1-2 finish in the race as well."
In 2004 Bourdais earned seven wins, eight poles and 10 podium finishes in 14 events for a total of 369 points. In 12 races so far this season he has earned six wins, five poles and seven podium finishes for a total of 344 points. A win in Mexico City would match his total from 2004 and also bring his native France the Nation's Cup for the first time in the 10 year history of the award. Although Servia is the lone driver from Spain, his results have garnered a third place rank for his country.
In addition to the Mexican fans being treated to what should be an exciting race, they will have the opportunity to cheer for Mexican drivers Mario Dominguez, Rodolfo Lavin, and rookie Homero Richards. Since returning here in 2002, attendance numbers for this event remain a series record with the 2003 numbers still unsurpassed. A total of 402,413 fans and a Sunday crowd of 221,011 in 2003 made the race the largest single-day road racing event in North America. In 2004, it again was the highest attended race of the season with 345,428 fans over three days. Both Servia and Bourdais enjoy the atmosphere the fans provide for the event.
"Mexico City is a great place to race in," said Servia who speaks Spanish, English, French and partial Italian. "It's the biggest city in the world so there is a great energy. Champ Car set their record for attendance there and our biggest crowds of the season are there every year. It's a great feeling to end the season on a high note there with all the fans cheering. It's great at the start of the race when you see all the grandstands full and you go on the parade lap and you see all the fans there shouting. You can almost hear them saying your name and it's a great feeling."
"You've got it all in Mexico City," added Bourdais. "There is a big diversity of corners between slow, medium and high speed and there are some chicanes and esses. It's quite fast and really enjoyable. There are also big crowds so it can barely be better than it is. It's the biggest crowd we have all season so it's hard to improve on that."