TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (July 9, 2003) --- After a strong performance at the previous race in Cleveland, Newman/Haas Racing will now travel North of the border for the Molson Indy Toronto, July 13 and hope to add to their eight podium appearances...
TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (July 9, 2003) --- After a strong performance at the previous race in Cleveland, Newman/Haas Racing will now travel North of the border for the Molson Indy Toronto, July 13 and hope to add to their eight podium appearances this season in the past nine Champ Car World Series events. Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) has experienced success in Toronto, one of the most popular stops on the 19-race Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series schedule - most recently with a win from pole by 2002 CART Champion da Matta and a third place by Christian Fittipaldi last season.
The Toronto event has been on the CART schedule since 1986 and NHR has competed in all of them. Cristiano da Matta drove to victory here last year from pole and led all 112 laps while Christian Fittipaldi finished third. In total, six of the team's 71 victories have come at this track (da Matta - 2002; Mi. Andretti 2000, 1995, 1992, 1991, 1989) as have two of their 74 pole positions with their most recent coming in last year's event (Da Matta - 2002; Mi. Andretti - 1991). In addition, the team has earned a total of 12 podium finishes here (see following chart).
Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais and PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira have taken over for da Matta and Fittipaldi since then but they have been producing similar results as they brought the team a first and third place finish, respectively, in the previous race this season in Cleveland. Bourdais and Junqueira will take to the 1.755-mile temporary street course around Exhibition Place in Toronto in an attempt to duplicate or better that feat.
While it will be rookie Bourdais's first experience on the street course, Junqueira has raced here twice although he has yet to finish without complication. He earned his best starting position of third place here last year but a mistake by rookie Townsend Bell ended his race and he retired in 14th place. Despite starting 20th in his rookie event here in 2001, he had steadily moved through the field but made contact with Christian Fittipaldi and finished 13th. After a strong first half of the 2003 season, Junqueira is planning on continuing the trend to the second half.
"Toronto is a very difficult street track," said Junqueira. "Unfortunately the two years I have raced here I have been running strong in both but retired after contact at the same corner - the hairpin. The first year it was with Christian (Fittipaldi) and last year it was with Townsend Bell who made a big mistake and took me out of the race. I had a similar situation with my results in Cleveland before I went there this year with Newman/Haas and finished third. Hopefully I can get the same type of result in Toronto and get some points."
Junqueira entered the season with the goal of winning as many races and pole positions as possible but has formed a new appreciation for the importance of consistency. In nine races so far, he has finished in the top-five all but once including an impressive five appearances on the podium (2- second; 3 - third). However, he is no less determined to win one and knows that he needs to finish ahead of CART star, local hero and current points leader Paul Tracy if he is to reduce his eight point deficit and take the lead in the Championship.
"For sure Paul Tracy is one of the biggest CART stars of all time," said Junqueira. "He's aggressive, he's very controversial and I think the fans love it. He's put a lot of guys out of the race so maybe the drivers don't like him as much as the fans but for sure he has made the Canadian fans watch and follow CART. He's one of the greatest Canadian drivers ever but hopefully we can beat him in Toronto for his home race and make him finish second."
The Molson Indy Toronto is the first of three CART Champ Car races to take place in Canada this year, and all continue to be extremely popular. The Toronto race has drawn three-day crowds in excess of 160,000 people in each of the last nine years that the Champ Cars have raced on the streets of the Ontario capital. In 2002, the Molson Indy Toronto at Exhibition Place drew a weekend total of 168,421 fans, the Molson Indy Vancouver at Concord Pacific Place drew 161,728 and the inaugural Molson Indy Montreal at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve drew 172,000. In total, the wildly popular Molson Indy Champ Car races north of the border accounted for 502,149 spectators, or 19 percent of CART Champ Car's all-time record attendance total of 2,686,640 last season. Much of the focus this weekend will fall on Canadians Paul Tracy, Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani but the fans enjoy all things CART.
"I like a lot to race in Canada," said Junqueira. "The Canadian fans are big fans of CART racing. There are always lots and lots of people at the race and it's very nice for the drivers and the teams. Newman/Haas won the race last year and finished third. They were really, really strong. I'm sure they will have a great set-up for the No. 1 PacifiCare car and give us a shot at the win and even if not, we can have a shot at a podium or good finish."
Rookie Bourdais was able to turn his luck around at the previous event in Cleveland and posted his third win of the season as well as his first in the United States. With wins in Germany, England and now the United States, he would like nothing more than to keep adding to the list with a win on Canadian soil.
"We have finally earned a good result after a couple of bad races and we hope to carry over this result," said Bourdais. "I have seen the layout of the track from watching the past races on video and it looks difficult and interesting. The Lilly car has been good on the street courses and we have some very good test days lately that will hopefully put us in better shape for a good result."
He holds the top spot for poles won at four and has now matched Paul Tracy for most race wins at three although Tracy is ranked first and Bourdais fifth due to the Canadian earning more points in races he did not win while Bourdais only collected points for a 9th and 11th place finish other than his three victories. He is confident that the team can carry over its recent performance as well as their strong performance at this venue specifically.
"I'm looking forward to racing in Toronto," said Bourdais. "I have heard that it is a very popular race for the drivers and the fans because the city is great and so are the fans. Newman/Haas won from pole and also finished third there last year and we just had that same result in Cleveland so hopefully we can repeat that in Toronto."
Bourdais continues to lead the Rookie of the Year standings and is the first rookie since Juan Montoya in 1999 to win more than one race in a season. He is also the only driver this year to win on both road and oval courses. A strong finish this weekend could improve his fifth place rank and close his deficit of 43 points to the leader Paul Tracy's 117.
This weekend's on-track activity will be supplemented with many off-track events. The annual driver's VIP party will again be held on Friday, July 11, at Wayne Gretzky's at 99 Blue Jays Way and will be hosted by Paul Tracy. Junqueira and Bourdais will be joined by their peers as well as drivers from support series, Miss Molson Indy contestants, and sports stars from the Blue Jays, Yankees and WWE. The always popular Miss Molson Indy Swimsuit Competition will also be held later that night and Junqueira will participate as a judge and the final competition for Miss Indy will take place on Saturday, July 12, at the Molson Canadian Beer Garden in Thunder Alley.
The Molson Indy Toronto will take place on Sunday, July 13, and will be broadcast live on CBS Sports at 12:30 p.m. Eastern. The race broadcast will be preceded by final qualifying coverage on SPEED Channel starting at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Saturday. Live audio of the CART Champ Car World Series is available for qualifying on Saturday, July 12- 1:30 p.m. ET, and the Molson Indy Toronto on Sunday, July 13 - 12:30 p.m. ET, on the official web site of the CART Champ Car World Series, www.champcarworldseries.com.