Cart Champ Car World Series field counting on previous Road America successes to aid in pursuit of points leader Paul Tracy INDIANAPOLIS (July 30, 2003) - When the annual CART Champ Car romp through the Wisconsin countryside was reinstated to...
Cart Champ Car World Series field counting on previous Road America successes to aid in pursuit of points leader Paul Tracy
INDIANAPOLIS (July 30, 2003) - When the annual CART Champ Car romp through the Wisconsin countryside was reinstated to the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford schedule, a number of drivers circled the date as a place to make a move toward the series title.
Nearly half of the top 10 in the CART Champ Car World Series standings have a litany of successes at the 4.048-mile Road America circuit and all will be looking to reprise those good times this weekend at the Mario Andretti Grand Prix At Road America Presented by Briggs & Stratton.
Unfortunately, the man that everyone in the Champ Car paddock is chasing also has a long and glittering history at the fabled Elkhart Lake circuit, as Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will look to begin engraving his name on the 2003 Vanderbilt Cup and the series championship.
Tracy widened his lead to 20 points after taking his fifth victory of the year with a rout in front of the home-country fans at last weekend's Molson Indy Vancouver. Back-to-back wins for Tracy in Toronto and Vancouver have boosted his lead to 20 points for the first time since Round 3 of this year's championship as he heads to a Road America layout that has seen him take a pair of victories and three poles.
Tracy won three consecutive Elkhart Lake poles from 1993-95, starting with what was the first of his 17 career poles when he paced 1993 Road America qualifying. He won from the pole in 1994 and came from seventh on the grid to claim the 2000 event. A third Wisconsin victory would give the Ontario native a new personal standard for victories in a season with six, and would make him just one of four drivers in the CART era to win 25 races.
But there will be plenty of guys chasing Tracy that have had their own share of Road America successes. Series runner-up Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will visit the site of his first CART Champ Car victory as he pursues his first victory of the 2003 season. Junqueira has done everything except win this year, finishing in the top five in 10 of the year's 11 races and compiling seven podium finishes. The Brazilian came from 10th to win in 2001 and then won the pole for last year's race before eventually finishing third behind Cristiano da Matta and Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
Tagliani will be a prime threat to lead the way in qualifying on the high-speed natural road course as he carries the Rocketsports Racing colors to Road America for the first time. Tagliani has qualified third or better in each of his previous three trips to Elkhart Lake and parlayed one of those third-place starting spots to a runner-up finish a year ago.
Portland winner Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) could vault himself right back into the top five in the title hunt if he can find his former Road America form. The Mexican veteran saw a string of three consecutive Elkhart Lake podium finishes snapped last year, but has finished in the top five in six of his nine career RA starts including a runner-up finish to Tracy in 2000.
Many of the Champ Car rookies will not have the luxury of past experiences to fall back on when they head to Road America this weekend, but the majority of the Class of '03 will be riding the crest of a strong showing at Vancouver. A pair of the rookies established new career bests in the finishing order in Vancouver while following the second top-five finish of the year for Walker Racing's Darren Manning (#15 RAC/Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone).
Manning moved to ninth in the points chase with a fifth-place run in Vancouver while Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) followed Manning to a Champ Car-best sixth-place run. Manning's teammate Rodolfo Lavin (#15 Corona Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) also climbed a pair of spots in the title hunt after posting a career-high eighth-place finish.
The strong runs may have boosted confidence for the first-year pilots, but it did them little good in the Rookie-of-the-Year chase as Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rolled to a third-place finish and widened his gap in the rookie standings to 40 points over Manning. Bourdais earned his fourth podium of the season with the Vancouver finish and became the first rookie since Kenny Brack in 2000 to score 100 championship points as a rookie. Brack scored 135 points in 2000, with 68 of those coming in the last nine races of the year, and failed to take a win. Bourdais has 100 points after 11 races and has already scored three victories.
As documented above, Road America has yielded its share of good performances over the years, but there are a number of drivers that will make the Wisconsin trip this week that have never had much in the way of success there.
Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has finished in the top 10 in each of his last two Elkhart trips but had never cracked the top 20 in the four previous events there. He currently sits in the fifth spot after having a possible podium finish ended after a crash with the lapped car of Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) last weekend at Vancouver.
Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) has one podium finish in nine Road America starts and has qualified in the top six in just one of those nine starts. Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) scored a seventh-place finish in 1999 which stands as his best and the Mexican has failed to qualify in the top 15 in each of his six Elkhart Lake starts.
A trio of drivers will be making their returns to Elkhart Lake after at least a year out of competition, but the three drivers do carry 14 events worth of Road America experience to the track this weekend. Max Papis (#27 PK Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) scored his very first CART Champ Car points at Road America with a ninth-place run in 1996 and has put points on the board in each of his last three trips, including a fifth-place finish in 1999. Roberto Moreno (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) narrowly missed a podium with a fourth-place run in 2000 in his only top 10 in four starts while Gualter Salles (#19 Alpina/Golden Cross Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has yet to score in his four Wisconsin starts. He and teammate Geoff Boss (#11 Cross Pens Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will be looking to rebound from a disastrous Sunday in Vancouver when both Dale Coyne Racing machines crashed independent of each other on the warmup laps to start the race.
The Mario Andretti Grand Prix At Road America Presented by Briggs & Stratton will take place Friday through Sunday, August 1-3, with qualifying taking place on both Friday and Saturday, leading up to Sunday's 60-lap race. All practice as well as qualifying and race action can be seen live on HDNet in the United States while the race can also be seen on FOX Sports en Espanol. The race is set to begin at 3 p.m. Eastern time.