CHAMPCAR/CART: Road America: Newman/Haas Racing race report

Pacificare Driver Junqueira claimed the championship lead with first win of season from pole at the Mario Andretti GP of Road America; Lilly driver Bourdais second PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira moved into the championship lead in the ...

Pacificare Driver Junqueira claimed the championship lead with first win of season from pole at the Mario Andretti GP of Road America; Lilly driver Bourdais second

PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira moved into the championship lead in the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series in the first time in his career with his first victory of the season from his first pole position of the season in the rain-shortened and delayed Mario Andretti Grand Prix of Road America. He was the first driver this season to win the maximum number of points - 23 - after having won the provisional and final pole position, as well as leading the most laps - all 34 of the originally scheduled 60 and earning the victory.

In his three races here, he now has two victories and one-third place finish to his credit. He entered the event 20 points behind then-leader Paul Tracy but emerged with a three-point lead over Tracy who retired in 15th place due to sliding off course and into a tire barrier.

Junqueira calls Road America his favorite track and his domination here helped add to Newman/Haas Racing's (NHR) history of strong performances. Ironically Mario Andretti - the namesake of this year's event earned the first of NHR's 72 victories and here in their inaugural season in 1983 from pole as Junqueira did today. It was also this man that Junqueira was quick to thank for leading the charge to reinstate the event after it was dropped from the racing schedule. In their 21 Champ Car events to date at Road America, NHR has now won nine races, six poles and earned a total of 17 podium finishes after Junqueira led teammate Sebastien Bourdais to the checkered flag by 0.703 seconds. Junqueira also brought the team back to back wins here after Cristiano da Matta drove to victory here in 2002. It was the team's 13TH win in the past 33 races.

Heavy rain began to fall approximately one hour before the 2 p.m. CT start time and it steadily continued until race time. CART Champ Car Stewards decided to declare the event a "wet" event and mandate a single file start. Due to the inclement weather the event was started under yellow. Rookie Rodolfo Lavin spun and made contact with the Turn 5 wall on the first racing lap under caution. On the following lap, CART brought out the red flag to stop the event while CART sent the jet dryers on track in an attempt to remove some water.

At 2:29 CART made the decision to reduce the event from 60 laps to 47 with the mandatory pit window remaining at 13 laps. The field returned to the track at approx. 2:30 and the race resumed under caution and in single file again. After a couple of laps on track the field was told that the race would resume on the following lap (five) but was again halted on Lap 7 due to visibility issues. Nearly two hours later only light sprinkles remained when CART declared the event would begin at approx. 5:30 and would be again shortened from 47 to 34. Junqueira led the field for one pace lap before the single file restart.

Oriol Servia lost control of his car in Turn 12 before the restart and his car was cleared from the track during Laps 9 and 10. On Lap 11 the field took the green flag for the first time and Junqueira received a break in his quest for the Championship as Paul Tracy and Michel Jourdain, first and third place in the standings respectively, fell victim to incidents. Tracy slid off course after moving from his starting position of fifth place into third and came to rest after hitting the tire barrier in Turn 11 while further back in the field in Turn 8, Michel Jourdain spun and collected the car of Tiago Monteiro.

As a result of the track blockage, Darren Manning and Roberto Moreno made contact. Once the yellow flag came out the pits were closed until Lap 13 when the mandatory pit window opened. Junqueira was able to complete his stop and return to the track in the lead. He held his position through he restart on Lap 15 and began to steadily build his gap over Bourdais to three seconds before the next yellow came out on Lap 20 when Mario Dominguez slid into the gravel trap. Initially the team considered staying on track but decided to pit on the following lap.

Although the track was beginning to dry, the team elected to replace the grooved rain tires with another set because light sprinkles began a few minutes earlier. He maintained his lead when he returned to the track and once the race was restarted on Lap 23 he began to build a lead with each passing lap and held a two-second advantage by Lap 26 of 34. The gamble to stay on rain tires would only pay off if the track remained damp and luckily light rain began in Turn 12. By Lap 30 of 34 Junqueira had built his lead to five seconds on Bourdais but for each of the next four laps his French teammate closed the gap by continuing to improve his fastest lap.

Bourdais' lap times, coupled with a conservative Junqueira closed Junqueira's margin of victory to 0.703 seconds when the checkered flag flew after 34 laps. Junqueira's fourth Champ Car career victory came in dominating fashion as he became the first driver this season to earn all 23 points available and took over the points lead (164-161) with seven races remaining.

Following are his post race comments:

"It was a perfect day to end a perfect weekend," said Junqueira. "The PacifiCare car was great all weekend. It was perfect for Newman/Haas Racing and me. It's my second win at Road America, after taking my first career win here. It's great to get two wins and a third place here in three races. I think I was born to race here. We also leave with the championship points lead and that's what we wanted to do for sure. We were struggling to get our first win and pole and we got it done this weekend. It feels really good. First thing I have to thank Mario Andretti for bringing this race back and giving the opportunity for everybody to stay here and give the opportunity for me to get my first win this year. It was a very good weekend for me and the whole PacifiCare Newman/Haas team. We were able to get our first pole of the year. We were on the pole a lot of times on Friday - but could never repeat Saturday. But this time we were able to get the pole by a big gap. That was pretty nice. The race was really difficult because the track was damp. I think CART made a good decision not to start the race early on because for me and Sebastien it was okay, but for the people in the back, I don't think they could see much because of the spray. Then when the track got a little bit dryer with the jet dryer.

Then when they started the race, really the racetrack was in a good condition. When they asked me about this, I said, "It is slippery, but is okay. There was not big spray. A regular wet race that's difficult, but there it is. Then they started the race. The early laps were really difficult because I was in front and I didn't have any practice this weekend on the wet. Then I had to find the grip of the track. And then Sebastien was following me on the first two or three laps. Then when the tires got a little bit hot, I started to feel the track, I started to push a little bit harder until I opened a gap on him. Then came the yellow. On the last stop, the team did another great pit stop and after the last restart I was able to pull away. I was pulling away a little bit every lap until with like five laps to go. With seven laps to go it started to rain a little bit. I didn't want to push harder.

And with five laps to go, the rain stopped. And then Sebastien did a very good lap. He was like one and a half seconds faster than me. Then when I look, I think he's getting close. I thought that five seconds was a good margin. But, you know, in a lap, it is very easy to go one second, one and a half second slower. Then I pushed a little bit harder - not too much because I still have like three and a half seconds over him. I knew that he was pushing hard. I tried to build the speed a little bit every lap, but without make any mistakes because I knew there were three or four laps to go and my car was in good shape. I know it will be really difficult for him first to close the gap, and after to pass. I improved the speed and made a calculation on the last two laps that he would be close to me -- like one and a half, two seconds -- but not enough to try to move on me.

I think it was a very difficult race because the track was getting dry. But, anyway, I think I had completely the dry setup apart of a little bit (of changes to the) left front wing, and brakes. Didn't put any more downforce or didn't put any other change on suspension on the car for the wet. We did not think that the track couldn't dry out. We thought it would be like a very heavy storm and then it dry out. I don't know that it made any difference. I think the basic setup of the car was good, no matter what, the dry or the wet, it was good. It was good for Newman/Haas Racing to get another 1-2, and good for me for the championship that I got this.

On the Championship battle:

"I think after Vancouver I said that I lost the concentration in the race. My dad and my mom, they said, "Bruno, come on." I said, "No problem." They thought I was giving up. But I think through all my life, everything I go after was really, really difficult. I had really bad times. Sometimes when I have a difficult moment, I get some inspiration inside of me that I became stronger than before and I think that's what happened. I think after Vancouver, something happened on me. I was a little bit shaken for everything that's happened. I said, "I'm going to be strong." Nothing's better than my favorite racetrack, that's Road America.

Nothing is better than to have a perfect weekend, 23 points, pole on both days, lead all laps. I'm quite happy. There is still a long ways to go in the championship. I think Paul Tracy is looking very strong. Michel Jourdain is very consistent. Sebastien is very fast. Now he's starting to be consistent and get in the groove. And then I think it's four very strong guys for the end of the championship. Then we have to keep working hard and to get a great result in the end of the year. When Tracy did very well and got a lead on me on the championship I knew that I had to win a race this year to keep motivated and keep the team believing that you can do well the championship, you know. I know that my best shot to win a pole and win a race was this racetrack because I always did well here, did well in the test.

And Tracy was for sure after winning two races in Canada really strong in his head and you know that in any sport it is very important if you're very strong in the head. I think he came here very confident that he could win again, especially because of his success in the past. And I was very confident I could win, as well, because of my success in the past. I was pressuring myself extra this weekend to do very well. I knew I had to turn the table and start to do better than him. I think everything came great for me this weekend. I mean, Tracy raced twice in Canada. That's his home. I don't know, I think because of this is cheese head here, this place has been my home. In my state in Brazil, we are famous with cheese, as well. I think here is my home in the US, you know. Then I got my win at home. But I also consider Mid-Ohio my home, and Denver, and California as well (said jokingly).

On the start of the race being delayed:

"I think when you tried to do the first laps, the track was doable for race. But I think Lavin spun just before going green. And then after the rain picked up more, for me that was leading the race, it looks okay. But after talking to some drivers that were a little bit further down the grid, they told me that they couldn't see (because of ) the spray.

On this track, the straightaways are so long, you going to do like 180 miles per hour even in the rain. You are going to spend like five or six seconds in each of the long straightaways above 130, 140 miles per hour, then you going to stay a long time without seeing a thing. And you have a lot blind corners. I think the decision of CART to wait a little bit, wait until the track got a little bit dryer, with less spray, was good because at least today everybody goes home in one piece.

In Surfer's, for sure, it is a street course and is more difficult. There are some guys that couldn't go home in one piece. I've been in some road courses, like Hockenheim, long straightaway in the rain, there was a massive accident, as well. I think is difficult to say what could happen if we start the race earlier or not. But that was -- the CART decision was this one. Nobody got hurt. Thank God. Let's start looking forward to the next races."

Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais closed his gap on third place in the point standings to nine (126-116) after he finished second and set the fastest race lap in the rain-shortened and delayed Mario Andretti Grand Prix of Road America. The two initial attempts to start the event at the scheduled time of 2 PM CT proved fruitless due to unexceptible visibility per CART, and the race was shortened from 60 laps to 47 and then ultimately 34 once it resumed at approx. 5:30 PM.

Bourdais returned to the track in his second place qualifying position for the resumption of the race after having previously completed seven laps in the earlier attempts. Oriol Servia slid off track in Turn 12 before the restart and his car was cleared from the track during Laps 9 and 10. On Lap 11 the field took the green flag for the first time and Bourdais maintained a close margin on his teammate Junqueira who held the lead. His bid to close on the frontrunners in the championship standings received a boost as points leader Paul Tracy slid off course after moving from his starting position of fifth place into third and came to rest after hitting the tire barrier in Turn 11.

Meanwhile further back in the field in Turn 8, Michel Jourdain spun and collected the car of Tiago Monteiro which also caused contact between Darren Manning and Roberto Moreno. Once the yellow flag came out the pits were closed until Lap 13 when the mandatory pit window opened. Bourdais completed his stop and maintained his position when he returned to the track. He held his position through he restart on Lap 15 and his deficit to Junqueira grew to three seconds before the next yellow came out on Lap 20 when Mario Dominguez slid into the gravel trap.

Initially the team considered staying on track six more laps until the end of the mandatory pit window each 13 laps in order to switch to slick tires if the track continued to dry but Bourdais reported that it had begun to sprinkle on the back of the track so they elected to pit with the rest of the field during the caution period and stay on rain tires. The team planned to make a wing angle adjustment on the stop but due to shorter length of the stop, they were able to add 1.5 turns of front wing to one side and only one turn to the other.

Apparently this did not hinder Bourdais as he not only maintained his performance when he returned to the track, he improved it in the late stages. The gamble to stay on rain tires would only pay off if the track remained damp and luckily light rain returned on parts of the track. Once the race was restarted on Lap 23 he held second to Junqueira but fell back to five seconds in arrears on Lap 30 of 34.

In the next four laps he bettered the fastest lap time of the race with each passing trip around the course and closed to gap on Junqueira to 0.7 seconds when he took the checkered flag after 34 laps. He collected 16 points for his second place finish and fifth podium of the season. He has a total of 116 points to leader Junqueira's 164. Following are his post race comments:

"It was a great day for Newman/Haas Racing," said Bourdais. "It was really special for us going one-two here. What can I say? We have Bruno leading the points now and I'm gaining spots and moving up in the championship as well. For sure, this is the best racing circuit in the U.S. and I hope to be back here for many years to come. I think for the last stint, I thought the track was going really quickly, and I was really concerned about the fact that I could run out of tires for the end of the stint. Nobody was pushing my back. I said, "Okay, let's take it easy. I'm not going to try anything silly on Bruno." And I wanted to finish this race.

A podium, a second place, was pretty good. We're closing the gap for points. It was a good deal for us, the 1-2 for Newman/Haas Racing. I said, "Let's try to make it safe." The last five laps when I felt basically the tires were hanging in pretty well, I was pretty close to the checkered flag and I said, "Okay, now we can try to push a bit more." Also because Tag was closing the gap on me, I said, "Okay, now it's time to push a bit more." I closed the gap and I think Bruno was just trying to see the checkered also. You know, it's always the kind of races when everybody's trying to make a kind of compromise to see the checkered in good conditions.

I think it (to change to slick tires) would have been pretty close. But we got some drops of rain just before the pit stop. It just changed completely our mind, and especially mine. I think definitely it was the right choice, and the safe one to stay on wet tires, especially because all the field was putting new sets of wets again. It was just a bit of a gamble. When you are in P2, you don't want to play any gamble.

On wanting the race to start on the first attempt:

"We had a very good setup on the car. It was rainy conditions. I don't go over what we did after the rain break. It was damp. It was not wet. Then I think it's just a matter of knowing if we want to do rain races or not, if you want to compete or not. Then maybe it's not worth buying rain tires. Basically it's just a matter of being fair for everybody. We have to choose the setup for the race. Knowing the conditions were really wet, I was one of the guys that picked wet setup, okay. The race is supposed to start with heavy rain, they are supposed to put the green flag out. If they don't want to do it, they don't have to start the race and they don't have to put you on the track. It's the only thing I said. Now, for sure it was the safe thing to do. But the second question is, do we really want now to say, okay, do we want to race in these conditions or not? But if we don't want to, let's not start the meeting."

- Next Up

The Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford will hold their third consecutive event with next weekend's Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. Junqueira and Bourdais tested at the track recently with the Brazilian running the fastest lap time on the first of two days and was fastest during the heat of the day on the second. Bourdais ran in the top-five. In total the team has won THREE races (Mi. Andretti 1990-1991, Ma. Andretti 1984), SIX poles (Mansell 1993, Mi. Andretti 1990-1992, Ma. Andretti 1986, 1984) and 11 podiums at Mid-Ohio (2nd Fittipaldi 2002, Tracy 1995, Ma. Andretti 1990, 1988, 1983; 3rd Fittipaldi 2000, Mi. Andretti 1996, 1989).

Top-Five Point Standings -- Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford

Rank Driver          Sponsor/Car Race Result Points

1. Bruno Junqueira PacifiCare 1 164 (+3)
2. Paul Tracy Players/Indeck 15 161
3. Michel Jourdain Gigante 16 125
4. Sebastien Bourdais Lilly 2 116 (-48)
5. Patrick Carpentier Players/Indeck 5

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Darren Manning , Bruno Junqueira , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Mario Andretti , Tiago Monteiro , Sébastien Bourdais , Rodolfo Lavin , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain