PORTLAND (June 16, 2004) --- PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira replaced his teammate McDonald's Â® driver Sebastien Bourdais as the Champ Car points leader following Round 3 in the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford in...
PORTLAND (June 16, 2004) --- PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira replaced his teammate McDonald's ® driver Sebastien Bourdais as the Champ Car points leader following Round 3 in the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford in Milwaukee two weeks ago. Because the first three races in the 2004 season have produced three different winners as well as three different points leaders, both Junqueira and Bourdais realize the title fight will most likely remain close through this Sunday's 94-lap Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland as well as the remainder of the season.
Despite finishing second in the Champ Car season-ending standings for the past two years, it is only the second time Junqueira has held the points lead. He took over the top spot last season after his win from pole in Round 12 of 18 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. but contact by another driver on the opening laps of the following event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course lost him the position, which he failed to regain. Junqueira knows racing is part skill and part luck but he hopes that his performance in a test on Portland International Raceway's (PIR) 1.969-mile permanent road course in April will aid him in his quest for his first Champ Car title.
"Last year in Portland I had a problem in qualifying and started 11th," said Junqueira, whose best finish here was second place in 2001 after he started third and set the fastest race lap. "I made up some spots in the race and finished fourth. We had a good race but a bad qualifying performance but I'm sure, this year, we're going to do better. We had a test in Portland a few months ago and I was the fastest so I'm really confident that the PacifiCare car can fight for the win this weekend."
Junqueira couldn't have a slimmer lead on second place in the points chase as he has 76 to Patrick Carpentier's 75. He knows it is too early in the season to worry about the standings but is conscience of the importance of consistently gaining the most points possible.
"My strategy in Portland is to start on the pole and win the race," added Junqueira who finished fourth here last season. "Any time you lead the championship is nice but it is too early in the season to let your guard down. We weren't the strongest team at the last race in Milwaukee but we hung in there and were able to finish in the top-five and take the lead. We should be competitive in Portland so we need to make the most of the situation and try to win the event."
Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) has traditionally been competitive at PIR after having won six events, three poles and earned 11 top-three finishes in the 20 races held here to date - their most recent win and pole having come in 2002 by Cristiano da Matta. As has happened before, this weekend's race falls on Father's Day. Former NHR drivers Mario and Michael Andretti (then with a different team) earned was then the closet victory in series' history in 1986 at PIR when Mario beat his son Michael Andretti to the finish line by 0.070 seconds, giving him a Father's Day to remember. The historical mark was surpassed in 1997 when Mark Blundell beat Gil de Ferran to the checkered flag by 0.027 seconds at this track as well. With his father, Jose, in the pits this weekend, Bruno hopes to provide another memorable Father Day at PIR, a track he enjoys competing on.
"I like the race in Portland a lot, I think it's very important to the Championship," said Junqueira. "It's a proper road course and (it's) very challenging. It's a pretty nice race, there will be some passing and it will be at a time in the Championship where it will be important to get some good points. Portland is a race track with high-speed corners that make it pretty challenging. I like it - especially the last chicane where there is a left and right turn in fifth gear at 170 mph -- that's pretty cool."
Although McDonald's driver Bourdais' father Patrick won't be in Portland this weekend, the two enjoyed a different sort of Father-Son outing recently as both raced in the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend. Unfortunately neither was victorious but Bourdais hopes to change that this weekend in Portland after an admittedly difficult race here last year.
"Last year's race (in Portland) was a roller coaster ride," said Bourdais, 25. "More than anything it was a really disappointing race because we had a pretty good car and went to the back, came back to third and then fell down again. It was just after the Laguna race where I had a mechanical failure while third then we had the rear wing failure in Portland and missed the second podium in a row. At that time I was feeling pretty down."
In his rookie race here in 2003, Bourdais started fourth but his tire pressure dropped early in the race and he was forced to pit and return to the event in 18th place. He charged back into third place only to have the mount on his rear wing fail late in the race and he retired in 14th place. With his commanding win from pole in Monterrey, Mexico, two races ago he held the series points lead for the first time in his Champ Car career. A crash on the oval in Milwaukee dropped him to fourth place but Bourdais is confident the McDonald's team has the experience necessary to return to Winner's Circle this season.
"The beginning of this season is going much better than last year," added Bourdais. "We ended the season strong last year and have been able to carry it over to the start of this season. I think we now have a strong background and some experience to rely on. I'm feeling much more confident and I know what challenges we will face at each event. Also we've been a more lucky than the first races last year, it's all a package. Apart from Milwaukee, which we knew would be a challenge, the season is looking pretty good so far for the McDonald's car and we need to try to get our second win this season in Portland."
In order to improve their chance at earning their first Champ Car championships as well as the fifth for NHR, both Junqueira and Bourdais understand the need to earn a top-five finish this weekend in Portland. Heading into Round 4 of 16 this season, Junqueira holds a one-point advantage over Carpentier who has 75 points. Ryan Hunter-Reay is third with 66 points while Bourdais is fourth with 65. The 94-lap Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland will be televised live on Spike TV at 4 p.m. ET / 3 PM CT as well as live on HDNet at 4 p.m. ET.
Newman/Haas Racing, owned by actor/race car driver Paul Newman and racing entrepreneur Carl A. Haas, is the most successful team competing in the Champ Car World Series. The team is in the midst of their 22nd season in Champ Car competition in 2004 and will attempt to score their fifth overall title after winning 74 races and 79 pole positions. Current drivers Bruno Junqueira and Sebastien Bourdais were preceded at the team by Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Paul Tracy, Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta. For more information log on to www.newman-haas.com, www.brunojunqueira.com, www.sebastien-bourdais.com or www.champcarworldseries.com.