CHAMPCAR/CART: St. Pete: Season opener preview

Curtain opens on The 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford Season with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. INDIANAPOLIS (February 17, 2003) - The 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford opens...

Curtain opens on The 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford Season with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

INDIANAPOLIS (February 17, 2003) - The 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford opens a new chapter in the long history of Champ Car racing as the 19-race schedule will see many new teams and drivers looking to stake their claims in the world of open-wheel racing as they do battle for the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup.

The chase gets underway February 21-23 with the inaugural Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as 19 Ford-Cosworth XFE engines roar to life on the streets for the season-opening event. The new event is one of three venues on the slate that were not on the 2002 schedule as the series will head to Brands Hatch in England and return to the EuroSpeedway in Lausitz, Germany in 2003.

The new venues are not the only changes featured in Champ Car racing this year however, as many new teams and drivers look to stake their claim as champion of North America's most diverse racing challenge. Five new teams have committed to join some of the sport's most venerable squads in the chase for the 2003 championship, as Rocketsports Racing, PK Racing, Mi-Jack Conquest Racing, Fittipaldi-Dingman Racing and American Spirit Team Johansson have all joined the fray and will be on the grid for the opener.

The new squads will be chasing one of the most successful teams in all of Champ Car racing as Newman/Haas Racing looks to defend its fourth series championship, won last year by Cristiano da Matta. The team will have a new look this year but has plenty of experience as both of its drivers have won championships in the highly-competitive FIA International F3000 championship. Bruno Junqueira returns for his third Champ Car season and first with Newman/Haas, coming off a successful campaign that saw him win two races and four poles en route to a second-place finish in the standings. He will be joined by reigning F3000 titlist Sebastien Bourdais, who makes his debut in 2003 after being among the fastest cars in much of preseason testing.

The series' active victory leader Paul Tracy will take up the chase for his first championship from a different vantage point this season, moving to Player's/Forsythe Racing to tandem with Patrick Carpentier. Tracy earned his 19th win last season with a dominating performance at Milwaukee, a victory that tied him for 17th on the all-time Champ Car list. His new teammate comes off the most successful season of his career, one where he finished third in the championship and won races at Cleveland and Mid-Ohio.

One of the most experienced teams in the 2003 championship from a management perspective will be Patrick Racing. The team is owned by CART co-founder, U.E. "Pat" Patrick, and its general manager is the winningest Crew Chief/Team Manager/General Manager in Champ Car history, Jim McGee. The team will return with Spaniard Oriol Servia in the cockpit, Servia staying with the team after taking over the seat midway through the 2003 season.

Fernandez Racing will concentrate its efforts on a single car in 2003 with popular Mexican driver Adrian Fernandez looking to take his first win as an owner/driver, while fellow countryman Michel Jourdain Jr. also looks to break into the win column after his most successful Champ Car season.

Jourdain returns to Team Rahal in 2003 after setting a team record by scoring points in the first 17 events of the 2002 campaign. The seven-year veteran finished 10th in the Champ Car standings for the first time in his career last season and led the standings for the first time ever after starting the year with four consecutive top-five runs.

Fellow Mexican Mario Dominguez returns after winning the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award in 2002 for Herdez Competition, clinching the title at Surfers Paradise where he gave the Herdez team its first-ever Champ Car victory. Dominguez will be joined by veteran Roberto Moreno for 2003 as the team expands to a run a pair of cars, Moreno returning to the cockpit after sitting out the 2002 season.

Walker Racing expands to a two-car effort with England's Darren Manning, who impressed in his Champ Car debut on home soil in Rockingham last season, and rookie Rodolfo Lavin who graduates from the Toyota Atlantic Championship Series. Long-time competitor Dale Coyne returns to contest the full season and will do so with Joel Camathias from the FIA International and Euro F3000 Championship ranks as well as Roberto Gonzalez.

The rookie teams are expecting to hit the ground running as many of them have vast experience throughout their organizations. Three-time Trans-Am champion Paul Gentilozzi joins the fray with his Rocketsports Racing team, with driver Alex Tagliani returning for his fourth Champ Car season. Tagliani, who will be aided by former Penske race engineer Andy Borme, comes off a season that saw him earn a pair of second-place finishes and an eighth-place standing in the championship.

1996 series champion Jimmy Vasser will partner with rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay at the new American Spirit Team Johansson that was founded by former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Stefan Johansson. Vasser earned his 10th Champ Car win last season by pacing the fastest-ever open-wheel race, besting Michael Andretti to win at California Speedway, covering 500 miles at an average speed of 197.995mph.

Former Indy Lights champion Eric Bachelart will also move into Champ Cars as an owner, moving his Mi-Jack Conquest Racing team to Champ Car racing after a year in the Indy Racing League. Bachelart will field a car for FIA F3000 competitor Mario Haberfeld of Brazil. Haberfeld will have some help in his stable as the Fittipaldi-Dingman Racing squad will partner with Bachelart's group, with former CART and Formula 1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi fielding a car for Tiago Monteiro.

Completing the current list of new Champ Car teams will be PK Racing, owned by former Formula 1 team principal Craig Pollock and high-tech industry giant Kevin Kalkhoven. Patrick Lemarié will handle the driving duties after serving as the official test driver for F1's British American Racing team for the last four years.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Mario Haberfeld , Darren Manning , Joel Camathias , Stefan Johansson , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Lemarié , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Paul Gentilozzi , Mario Dominguez , Tiago Monteiro , Rodolfo Lavin , Kevin Kalkhoven , Dale Coyne , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams Conquest Racing