Paul Tracy carries newly-won Champ Car World Series points lead into Monterrey as rest of field prepares to give chase. INDIANAPOLIS (March 17, 2003) - Paul Tracy ( ...
Paul Tracy carries newly-won Champ Car World Series points lead into Monterrey as rest of field prepares to give chase.
INDIANAPOLIS (March 17, 2003) - Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has been one of the fabled hunters on the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford scene for more than a dozen seasons, sending at least a moment of concern through even the most battle-tested drivers when he appeared in their rear-view mirrors.
But now Tracy is the hunted, earning that distinction for the first time since June of 2000 with a victory in the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and heads to Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico March 21-23 with a pack of vehement veterans and ravenous rookies nipping at his heels as they gather for the third running of the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix.
Tracy took the early championship lead with a strong performance at St. Petersburg, earning his 20th career Champ Car victory, beating Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to the line for the win. It was the first time that the series' active victory leader had ever won a season opener, and moved him into a tie with Earl Cooper for 16th on the all-time Champ Car win list.
The Canadian will take that lead to Monterrey where he and his Champ Car World Series compadres expect to be greeted by a raucous crowd of race fans that should total well over 200,000 for the three days of the event. This will be the third Champ Car event on the 2.104-mile temporary Fundidora Park layout, with the first two years drawing over a half-million fans to the track.
The massive throng is guaranteed to have the ability to cheer a new winner this season as Cristiano da Matta won the first two editions of the Monterrey event. In fact, Tracy is the only driver in the 2003 series to have earned a podium finish at the track, having finished third in the inaugural event in 2001. He is also the only driver in this year's lineup to have scored points in each of the first two seasons at Fundidora Park.
But podium finishes are not the only measure of success, and the 2003 Champ Car lineup carries a number of drivers that have gathered their share of glory at the site of the former steel plant. Chief among those is the driver that is arguably the most popular man on the site, Mexico native Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
Fernandez was the only Mexican driver for much of his 11 seasons in the series and was the impetus for many of the new generation of his countrymen that are now strapping themselves into Champ Cars. The veteran set the crowd alight last season after winning the pole by more than a quarter of a second, and then parlaying that advantage into the lead on race day as he paced the first 14 laps.
Fernandez would fall out of contention but another of the natives picked up the baton and carried it into the top five as Jourdain celebrated his first ride with Team Rahal by coming home in the fourth spot. Jourdain will look to better that performance this year as he leads the pack that chases Tracy by virtue of his St. Pete finish that put him in the second spot in the season standings.
Fernandez and Jourdain will lead Champ Car's largest-ever contingent of Mexican drivers into the state of Nueva Leon as the two veterans will be joined by Herdez Competition's Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), Walker Racing's Rodolfo Lavin (#5 Corona Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Dale Coyne Racing's Roberto Gonzalez (#11Lotto Speed Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). The quintet will be looking for good performances to get themselves back in the hunt in Monterrey as Jourdain was the only one of the Mexican drivers to score championship points in the season opener.
Newman/Haas Racing has been the most successful squad in the brief history of the Monterrey race, winning both races with Cristiano da Matta at the wheel. The team has turned its machines over to Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and rookie Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Newman/Haas Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) for 2003 and has suffered little in the way of dropoff in performance. Junqueira will make his third Monterrey start and comes into the event on the heels of a podium finish in St. Petersburg while Bourdais made a huge splash in his first Champ Car event, becoming the first rookie since 1993 series champ Nigel Mansell to win the pole in his series debut.
Rookies were a vital part of the story in Florida as they will be all year, as four of the youngsters earned top-10 finishes in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg - the first time that four first-year drivers have placed in the top 10 since 1985.
Leading the rookie charge was former British F3 champion Mario Haberfeld (#34 Mi-Jack Conquest Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone), who carried his machine to a fourth-place finish. Haberfeld's stablemate Tiago Monteiro (#7 Fittipaldi-Dingman Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) put in an effort that belied his limited testing time as he took a car that he had only put 100 miles on and brought it home in the seventh spot. Joel Camathias (#19 Dale Coyne Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Patrick Lemarie (#27 PK Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would round out the top 10 in their first Champ Car runs.
While the rookies are a vital part of the story, there are a slew of seasoned professionals that are focused on stealing the spotlight from the youngsters in Monterrey. Chief among those is the eldest of the veterans as Herdez Competition's new boy on the block Roberto Moreno (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) returns to the series after a year off, and showed in St. Petersburg that he hasn't lost a step, climbing from 15th on the starting grid to finish fifth.
The equally-experienced Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) gave his new team owner a strong run in the opener, carrying the red-white-and-blue car of Stefan Johansson to sixth place. Vasser will look to rebound from a disappointing trip to Monterrey last season where he was caught up in a first-lap crash and finished last in the 20-car field. Vasser has had some success in the shadow of the old steel towers however, placing sixth in the inaugural Monterrey event in 2001.
Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has also had an up-and-down pair of visits South of the Border, placing 25th in 2001 but coming back to earn the seventh spot last year. Carpentier led four laps in last year's event but a miscalculation on his pit window ended his chance for a podium run as he incurred a drive-through penalty that set him back.
Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) carries his third different team to his third Monterrey race as he rides the Visteon/Patrick mount to battle in 2003. The Spaniard earned a top-10 finish last year with the foundering PacWest Racing squad, one year after qualifying eighth and finishing 14th with the startup Sigma Autosport outfit.
The second round of the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford will take place on March 21-23 with one round of qualifying each on Friday, March 21 and Saturday, March 22. The third running of the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix will get underway at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday March 23. 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 19-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.