INDIANAPOLIS (October 18, 2004) -- The 100-year-old Vanderbilt Cup has gotten a fresh coat of polish and is packed up for its trip to Australia, where Sebastien Bourdais ( ...
INDIANAPOLIS (October 18, 2004) -- The 100-year-old Vanderbilt Cup has gotten a fresh coat of polish and is packed up for its trip to Australia, where Sebastien Bourdais (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) hopes to earn the right to hoist it in jubilant celebration after this weekend's Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise.
The 25-year-old Bourdais is the only driver that can clinch the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford championship in the year's penultimate race, but by no means is the Flying Frenchman assured of earning his first Champ Car title. He carries a 27-point lead into this weekend's event, but must score eight more points than Newman/Haas Racing teammate Bruno Junqueira (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) in order to win the 2004 Champ Car title.
The statistics may show Bourdais to be the odds-on favorite if the year's 13th race were held on any other race track, but the 2.795-mile Surfers Paradise street course has a notorious reputation for being anything but predictable. The quirky street course, which features two of the fastest straightaways of any street course on the Champ Car calendar, has played home to some of the series' most interesting races, and seen some of Champ Car's most unexpected winners climb the podium.
Champ Car has raced on the Gold Coast of Australia 13 times and 13 different drivers have sprayed victory champagne after the race. The list of Australia winners reads like a Champ Car who's who, with seven former series champions having won there, but the race has also seen chaos breed first-time winners like John Andretti, Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
The wildly-popular Australia event draws some of the biggest crowds of any sporting event in the country on annual basis with more than 250,000 fans coming through the gates in each of the last 10 seasons. Last year's attendance of 306,184 was an event record and was capped by a crowd of over 108,000 fans streaming through the gates on race day.
Bourdais has built his lead with six wins and seven poles, and could become just the seventh driver in the Champ Car Modern Era (1979-present) to win as many as seven races in a season with a victory in one of the last two races. He has led laps in each of the last nine races and has qualified in the top three in a series-record 13 consecutive events. He clinches his first Champ Car title and becomes the third-youngest driver to ever win the championship if he outscores Junqueira by eight points in Australia.
But those numbers have not clinched him the title as Junqueira has stayed in the hunt by virtue of his remarkable consistency. His six runner-up finishes are the most in a Champ Car season since Bobby Rahal scored six in 1991, ironically in a season where he finished second in the championship. He is in the midst of a streak of four consecutive podium finishes and each of his last two trips to Australia has seen him start the race in good position to do well. The Brazilian started on the outside of the front row in both race and he has led in both races, but a pair of mishaps kept him out of the points in both 2002 and '03.
Patrick Carpentier (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has likewise kept himself in the fray with three consecutive podium finishes, and the Canadian has a chance to earn his best-ever Champ Car season finish. He has a remote chance at stealing the championship title as he sits 66 points back with two races to go, but is eliminated if Bourdais takes the green flag in each of the final two events.
One of four former Australia winners in the field may have the fondest memories of the trip as Paul Tracy (#1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) returns to the site where he clinched his first series championship a year ago. The 1995 race winner has had remarkable qualifying success in Australia, starting in the top five in each of the last eight races. Oddly enough, the last race he did not start in the top five was the 1995 event where he came from ninth of the grid to win. He was taken out of championship contention two weeks ago when mechanical failures struck on the first lap of the Las Vegas event, but he is still having a successful campaign and is the only driver other than Bourdais to win multiple races and poles this season.
As mentioned above, American-born Hunter-Reay is the defending champion of the Lexmark Indy 300, taking advantage of shrewd pit strategy to earn his first win a year ago. The Floridian parlayed that performance into a new ride with Herdez Competition for 2004 and he and the team have combined to take the eighth spot in the points chase. His teammate Dominguez not only scored his first win in Australia in 2002 but also earned Herdez its initial victory in Champ Car competition with that run. Dominguez has put together a late-season surge to move into sixth in the title hunt and is three points shy of breaking into the top five.
To get into the top five, Dominguez would have to supplant Alex Tagliani (#8 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) who is in the midst of the best season in his five-year series career. The Canadian stands fifth in the series and has completed an impressive 99.01 percent of the scheduled laps this season, a figure that is currently the third-highest in the Champ Car Modern Era. Tagliani has a podium finish to his credit in Surfers Paradise but has a better reason to look forward to the trip Down Under, as it was at the Australia event where he met his wife Bronte, who is the host of Spike TV's Champ Car-themed magazine show Dangerous Curves.
The other former Australia winner in the field is coming off of his fourth top-five finish of the season, as Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) looks to reprise his 1996 win where he led 60 of 65 laps in taking the victory. Vasser comes off a strong showing at Las Vegas that saw him earn his first front row start of the year and finish fifth. He has three Australia podiums to his credit including a third-place run last year that rounded out a 1-2-3 sweep for the Reynards.
Bourdais is not the only driver in line to clinch a title in Surfers Paradise as American A.J. Allmendinger (#10 Western Union Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will look to seal the deal on the Jim Trueman Rookie-of-the-Year award in Australia. The Californian has a 34-point lead on Justin Wilson (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) meaning that if he gains one point on the former Formula 1 contender this weekend, he clinches rookie honors, becoming the first U.S.-born driver to win the award since Jeff Andretti in 1991.
The huge Aussie crowds will have one of their own to cheer for over the weekend as David Besnard (#15 Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) will make his Champ Car debut as a teammate to Mario Haberfeld (#5 Cummins Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone). Besnard, who has run for the last four years in the V8 Supercar Series, has a good bit of open-wheel experience in the U.S. The 27-year-old driver campaigned for two seasons in the U.S. F2000 series in 1997-98, winning the 1998 F2000 championship on the strength of eight victories. He then headed back to his native Australia to run the V8 machines, moving up to the top level of the sport in 2001.
The battle for the Champ Car top 10 is very much in doubt with two races to go as the five drivers currently in spots 7-11 are separated by only 16 points. Vasser currently holds down the 10th spot and is just three markers behind Oriol Servia (#11 YokeTV.com Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), with Servia looking to give Dale Coyne his first-ever top-10 season finish. Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is very much a part of the chase as well, sitting just three points behind Vasser.
The Lexmark Indy 300 gets underway October 22nd with practice and qualifying, with the final grid set by Saturday's qualifying. Sunday's 57-lap race will get underway at 2:30 local time and can be seen on a tape-delayed basis on Spike TV, Sunday, October 24 at 4 p.m. Fans can also follow all the action live via the Race Director feature on the official website of the series, www.champcarworldseries.com.
WHAT: Lexmark Indy 300
WHERE: Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia
WHEN: Friday-Sunday, October 22-24
SUPPORT EVENTS: V8 Supercars, Formula 3, Carrera Cup, Aussie Racing Cars
CHAMP CAR SCHEDULE (All times local):
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 22
10:00 - 11:30 a.m., Champ Car practice
2:00 - 3:00 p.m., Champ Car qualifying
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23
10:00 - 11:15 a.m., Champ Car practice
1:45 - 2:45 p.m., Champ Car qualifying
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 24
10:30 - 11:00 a.m., Champ Car warmup
2:30 p.m., Lexmark Indy 300.
U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: SUNDAY, OCTOBER 24 -- Spike TV, 4 p.m. (tape-delayed)
2003 CHAMPION: Ryan Hunter-Reay
2003 POLESITTER: Sebastien Bourdais
TRACK LAYOUT: 2.795-mile temporary street course
RACE LENGTH: 57 laps, 159.315 miles
TRACK RECORDS: Qualifying (one lap) -- 2002, Cristiano da Matta, 111.547 mph (1:30.936).
Race -- 2001, Cristiano da Matta, 97.511 mph (1:51:47.260) based on 65 laps (181.675 miles). Record for 57 laps, 1997, Scott Pruett, 78.948 mph (2:01:04.678).
RACE ROUND: 13 of 14 in the 2004 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.
CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES POINTS LEADERS: 1, Sebastien Bourdais, Newman/Haas Racing, 307; 2, Bruno Junqueira, Newman/Haas Racing, 280; 3, Patrick Carpentier, Forsythe Championship Racing, 241; 4, Paul Tracy, Forsythe Championship Racing, 218; 5, Alex Tagliani, Rocketsports Racing; 206; 6, Mario Dominguez, Herdez Competition, 203; 7, A.J. Allmendinger, RuSPORT, 184; 8, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Herdez Competition, 176; 9, Oriol Servia, Dale Coyne Racing, 174; 10, Jimmy Vasser, PKV Racing, 171.
NEXT EVENT: November 7, Mexico City, Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.