Newman/Haas Racing's Junqueira and Bourdais aim to strengthen bid for CART Championship at Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. LEXINGTON, Ohio (August 6, 2003) --- Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) is fresh off of a dominating weekend in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Newman/Haas Racing's Junqueira and Bourdais aim to strengthen bid for CART Championship at Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.
LEXINGTON, Ohio (August 6, 2003) --- Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) is fresh off of a dominating weekend in Elkhart Lake, Wis. where PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira and Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais brought the team a 1-2 finish, respectively, as well as took over the Champ Car World Series points lead with Junqueira's 164-161 margin over Canadian Paul Tracy. Both Junqueira and Bourdais understand the importance of strong finishes in the remaining seven races this season and are optimistic about their chance to accomplish this in Sunday's 92-lap Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
"For sure the championship is getting to a very important part and its really important to finish the races and get points but not only that - we need to get some more wins," said Junqueira who has cycled daily since his victory to maintain his stamina on the season's most physically demanding track. "I think there will be a very intense battle in Mid-Ohio between the top-five in the Championship and I hope I can be up there. The team is very motivated after getting our first win of the season. They won the championship last year and they know how good that feels and want to get another one. I finished second last year and want to win the championship as well."
For first time in his Champ Car career Junqueira is in the lead of the point standings. After only 12 of 19 races in the 2003 Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series season, Junqueira has already matched his 2002 total of 164 points that earned him a second place rank to NHR's Cristiano da Matta's 237. Like Road America where he earned his fourth career Champ Car victory, he believes the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course brings out the best of his ability.
"I like a lot the Mid-Ohio course," added Junqueira. "It's a proper road course track. It's very difficult and very technical with a lot of elevation changes. Like Road America, it is difficult to put a completely perfect lap together but when you do it is very nice. I like to race here. I think I drive well on this track and I hope to put the PacifiCare car in a good position there. I think there are hardcore fans at this race just like in Cleveland. These people really love racing and it's nice to go where the fans are knowledgeable and know the drivers and all of the teams."
Prior to becoming the only driver to earn the maximum of 23 points available in 2003 at the previous road course race, Junqueira stated that he believes Tracy's strength to be on street courses while he and NHR are strong on road courses like Mid-Ohio. An equal number of road course (three) and street course races (three) remain on the 2003 schedule in addition to a Superspeedway. His highest finish at this track is fourth place but Junqueira knows his best chance at victory here will come this Sunday.
"I raced twice in Mid-Ohio," said Junqueira. "I had some problems in my first race there and finished 13th but in 2002 I had a battle with Michael Andretti and finished fourth. After problems in qualifying, that wasn't a bad result. This year I will have my best chance to win the race and the PacifiCare team will be working hard to accomplish that goal."
NHR has been competing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course since their first season in 1983 and they have earned three wins, six poles and 11 podium finishes including Christian Fittipaldi's second place finish here last season. Junqueira and Bourdais participated in the two-day test held at this track on June 30-July 1 in preparation for this weekend's event around the 2258 mile road course and both are confident heading into the weekend.
"We tested at Mid-Ohio one month ago and we ran very well," said Junqueira. "We were very strong for two days and even did a lot of miles and some long runs to simulate race conditions. We were the fastest on Day 1 and on Day 2 we concentrated on race set up. We are really confident we will run well there. The last time Newman/Haas won at this track was in 1991 with Michael Andretti but I hope I can get a win there for us. We had a good test and I think we have everything we need to get a win this year."
While NHR is fast approaching their milestone 350th race in Denver on August 31, Sebastien Bourdais has only competed in 12 Champ Car races to date although he has earned three wins, four poles and a total of five top-three performances. His second place finish in Elkhart Lake enabled him to close to within nine points of third place ranked Michel Jourdain (125-116). To date Bourdais led in all but four events (of 12), has set the fastest race lap four times (St. Pete, Cleveland, Vancouver & Elkhart Lake) and has run in the top-three in all but two races including his three wins.
The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will be only the third track Bourdais will have driven on prior to race weekend and he hopes to again use the knowledge to his advantage. At the other two tracks he tested on prior to race weekend, he ran in the top three although he was limited to a second place finish in Elkhart Lake after a podium finish evaporated in Laguna Seca when his pop-off valve failed while third. A strong finish this weekend could see him depart Ohio as high as third place in the standings.
"I think Newman/Haas Racing and the Lilly car did a great job at the Mid-Ohio test and we found a pretty strong package," said Bourdais, who has posted top-four finishes in the past four events. "The expectations are pretty high for this race. The track is very demanding physically and you don't have a lot of time to get it right. You can go up to speed in a very nice way and it is very challenging to drive there."
While many enjoyed a day or two at home between the Elkhart Lake and Mid-Ohio events, Bourdais will have been in Ireland, the United Kingdom and his homeland of France before arriving to Ohio on Thursday. He participated in an event for sponsor Eli Lilly & Company in the United Kingdom and toured the Hole in the Wall Camps in Ireland and France with NHR co-owner and camp founder Paul Newman. After a short break from racing, Bourdais is looking forward to continuing the championship battle.
"I think, as we are pretty competitive at the track and we were not the only ones, it's going to be a pretty big fight and probably very hard time in qualifying, said Bourdais. "It will be a great show and probably quite a lot of mistakes will be made from everyone because they will be trying to push the limits. I think both Bruno and I have a pretty good chance to shine on this track and I think we found a strong package and will be pretty good at Mid-Ohio."
In addition to the on-track activities, select drivers will participate in a Champ Car FanFest in Columbus on Thursday as well as an all-driver Autograph Session on Saturday at the track. Newman/Haas Racing will join other teams for the annual "Taste of CART - A Champ Car Experience" charity event in the Champ Car team hospitality units on Friday night beginning at 6 p.m. PacifiCare driver Junqueira will also appear at the "Champ Car Inner Circle Fan Club Meeting" on Saturday beginning at 5:30 p.m.
The Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio will take place on Sunday, August 10 at 2:00 p.m. and will be televised live on SPEED Channel. Saturday's Final Qualifying session will also be televised on SPEED on a tape-delayed basis beginning at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday. Live audio of the CART Champ Car World Series is available for qualifying on Saturday, August 9 beginning at 1:30 p.m. and the Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio on Sunday, August 10 beginning at 2:00 p.m., on the official web site of the CART Champ Car World Series, www.champcarworldseries.com. All times Eastern.