CHAMPCAR/CART: St. Pete: Newman/Haas Racing race report

Junqueira 3rd and Bourdais 11th in Champ Car season opener. PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira charged back to a third place finish after he dropped as low as 14th place due to a faulty air gun on his first stop in the 105-lap inaugural Grand...

Junqueira 3rd and Bourdais 11th in Champ Car season opener.

PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira charged back to a third place finish after he dropped as low as 14th place due to a faulty air gun on his first stop in the 105-lap inaugural Grand Prix of St. Pete Champ car season-opener. After setting the second fastest time in provisional qualifying on Friday on the 1.806-mile street course his goal was to improve one spot on Saturday. A spin early in Saturday's qualifying brought an eight-minute penalty and once back on track he was unable to get a clear lap to better his Friday time and had to settle for a seventh place start.

In the race on Sunday under sunny skies, he held seventh place through two caution periods before his first pit stop on Lap 16 during the caution period for Patrick Lemarie who spun and stalled his race car. Junqueira pitted but a problem with the inside rear air gun delayed his return to the track and he lost six positions of those who also pit and he returned to the race in 14th place overall. By Lap 34, he had moved into 10th place after passing Joel Camathias, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Adrian Fernandez, and teammate Bourdais. After nine laps in 10th place, he moved into ninth after passing Tiago Monteiro before his second pit stop on Lap 46. After quick pit work he was able to gain two positions and returned to the race in seventh place on Lap 47 but was in fourth by Lap 49 after Patrick Carpentier, Oriol Servia and Adrian Fernandez pit. He then began to close on third place runner Mario Dominguez and successfully passed him on the restart on Lap 51. Once in third he closed the gap to second place runner Michel Jourdain from 2.4 to .7 of a second when the yellow flag came out for Hunter-Reay on Lap 62. During the caution period the team informed Junqueira that he was running one-half of a second quicker than race leader Paul Tracy although he was many seconds behind him. Once the race was restarted the gap grew from .6 seconds from Laps 68 to 84 when Junqueira reported that he was having problems with his brakes. In the ensuing laps the gap to Jourdain grew to nine seconds although he was still 18 seconds ahead of fourth place Mario Haberfeld, a driver he had had some unnecessarily exciting moments with earlier in the race. He was able to hold his position until the checkered flag and collect 14 points and a third place rank in the Championship standings. Following are his post race comments:

"I had quite a difficult weekend," said Junqueira. "Friday I was second fastest, but still, because of the red flags, I couldn't get my best. Saturday was terrible. I couldn't get a (clear) lap at all. I felt I could have a good race. The car was handling very well but on our first pit stop we had a problem with the right rear tire that cost us a lot of time. We went almost to last. Then I started passing people. That was really, really difficult on this track. I think I was one guy who was able to pass people fighting for position on this track. The PacifiCare team had good pit stops after that, with good strategy that helped me move forward. Near the end of the race the track started to get really slippery and I started to have a problem with my brakes. I said, 'Okay, let's hang around, put pressure on him (Jourdain).' But then I got traffic twice. He broke away a little bit. I just slowed down to keep it in third place. After that, third didn't look so bad."

Rookie Sebastien Bourdais started the day being compared with Formula One and Champ car Champion Nigel Mansell due to being the first driver since Mansell to have won the pole in his Champ car debut and he even met the former NHR driver before the race. Unfortunately his first Champ car race win will have to wait a while longer as the rookie finished 11th in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Bourdais was the lone driver to begin the race with any points after he earned one in each of the qualifying sessions prior to the race. At the start of the 105-lap event, he held off an always-charging second place Paul Tracy and went on to lead the first 30 laps through three restarts. When the third yellow flag of the day came out on Lap 16, the team elected to keep Bourdais on track and wit until a time closer to their 30-lap maximum pit window as dictated by CART. Usually, in this situation, the field "follows the leader" but all but Adrian Fernandez elected to pit. Bourdais began to build a large gap on second place in order to increase the possibility of losing more positions if he had to stop under green, racing conditions. Before his first stop on Lap 30, he had built a 12.8 second lead on Fernandez. After a quick stop, his first fuel stop in single-seater race cars, he traveled down pit lane to rejoin the field. He got back on track in fifth place but lost two positions soon thereafter due to being on cold tires and carrying a full load of fuel. After running in seventh place for two laps, he brushed the wall and had to drive back to pit lane as carefully as possible on a deflated rear tire. The crew quickly repaired the tire and damage to the suspension but Bourdais was eight laps down in 16th place by the time he returned to the track. He held the position through another pit stop on Lap 57. As attrition came into play, he moved up to 11th place by Lap 76 and held the position until the checkered flag. Overall he collected two points in qualifying sessions and two for his race finish. He also ran the fastest lap of the race on Lap 29. Following are his post race comments:

"I'm pretty disappointed for the team because they didn't make a mistake -- I did," said Bourdais. "The car was good on the first stint. We stayed out on the yellow, but everyone else pitted. When we came in, the stop was good, but when I got back on track it was very slippery. Maybe there was oil on the track, I don't know, but my lap times were slower. Once I was back on track, Paul Tracy and Patrick Carpentier passed me when I was on cold tires. So I was upset and tried to push to stay in a good position. I did a small mistake but the consequence was big. We got two points from qualifying and some points today. It was a positive weekend even if the results were not there."

- First Pole for Others As Well...In addition to Saturday marking the first Champ car pole for Bourdais, it was also the first pole for race engineer Craig Hampson, 32, who is in his second year in the capacity and 10th season overall with the team. It was also the first pole for Pedro Campuzano in his new capacity of chief mechanic while in his ninth season with the team.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mario Haberfeld , Joel Camathias , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Lemarié , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Nigel Mansell , Mario Dominguez , Tiago Monteiro , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , Michel Jourdain