SURFERS PARADISE, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA (October 20, 2003) --- Only two more races remain in the 2003 Champ Car World Series and Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) is planning on making the most of their opportunity to earn back-to-back Series titles and...
SURFERS PARADISE, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA (October 20, 2003) --- Only two more races remain in the 2003 Champ Car World Series and Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) is planning on making the most of their opportunity to earn back-to-back Series titles and keep the coveted No. 1 on the race car of PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira. In addition to attempting to earn their fifth CART title, they are aiming for a third place finish with Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais, who has already wrapped up the 2003 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year honor and currently stands in fourth overall. Both drivers need a strong finish in this weekend's 65-lap Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfer's Paradise, Australia.
Junqueira has earned his last two racing championships in his third season in those series but his opportunity to repeat that feat in the Champ Car World Series took a major hit at the last two races in Miami and Mexico City. Contact in Miami dropped him from a probable second place finish which would have then moved him to within one point of Championship leader Paul Tracy while illness in Mexico City contributed to his drop from second to seventh place after two pre-race IV's wore off mid-race. Junqueira's seventh place finish coupled with Tracy's win from pole and subsequent 22 points enabled the Canadian to accrue a 29-point advantage with two races remaining.
With 23 points available this weekend and 22 points available in the season ending 500-mile race at The California Speedway, Junqueira must depart Australia with no greater than a 22 point deficit to Tracy in order to have an outside shot at the title. He narrowly lost the pole in the 2002 race here to NHR's Cristiano da Matta and stood a chance to run well had rain not effected the outcome of the event. Junqueira and the PacifiCare team are seasoned veterans who know that anything can happen in the final two events and that the title chase is far from over.
"Last year I was on pole on Friday and lost the pole by 1/100ths of a second to Cristiano on Saturday," said Junqueira. "I led the race last year after Cristiano made an early pit stop. Then they put out the yellow flag. I went from leading the race to a 14th place finish when they shortened the event because of the rain. It was very frustrating the way things happened but I hope we are going to have sun all weekend this year and that the PacifiCare car will win the race. I want to win the Championship very bad and I know I need to win the race and have Paul (Tracy) not score many points to have a chance."
The 2.795-mile course along the ocean in Surfer's Paradise, Queensland, Australia is the final street course of the season and all of the veterans enjoy the layout. In the previous seven events on streets courses this season, Junqueira earned one victory (Denver) and has finished lower than third place only one time - in Miami, although he ran as high as second place before contact with another car dropped him to a ninth place finish. Junqueira is looking forward to returning to the picturesque and challenging track.
"I like the Surfers Paradise street course and I really like to go to Australia," said Junqueira. "I think it is a good street course. It is a very long street course. There are a lot of fast straightaways and we are going to reach speeds close to 200 mph. It is a pretty fast track for a street course and there are good chicanes. It is a very difficult track. It is a very physical track when it is hot in Australia but I think the PacifiCare car will be really fast there and we can have a shot at winning the race."
The Champ Car World Series is hot off of an all-time record setting weekend in Mexico City after 400,000-plus race fans came out to support the series including a race day crowd of more than 221,000. The mark bettered the record-setting attendance of 2002 and is the largest crowd for a road racing event in North America. The event in Australia is also popular and a large crowd is expected to witness a three-way title battle between points leader Paul Tracy (226), Junqueira (197) and Michel Jourdain (183).
Before Junqueira gets down to business at the end of the week, he is looking forward to enjoying the "atmosphere" of his favorite event of the season. "I love Australia like all of the drivers do," said the 26-year-old Brazilian. "I'm looking forward to spending the week there. There are nice things to do and a lot of nice girls. It's a pleasure for everybody to go to Australia."
Junqueira's teammate Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais, 24, has been a top contender this season despite being a rookie. In the 17 races to date, he led in eight and ran in the top five in all of them although events out of his control led to his retirement in five events and reduced his points-earning capability. He is currently ranked fourth with 158 points and is 25 back from third place ranked Michel Jourdain (183) and 22 points ahead of fifth place Patrick Carpentier (136) with 45 maximum points left in the season. He may be out of the hunt for the overall championship but he clinched the 2003 Rookie of the Year honors with his second place finish in Mexico City and has now devoted his full attention to a new goal.
"Now that we have clinched the Rookie of the Year award, we are completely focused on finishing on the final podium (third place) in the Championship," said Bourdais. "We need to have a good result from Australia and also in Fontana."
The Frenchman was the first rookie in Champ Car history to start in the top six in 10 consecutive events and he extended that in Mexico City with a fourth place start. Two-time series champ Alex Zanardi held the previous record at nine. Although he has only seen the event on TV he believes he will enjoy the experience - both off track and on.
"I have never been in Australia or even that far away and I am looking forward to it," said Bourdais. "It is a pretty neat race track because most street courses are pretty short and this one is a minute, 30 seconds for one lap. I think I will like the track. Based on the races that I have seen on TV from there, its going to be very exciting."
The Lexmark Indy 300 will take place on Sunday, October 26 and will be televised LIVE on Speed Channel at 12:30 a.m. and again at 2:30 p.m. the same day. All times Eastern.