CHAMPCAR/CART: Mid-Ohio: Round thirteen preview

INDIANAPOLIS (August 6, 2003) - The Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford traveled to Road America last week with a minor skirmish taking place atop the point standings, but left with a full-fledged war on its hands after...

INDIANAPOLIS (August 6, 2003) - The Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford traveled to Road America last week with a minor skirmish taking place atop the point standings, but left with a full-fledged war on its hands after Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ran out of town with the points lead in his helmet bag.

Junqueira became the first driver all season to score all 23 available points on a race weekend, and vaulted ahead of Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and into the points lead after Tracy crashed on Lap 10. Junqueira now leads the standings by three points over Tracy as the series heads to Central Ohio for the Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio on the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Junqueira and Tracy have been about as close as you can get all season long, and the three-point gap after 12 events shows how similar their performances have been. Each has eight podium finishes this season and both have scored points in every race that they have finished this year. Tracy strung together five podium finishes before last week's accident while Junqueira will be gunning for his fifth in a row this weekend.

Neither comes to Mid-Ohio this weekend with a race win under their belt on the challenging road course, although Tracy has been tantalizingly close on several occasions. Tracy has three runner-up finishes at Mid-Ohio, including a 1994 race that saw him lead 56 laps before falling to Al Unser Jr. The Ontario, Canada native has five top-five finishes at the Lexington, Ohio facility but has failed to score points in his other four starts. Junqueira placed fourth a year ago at Mid-Ohio after starting sixth.

But despite all the wrangling atop the point standings, much of the early attention will be focused on Tracy's Player's/Forsythe stablemate Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who comes into the weekend after dominating last year's Mid-Ohio event. Carpentier led 89 of last year's 92 laps in rolling to the win, missing out on leading wire-to-wire only because of a scoring quirk that scored him late on those laps where he pitted because his pit stall was located before the finish line. The Canadian veteran has scored two consecutive podiums at Mid-Ohio, having started and finished third in 2001. He has placed in the top seven in each of his last four starts at the Lexington track, although he missed the race in 1999 after an accident in Belle Isle.

Aside from Carpentier, Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is the only driver to carry a Mid-Ohio win on his resume, having taken the top prize in 1998, charging from the fifth spot on the grid and leading 26 laps to claim his first win in the United States. The only owner/driver in the series, Fernandez has missed two of the last four Mid-Ohio starts due to injury, including last season's race that he sat out because of an injury suffered in Vancouver.

Fernandez was replaced in that event by Max Papis (#27 PK Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who comes to Lexington with a mount of his own this year - one he carried to a season-high fourth place last weekend in Elkhart Lake. Papis made his very first CART Champ Car start at Mid-Ohio in 1996 and has a pair of top-fives to his credit including a fourth-place run in 2000 while with nearby Team Rahal.

Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) matched his season-high performance last weekend with a third-place run and carries a legacy of consistency at Mid-Ohio into this weekend's Round 13. Tagliani has finished in the top 10 in each of his previous three starts including seventh-place runs in each of the last two seasons.

Team Rahal is always a key component of any Mid-Ohio race weekend as the Hilliard, Ohio-based squad draws a large number of local fans to the track. The team, co-owned by two-time Mid-Ohio winner Bobby Rahal, will be looking to rebound from an uncharacteristic off-weekend with Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). The team qualified 10th and placed 16th last week at Road America, a misstep that has dropped the team 39 points back in the title hunt. Jourdain earned his first Mid-Ohio points last season with an 11th-place run after starting 16th.

Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will be making his first race-day trip to Mid-Ohio, but tested on the Les Griebling-built facility one month ago. The rookie points leader is starting to get away from his feast-or-famine trend of the first half of the season and has scored top-four finishes in each of his last four starts. The run has propelled him into the thick of the points race, leaving him just nine points behind Jourdain for the third spot in the points chase. He ran a tough second to his teammate Junqueira last weekend, whittling nearly four seconds off the lead to finish .708 seconds out of the top spot.

Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will also be looking to bounce back from a disappointing weekend and heads to a Mid-Ohio track where he has run well in the past. Servia saw a fourth-place starting spot go by the boards when he spun on the Lap 7 restart at Road America, but looks ahead to Mid-Ohio where he has finished in the top 10 in each of his previous three starts. Servia led 11 laps and climbed from 26th on the grid to place ninth in 2001 and finished 10th last year in what was just his second start with Patrick Racing.

A number of the rookie teams and drivers are showing marked improvement as the season makes the turn and heads into the second half, including American Spirit Team Johansson, which comes off of its best weekend of the year. ASTJ drivers Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) both placed in the top 10 at Road America, boosting Hunter-Reay's consecutive point-scoring streak to four races. Vasser has the most experience of any CART Champ Car driver on the technical Mid-Ohio course with 11 starts, but has only led four laps there in his career and has one podium - a second-place run in 1996 where he finished behind Alex Zanardi.

Walker Racing's Darren Manning (#15 RAC/Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) was poised to give the team its first back-to-back top-five finishes since 1999, but lost third gear in the waning laps and was passed on the last corner of the race in the fight for the fifth spot. Manning has climbed to eighth in the season standings and has strung five straight top-10 finishes together, the longest for a rookie since the 2000 season when Kenny Brack put up five consecutive top 10s.

Rookie Mario Haberfeld (#34 Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) has finished seventh and eighth respectively in the last two races while Dale Coyne Racing's Gualter Salles (#19 Alpina Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) scored his first points of the season with an 11th-place run in Road America, and has four previous CART Champ Car starts at Mid-Ohio under his belt.

The Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio will feature a full slate of racing over the August 8-10 weekend and will include the present-day stars of the Champ Car World Series along with the stars of the future in the Champ Car Ladder System. The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship and Barber Dodge Pro Series will be in action over the weekend along with the U.S. Formula Ford 2000 and SPEED World Challenge Touring Car series. The Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio will see qualifying rounds take place on Friday and Saturday with the 92-lap race beginning at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. The race can be seen live on SPEED Channel while Saturday's final qualifying will be shown on a same-day broadcast on SPEED Channel, starting at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Mario Haberfeld , Darren Manning , Al Unser Jr. , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Oriol Servia , Kenny Brack , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , Dale Coyne
Teams Conquest Racing , Dale Coyne Racing