CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland: Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing preview



PORTLAND, Ore. (June 7, 2007) --- After a six week hiatus from Champ Car racing both McDonald's ® driver Sebastien Bourdais and Medi | Zone driver Graham Rahal are looking forward to their return to competition this weekend in the Mazda Grand Prix of Portland Presented by Joe's Sports and Outdoors. Bourdais would like to continue his streak that earned him wins in the past two events and make up for missing an opportunity to win a series-record fifth consecutive victory in Portland last year while Rahal hopes to add to "firsts" that have come on this track.

"We missed a chance to win five in a row last year in Portland for the McDonald's team," said Bourdais who has finished on the podium here in three of this four races including a win from pole in 2004. "The start was really messed up last year. Basically Bruno, my teammate, thought he was in command and he should have been but the flagman just threw the green flag and the whole right side of the grid never went. It was a disaster and we ended up seventh after Turn 1. It was basically tough from there but we still had a good recovery and made it back to third. We have a very fast McDonald's car but a little better luck would have helped at the start."

In the previous 23 races held at the 1.964-mile road course, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) won seven with the most recent coming from Bourdais in 2004 from pole. Mario Andretti won the pole for the team in the first event here in 1984 while Bruno Junqueira earned the team its fifth last year on this track. In the 23 races, the team has earned a total of 15 top-three podium finishes. After the first three events of the season were held on street courses in Las Vegas, Long Beach and Houston, Bourdais is looking forward to returning to a road course after a successful test here at the beginning of the six week break in May.

"We tested well at Portland and hope to apply that experience to the race weekend and others after it," said Bourdais who took over the lead in the point standings after his second win of the season in Round 3 in Houston and is only three points ahead of Will Power in the standings (73-70). "Testing is just that; you can't say if it's going to work for sure. I think it is going to be nice to race on the road courses. It's a different stretch during the season. We've had three back to back on the streets and after the Portland road course race it gets pretty crazy again but we'll get back in the groove after the six week break."

Although the series hasn't raced since April 22, Bourdais has remained busy and has driven a Champ Car, Formula One car and Peugeot sports car in preparation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans the weekend following the Portland race in his hometown of Le Mans, France on June 16.

"I didn't have much of a break since the last race in Houston, that's for sure," said Bourdais who will travel from France to Portland, a 9-hour time difference, for the race and return to his homeland on Monday. "After Houston I went to Le Mans and did a 24 hour endurance test with Peugeot (24 Hours of Le Mans on June 16), then the Portland test, go to the Bahamas for my honeymoon with Claire which we never had. Then I went to France for a test with Toro Rosso and then the Champ Car PR tour in Brussels and Paris before I came back to the States for a day before going to the test at Mont Tremblant. Then I went to the pre-qualifying test for the 24 Hours of Le Mans before I come to Portland. It never stopped."

Bourdais' teammate Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 2 Medi | Zone Coswroth/DP01/Bridgestone, has also been busy since he became the youngest podium finisher in series history when he helped bring the team their first one-two finish since September 2005 with a second place in Houston. During the break Rahal had to catch up on the school work he missed during the first three back-to-back street course events and complete his requirements so that he could graduate, which he did on June 3. In between he had Champ Car tests in Portland and Mont Tremblant as well as a media day in Edmonton and subsequent redeye to return home to get to class the following morning. As Rahal progressed through the ranks of racing, he has experienced milestone success at the Portland track and is hoping to continue that this weekend.

"I expect more out of myself here because I'm comfortable on the track," said Rahal who is ranked seventh in the series standings with 46 points to leader Bourdais' 73 and is second to Robert Doornbos (61) in the Rookie of the Year standings. "I really like this track. I think the Medi | Zone team can be competitive in Portland, and I'm really looking forward to it. I ran and won here in Portland in 2005 in Star Mazda. It was a great race and this track has always been one of my favorites. Portland was also a great event for me last year. We were on pole in the Atlantic series and we ran the five fastest laps in qualifying so we had the field covered. Unfortunately as the race started my main competition, Simon Pagenaud, and I got together in the first corner and it took me out of the race. My first ever national go karting victory came in Portland and my first ever Star Mazda victory, which was my first ever victory in cars, came in Portland. And then I was on pole in Portland last year so I hope the momentum will continue. Basically, all of my firsts that have ever happened in racing have come in Portland."

Rahal already made his first podium appearance at the previous race in Houston but other possible firsts include earning his first top-four start to better his highest qualifying position to date of fifth in Long Beach. Although he would like to accomplish the feat sooner rather than later, at 18 years old, he has plenty of time to earn his first pole and become the youngest pole winner in the modern era (1979-present). Greg Moore currently holds the record at 22 years, 10 months and 23 days (3-15-98, Homestead). Likewise, he has a few years to earn his first win and become the youngest race winner. Nelson Philippe holds that record at 20 years, two months and 16 days for his victory in Australia in 2006. The Portland event is the first this season on a track that the majority of the field has run on before race weekend as well as the first road course event and Rahal believes it will give the team a head start.

"I am looking forward to getting back to a road course," said Rahal. "Usually street races have always been my favorite but when you start off with three street races in a row its nice to take a step back and go to where racing originated -- at the proper road courses like Portland. For us it was a great experience to test at Portland before the race to see how physical the place is in a Champ Car since I had never been there in a Champ Car. Although a lot of teams tested there I think it will give us a leg up once we come back for race weekend since we'll have a baseline for the car setup. The test was great. Any time I can get in the car is good for me at this point."

Victories by Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Paul Tracy, Christian Fittipaldi, Cristiano da Matta, Bruno Junqueira, Bourdais and Oriol Servia have brought the team's total to 99 wins after Bourdais drove to victory in the previous race in Houston and the team will now focus on winning another -- their milestone 100th. Also, Champ Car star Paul Tracy will make his return to the series after injuring his back in a practice crash in Round 2 in Long Beach which forced him to miss two races.

The Mazda Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland Presented by Joe's Sports and Outdoor will get underway Friday with the first round of qualifying at 2:00 p.m. local time. The second and final round of qualifying will take place at 2:00 p.m. local time Saturday. The green flag will drop on Round Four of the 2007 Champ Car World Series season Sunday, June 10 at 1:00 p.m. local time. The race will be broadcast live on ABC starting at 4:00 p.m. eastern.

-credit: -NHLR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Nigel Mansell , Graham Rahal , Mario Andretti , Sébastien Bourdais , Robert Doornbos , Will Power , Simon Pagenaud , Greg Moore , Cristiano da Matta