Newman/Haas Racing's Junqueira and Bourdais return to Road America for Mario Andretti Grand Prix and hope to retain 1-2 rank from pre-race testing here ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (July 31, 2003) --- Newman/Haas Racing is looking forward to this...
Newman/Haas Racing's Junqueira and Bourdais return to Road America for Mario Andretti Grand Prix and hope to retain 1-2 rank from pre-race testing here
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (July 31, 2003) --- Newman/Haas Racing is looking forward to this weekend's event not only because it has long been considered their "home race" but also because it is their winningest track where they have earned eight wins, five poles and 15 podium finishes in their previous 20 events here. PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira and Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais set the first and second fastest (unofficial) times in the one-day test held at this track on June 26 in preparation for this weekend's Mario Andretti Grand Prix of Road America -- appropriately named after the driver who brought CART's winningest active team it's first victory here in 1983, their inaugural season.
Junqueira returns to his favorite track where he scored his first Champ Car victory in his rookie season of 2001 from a 10th place start. The Brazilian started on pole last year at Road America, led 14 laps, set the fastest race lap, but finished third behind 2002 CART champion and NHR driver Cristiano da Matta and Alex Tagliani after a slow pit stop by Ganassi Racing. After the previous race in Vancouver, where he finished second to points leader Paul Tracy who won his fifth race of the season, Junqueira saw his deficit increase from 15 to 20 points (161-141) but he is optimistic about his chance to post a strong result this weekend.
"Road America is a big drivers track," said Junqueira. "It's the most difficult track of the year in my opinion. It has long straightaways and the length of the course is very long so it is very difficult to put one complete lap together in qualifying where you get every corner right. The corners are really fast I just love driving there and I think the track brings out my best. I have such a great time at Road America and I know the No. 1 PacifiCare car is going to be in first place."
With a total of 23 points available at Road America, Junqueira hopes to leave on Sunday with the championship points lead and his first win of the season after having earned his highest finish of second place three times as well as a total of seven podium finishes in 11 events. Junqueira's performance at a recent pre-event test here one month ago added to his anticipation of this event as well as the possibility of continuing NHR's strong performance here.
"I really, really enjoy every lap, every moment that I spend at Road America," added the 26-year-old. "I had a great test at Road America a few weeks back and I just hope that we can continue to be P1 (position 1) for the race as well. We were the fastest in the test in the middle of the season and everybody was there. The track is where Newman/Haas Racing has had the most success. They won eight races there and I won my first Champ car race at the track in 2001 and was on pole there last year so I hope that together we can continue our success here. I am really confident for the race."
To date NHR has earned a total of 71 victories and it is appropriate that their first ever victory came at Road America -- their winningest track to date and was won by the namesake of this year's event -- the legendary Mario Andretti in 1983. Andretti also won the event from pole- the second pole for the team that now has 74 to its credit. In total NHR has won eight races including the 2002 event here by Cristiano da Matta, five poles and earned 15 podium finishes in their 20 races here. The world class facility is also the site of the beginning of team co-owner Carl Haas's interest in the sport as he competed in and won many races here as a driver before becoming a team owner.
Of the team's two "home tracks"- the Milwaukee Mile and Road America -- this event serves as a mini-vacation for the families and friends of the team due to the location and atmosphere. Rookie Sebastien Bourdais predicts a big party if either driver wins but he prefers to take a wait and see approach.
"The race is considered a home event for the team," said Bourdais. "Many of the guys bring their friends and family. I think that if Newman/Haas wins there will be a big party at Seibkens but I don't want to plan anything yet. Bruno is very strong at Road America and he was very strong in the test. I take the same approach race by race -- step-by-step -- and we will see how it goes."
Through the first 11 races of the season, Bourdais matched NHR's only other rookie - Nigel Mansell - for wins (3) and poles (4) in the same number of races and hopes to continue to earn more in the next eight events. With his third place finish in Vancouver, Bourdais moved from fifth to fourth place in the point standings with a total of 100 points and will now aim to displace current third place driver Michel Jourdain who has 125.
Prior to Road America, the only track Bourdais had driver on prior to race weekend was Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca where he ran as high as third before a pop-off valve failure ended his race. A successful test here in late June has allowed him to start the weekend with some experience of the track layout and car setup.
"It's good to get a head start entering a race weekend since we tested here and I already know the layout of the course," said Bourdais who recently purchased a bicycle so he can train with Junqueira and the other Miami-based drivers. "The test went pretty well and we were the second fastest behind Bruno. I felt very comfortable in the car. Last year Newman/Haas Racing had a strong setup at Road America and we arrived there and didn't change much which was actually a good thing because we got some cuts in the tires so we didn't get to complete so many laps on the track.
It looks like we have a very solid baseline and the Lilly car should be very good on this track. It is a neat place and it's a lot of fun to drive but it's unbelievably quick. It's a track where if you put a wheel off in the grass it's over - you crash. It's a tough place. I can see how the driver's who have won here say it's an accomplishment they are very proud of."
In addition to the on-track activities, Road America has planned a host of events including a "Mario Andretti On-Track Photo Opportunity" on Friday and an appearance on Saturday by the Cartoon Network's Johnny Bravo. NHR team co-owner Paul Newman will make his first appearance ever at the Champ Car Fan Forum, which will be held at the track on Saturday at 12 noon. He will join Mario Andretti and 1989 CART Champion and current team owner Emerson Fittipaldi at the forum.