CHAMPCAR/CART: St. Pete: Season opener Noteworthy, schedule

WHO'S HOT * If preseason testing is any indication of early favorites for the inaugural Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, defending series champion Newman/Haas Racing has a...

WHO'S HOT

* If preseason testing is any indication of early favorites for the inaugural Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, defending series champion Newman/Haas Racing has a slight edge on the field as Champ Car begins its 25th season of competition February 23rd on St. Petersburg, Florida's 1.806-mile downtown street circuit. The 2003 Newman/Haas Racing duo comprised of Brazilian Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and rookie Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Newman/Haas Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) of France paced Champ Car Spring Training testing in nearby Sebring, Florida earlier this month. Bourdais turned in the week's fastest time of 50.584 seconds (118.781 mph) followed by Junqueira at 50.804 seconds (118.266 mph) around the 1.669-mile configuration. Owners Paul Newman and Carl Haas look to add another Champ Car title to their resume after winning their fourth last season with 2002 Driver of the Year recipient Cristiano da Matta.

* Team Rahal's Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) of Mexico City, Mexico showed speed in Sebring as well, posting the third best time overall at 50.841 seconds (118.180 mph). Jourdain is coming of a career-best season highlighted by consistency that earned him championship points in more races than any other driver in 2002. He led the series in laps (2,295 out of a possible 2,338) and miles completed (4,035.320 out of 4,118.327) and scored more points in the 2002 campaign than he had in any of his previous six seasons.

* Spaniard Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) of Patrick Racing was one of the dominant drivers during the three days of testing in Spring Training. Servia was the quickest in two of the three individual sessions he ran and topped the combined speed charts when the team completed its testing following the morning practice session on Thursday, February 6th.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

* Although the Champ Car World Series has never raced its turbocharged, 750-horsepower Champ Cars on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, be aware of the drivers competing in their home state this weekend. Floridians Bruno Junqueira (Miami), Sebastien Bourdais (Miami), Roberto Moreno (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) of Herdez Competition (Weston), Oriol Servia (Miami), Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 Ford-Cosworth/Reynard Bridgestone) of American Spirit Team Johansson (Boca Raton), Mario Haberfeld (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Reynard Bridgestone) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing (Key Biscayne) and Tiago Monteiro (#7 Fittipaldi-Dingman Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) of Fittipaldi-Dingman Racing (Miami) will all be determined to leave their mark in this inaugural event.

MANUFACTURING SUCCESS

* After winning 16 of 19 races in 2002, Lola Cars returns to Champ Car action in 2003 as the defending constructor's champion. The Reynard chassis scored wins in the remaining three races as Lola scored its first Champ Car title since the award's inception in 1995.

NOTEWORTHY

* Twenty-year-old Al Unser will make his professional racing debut with the Barber Dodge Pro Series at St. Petersburg. The son of Al Unser Jr. and the grandson of Al Unser - both two-time Champ Car title winners - the youngest Unser continues his climb up the Champ Car Ladder System after competing in the Formula Dodge National Championship (Official National Amateur Championship of Champ Car) during the 2002 season...The Barber Dodge Pro Series, the "Official Entry Level Professional Race Series of Champ Car" and a key step on the Champ Car Driver Development Ladder, will open its 2003 racing season on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg. The Pro Series race will be featured as the Saturday race at 3:45 p.m., directly following final Champ Car qualifying. A full field of 27 competitors will take the green flag for the 40-minute timed race.

* Super Bowl Champions to Serve as Grand Marshal...several of the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers will serve as collective Grand Marshal of the race day events, including announcing the most famous words in racing, "Gentlemen, start your engines." Buccaneers participating in the race day festivities include Fullback Mike Alstott, Lineman Jeff Christy, and Quarterback Shaun King...."These gentlemen add an air of fun and enthusiasm to our race day events. Not every race can have the Super Bowl champs at the start line," said Grand Prix of St. Petersburg General Manager Tom Begley. "These players not only share an interest in racing, but they have bonded our community in a way that has given all of us something to smile about. We are delighted to have them on board."

* The Official Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Media Luncheon...will take place Thursday, February 20th from 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort (727) 894-1000) just to the south of the racing circuit at 501 5th Avenue NE in St. Petersburg. Participants include members of the media, Champ Car and support series drivers. Contact John Dunlap at Dover Motorsports at (302) 222-0649 for more details of the invitation-only event.

* A Champ Car Fan Appreciation Activity...(all driver autograph session) is scheduled for Friday, February 21st from 5:15 - 6:15 p.m. at the team transporters located in the Champ Car Paddock. All Champ Car Drivers will be in attendance, along with Barber Dodge Pro Series Drivers and others. The event is open to public. Contact Champ Car Promoter Operations Manager Amanda Trotter at (317) 715-4180 for more details.

* Better Than Ezra In Concert... a group that has soared in popularity over the past few years thanks to the hit single "Good," will turn the late afternoon race session of Saturday, February 22nd at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg into a rocking good time. The New Orleans-based trio will put on a concert approximately 15 minutes after the final race session of the day (4:30 p.m.) at a special stage setup inside the street course. The stage will back up to scenic Bayshore Drive and be located on 1st Avenue next to Pioneer Park. The concert is just one of many festive events going on inside the 1.806-mile street course from February 21-23. But it is certain to be one of the high points of the weekend, as Better Than Ezra has established itself as a darling of the college crowd. The trio consists of Kevin Griffin on guitar and lead vocals, Tom Drummond on bass and Travis McNabb on drums. Better Than Ezra first gained notoriety in 1993 when it released its first album on its own label, SWELL. But the groundswell of excitement about the record that followed caused the major label Elektra Records to pick up the record and turned the single "Good" into a huge hit. The album, "Surprise," went on to sell over 500,000 copies and went platinum. The group's next record, "Friction, Baby," released in 1996, went gold. It's most recent album, "How Does Your Garden Grow," is currently drawing very positive reviews from critics. Only those people with tickets to the race action on Saturday will be able to catch Better Than Ezra. There will be plenty of race action to catch that day, with Champ Cars practice and qualifying sessions, as well as Trans-Am and Fran-Am Series qualifying efforts and the Barber Dodge race (scheduled to start at 3:45 p.m.). Better Than Ezra's concert will start approximately 15 minutes after the Barber Dodge race concludes. For tickets or more information, please call 1-888-34-SPEED.

CHAMP CAR SCHEDULE (All times local):

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 21 Champ Car practice, 10:00 - 10:50 a.m.
Champ Car practice, 11:40 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Champ Car qualifying, 3:10 - 4:10 p.m.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 22
Champ Car practice, 10:00 - 11:15 a.m.
Champ Car qualifying, 1:45 - 2:45 p.m.

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 23
Champ Car warmup, 9:00 - 9:30 a.m.
Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, 1:00 p.m.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE:

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 22
SPEED Channel, Champ Car Qualifying, 1:30 p.m. (Live)

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 23
SPEED Channel, Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, 1:00 p.m. ET (Live).

RACE ROUND: 1 of 19 in the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.

NEXT EVENT: March 23, Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix, Fundidora Park, Monterrey, Mexico

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mario Haberfeld , Bruno Junqueira , Roberto Moreno , Oriol Servia , Al Unser Sr. , Paul Newman , Tiago Monteiro , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , Carl Haas , Michel Jourdain
Teams Conquest Racing