CHAMPCAR/CART: Surfers Paradise: Newman/Haas Racing preview



SURFERS PARADISE, Queensland, Australia (October 18, 2006) --- McDonald's driver Sebastien Bourdais hopes to drive to victory in the this weekend's Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise, Queensland Australia and be the first Champ Car driver to win three consecutive open-wheel titles since Ted Horn accomplished the feat from 1946 to 1948. Although he needs only to finish ninth or better in the 59-lap race on the 2.795-mile street course, Bourdais would like nothing better than to clinch the title in style with a victory like he did last year.

"Last year's scenario was great because we just had to start the race (to win the title) and we could concentrate on racing," said Bourdais who started second and took the lead after pitting one lap later than Paul Tracy last year and went on to win. "In the mean time you want something coming from the race itself. We wanted to finish the championship (fight) but it was kind of easy because we just had to take the start but we wanted to finish on a good note. We were very successful and we brought the McDonald's car to the top step on the podium. It was a great race; we had a lot of speed and I had a great time the whole race. It's always a great place to come and race and I guess last year it was even better because it was pretty relaxed and we just had to enjoy ourselves. You can't anticipate what can happen but we would be very happy to repeat last year's scenario and win the race and clinch the championship in style."

The only two drivers with a mathematical chance of winning the title are A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson who reside 58 and 69 points behind Bourdais, respectively. Although unexpected problems could arise that could prohibit a strong finish, Bourdais has historically been a contender for a top three finish in every race this season although he failed to finish two. In Cleveland he started third but Paul Tracy made contact with his car and drove over the top of it in a scary accident and in Denver, Tracy slid into Bourdais entering the final turn on the penultimate lap and dropped him from second to seventh place. A competitive setup for the Australian track has Bourdais optimistic of a fun and successful weekend.

"I think the McDonald's team has been very, very quick over the years in Australia," said Bourdais, who used the downtime since the previous race to run and finish third in the Petit Le Mans sports car race in Atlanta. "The baseline setup has been very quick for the last couple of seasons there and as the track comes to us is seems to be ever better. I just hope that when we unload the car we are on the pace right off. It's a fun track and a fun event and I am looking forward to it. As we know the weather can throw everything away but whatever the conditions are we seem to be able to put together a car that is reasonably quick. I just hope that we enjoy ourselves and that is what we are going to focus on."

In 2005, Bourdais became the 15th different winner in the 15th event in Australia. Of those 15 events, Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) drivers have won five races, seven poles, and amassed nine podium. NHR not only won the race last year, they started in the top spot here when Oriol Servia earned his first Champ Car career pole although he was hit from behind on the start and fought back to a fifth place finish. Of the 2006 field, Mario Dominguez (2002), Paul Tracy (1995 with NHR), Bourdais and his teammate, Hole in the Wall Camps driver Bruno Junqueira, have the opportunity to become the first driver to win multiple events on one of the most challenging street courses of the season.

"The track is pretty tough; it's very easy to make a mistake. And usually if you make a mistake there you're going to hit something," said Bourdais who won here in 2005, finished second in 2004 and made contact when rain and hail fell in 2003 after he started from pole. "The chicanes -- there is no free pass there; you have to try and make it and if you don't make it you're going to hit something. It's so nerve wracking but that's also why it's a tough race to win because lap after lap after lap you can't make any mistakes but you still have to push really hard. It's been a real challenge over the years."

The more difficult the course, the better suited it is to Brazilian Bruno Junqueira's driving style. Junqueira missed the opportunity to not only win multiple events in Australia in 2005, he also missed the opportunity to do it back-to-back after having won here in 2004 but missed last year's event while recuperating from his accident in the Indy 500. Undoubtedly, he has been looking forward to his return to the streets of Surfer's Paradise for longer than anyone else in the field.

"Australia is one of my favorite races and I won there in 2004 so I have good memories," said the Brazilian who arrived to the Gold Coast on Monday. "In 2004 I passed people on the track and had a quick pit stop that put me in a good position to win. I have always done well in Australia; I've been on the pole and got great results there over the years. Unfortunately I missed the chance to defend my win there last year but I am looking forward to returning this year and picking up where we left off. There is always a big party on Sunday night but the one in 2004 was even better. It was great to win there and it would be nice to do it again especially since no one has even won there twice."

In his four previous races here. Junqueira came close to winning the pole twice (2002 and 2003) as well as the event twice before accomplishing the feat in 2004 from a third place start. He was the provisional polesitter in 2003 but started second and led a race high 29 laps in the 47-lap event but crashed late in the race and finished 15th. In 2002, he lost pole position to NHR driver Cristiano da Matta by a mere 1-1000ths of a second and led eight laps but finished 14th due to the timing of the rain-shortened event that favored backmarkers. He started and finished 21st in his first race here in 2001 due to contact. Junqueira is currently ranked sixth in the Champ Car standings with 177 points but is only seven away from fourth place ranked Paul Tracy (184) with two events to go. He is looking forward to his return to not only his favorite street course of the season but also his favorite event.

"The Australian track is a street course but it is very, very long," added Junqueira, whose season highlights are second place finishes in Cleveland, Denver and Road America. "It's almost a two minute lap. It's for sure the most difficult of all street courses and it is fun to drive. In Australia everything is great on track and off track. We spend a week there and go to the beach and relax and have time for the drivers and teams to hang out with each other. Once we get on the track it's pretty cool because we have such a great crowd, over 300,000 people."

"I think everybody enjoys going to Australia because it's a week long festival and everybody is on vacation," added Bourdais. "You've got contests going from one building to another. You fly a long time to get there and it does deliver what is promised. It's getting toward the end of the season and the Australian experience is just something different and everybody enjoys it. We are still concentrating on the job at hand but in the meantime we can feel the atmosphere without being part of it. Just seeing how the fans seem to enjoy it is enough for us and it makes us proud to be part of it."

The 316,459 attendees of last year's race weekend set a record that is expected to be surpassed this year. This weekend's Lexmark Indy 300 can be seen on same-day tape on Sunday, October 22 on SPEED beginning at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. SPEED will also broadcast a 30-minute show covering the highlights from Friday and Saturday qualifying, which will air Sunday morning at 2:00 a.m. As always, fans can follow the action from every on-track session via the Race Director feature on the official website of the Champ Car World Series,

-credit: nhr

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Bruno Junqueira , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Cristiano da Matta