NEWMAN/HAAS RACING RETURNS TO SITE OF FIRST VICTORY IN SEARCH OF NEXT ONE; BOURDAIS AIMS TO COME CLOSER TO HISTORIC THIRD TITLE WHILE JUNQUEIRA RETURNS TO FAVORITE TRACK IN SEARCH OF THIRD VICTORY HERE ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (September 20, 2006) ---...
NEWMAN/HAAS RACING RETURNS TO SITE OF FIRST VICTORY IN SEARCH OF NEXT ONE; BOURDAIS AIMS TO COME CLOSER TO HISTORIC THIRD TITLE WHILE JUNQUEIRA RETURNS TO FAVORITE TRACK IN SEARCH OF THIRD VICTORY HERE
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (September 20, 2006) --- With 96 wins, 100 poles and 229 podium finishes since their first season of competition in 1983, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) is one of the most successful open wheel racing teams in existence today but no track has been as good to the team over the years as the picturesque 4.048-mile Road America course in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Mario Andretti brought NHR their first victory here in 1983 as well as their first of six championships in 1984 and the team would like nothing better than to solidify their bid to earn their third consecutive title and seventh overall here at the track where the success began.
McDonald's driver Sebastien Bourdais earned his first Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford title in 2004 at the season finale in Mexico City and was able to solidify his second title with one race to go in Australia in 2005. With 310 points to A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson's 249, Bourdais could clinch his third consecutive title with two races to go (Australia and Mexico City) if he can increase his 62 point advantage by eight to 80 over second place by the end of the race on Sunday. There is a maximum of 35 points available in each remaining events but Bourdais knows that even if he earns the maximum in Road America, his title bid might not be concluded here.
"For the McDonald's team to clinch the championship this weekend we would need to have a perfect weekend and our opponents would need to have a bad one," said Bourdais who has earned six wins, seven poles and 9 podiums in 11 races so far this season. "What we need to focus on is to just finish the event and leave Elkhart Lake with the same (point) lead. Then just starting the race in Surfer's Paradise would do it for us which is a similar scenario to last year but we were able to win the title in style with a victory in Australia which was what we hoped for instead of winning it just by starting."J J In the 22 events the team has competed in at Road America, which is situated only a few hours from their Lincolnshire, Ill. base, they have earned 9 wins, seven poles and 18 podium finishes with the most recent win being earned by Hole in the Wall Camps driver Bruno Junqueira in 2003 while Bourdais finished second. Bourdais and Junqueira looked likely to repeat the team's 2003 1-2 finish here in 2004 but a ragged restart from caution while Bourdais and Junqueira were running first and second, respectively, dropped them back in the field and they weren't able to recover as the race played out.
"The race in 2004 was definitely a mess," said Bourdais who led the first 13 laps from pole before the pivotal restart. "Newman/Haas Racing has traditionally been very good at Road America and the team considers it their home race. It was very frustrating because we felt the McDonald's car was really, really good. The first stint went flawlessly and then from there on it went to hell. There was a big miscue on a restart and the pace car was still in the way and I had to jump on the brakes and (second place) Bruno went in the grass. Tracy, who was third, hit us and from then on it was a downhill battle. We managed to salvage a third place finish but that was quite a crazy race."
Road America is one of the oldest road-racing courses in North America and is also the longest natural road racing facility. In 2005, Road America celebrated not only its 50th anniversary, but also the track's inclusion to the Register of Historic Places. The Road America race circuit is one of only two preserved circuits in the United States given this prestigious honor. The track is a favorite among most open-wheel drivers who compete in the United States and especially for Junqueira who earned his first Champ Car win here in his rookie season in 2001.
"I love the Road America track; I got my first win in Champ Car there in 2001," said Junqueira, who spent the past weekend as a camp counselor at one of the Hole in the Wall Camps founded by team co-owner Paul Newman. "Every year I have raced there, I led the race. I have multiple poles and fastest race laps there in addition to multiple wins and podiums so it is a good track for me. It's a proper road course and the best of the year. It's the kind of track I was born for racing on; I love it. It has fast corners, long straight-aways good for passing and for sure the best track of the year."
In his four races here to date, Junqueira has started from pole twice, won two, finished third once and ran as high as second last year before he finished 15th due to mid-race difficulties. In 2003 he earned the maximum amount of points and led 34 laps en route to his first win of the season which enabled him to take the championship point lead. He is currently ranked eighth in the Champ Car standings with 149 points but is only 26 away from fourth place ranked Nelson Philippe (175) with three events to go.
Junqueira's past success at events in Road America, Australia and Mexico City have him hopeful for a strong finish to the season. He finished second in Cleveland and Denver this year but a win in Road America would be significant not only because it would be his first of the season, it would also be a personal tribute to former NHR driver and childhood friend Cristiano da Matta who was seriously injured during the August open test at this track and is steadily recovering at Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah, Wis.
"Road America is my favorite track of the season and I am sure it is Cristiano's as well," said Junqueira. "This year it will be a very different feeling to go back there but I will really try to win the race for him. I am looking forward to the last few races of the season. I have done well in Road America, Australia and Mexico City and I know how to win at those tracks so I hope we can get a win before the season is over."
This weekend's Champ Car Grand Prix of Road America can be seen live Sunday, September 24 on SPEED beginning at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. SPEED will also broadcast a 30-minute show covering the highlights from Friday and Saturday qualifying, which will air Saturday night at 11:30 p.m. As always, fans can follow the action from every on-track session via the Race Director feature on the official website of the Champ Car World Series, www.champcar.ws.