INDIANAPOLIS (July 6, 2004) -- The slow lead-in to the season is now just a dot in the rear-view mirror as the summer stretch has arrived for the teams and drivers of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. The...
INDIANAPOLIS (July 6, 2004) -- The slow lead-in to the season is now just a dot in the rear-view mirror as the summer stretch has arrived for the teams and drivers of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.
The July 9-11 Molson Indy Toronto is part of the first set of back-to-back race weekends of the season, and sends a signal to everyone in the hunt for the Vanderbilt Cup that it is time to get serious if you have any dreams about capturing the Champ Car World Series title. The 19th running of the Molson Indy Toronto, on the 1.755-mile temporary street course that winds through historic Exhibition Place, will again play a key role in the championship chase as the field looks to keep pace with the rampaging Newman/Haas Racing duo of Bruno Junqueira (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Sebastien Bourdais (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
Junqueira continues to lead the series point standings after five races due to a remarkable run of consistency that has seen him finish second in four of the five events in 2004. The Brazilian holds a three-point lead over Bourdais in pacing the Champ Car World Series standings and heads to a Toronto circuit where he nearly earned a runner-up finish last season. Junqueira started second a year ago in Toronto but fell to third on his final pit stop and was unable to reclaim the spot and settled for a podium finish.
Bourdais saw his streak of front-row starts end last week in Cleveland but he more than made up for it by going out and dominating the race, pacing 88 of 97 laps in taking his third win of the year. He has now fashioned a two-race win streak and finds himself on the brink of reclaiming the series lead that he held briefly after his Monterrey victory. Bourdais finished fourth in Toronto a year ago in his only previous visit to the track.
Defending champion Paul Tracy (#1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) used the tricky Toronto track as a springboard to his championship run a year ago, becoming the fifth driver in event history to lead wire-to-wire, pacing all 112 laps from the pole to send a race-day crowd of over 73,000 home happy. The Scarborough, Ontario native has a pair of Toronto wins to his credit, scoring a victory in 1993 to go with his 2003 win. Tracy finds himself in need of a strong showing to get back in the title hunt after a first-turn incident not of his own making ended a polewinning Cleveland run just 200 yards into the day.
Tracy's Forsythe Championship Racing stablemate Patrick Carpentier (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) also needs to rebound from a tough day in Cleveland, and will look to do so in his home nation. Carpentier tumbled to third in the points chase after losing an engine just 21 laps in to the Cleveland event. Like most of the drivers in the Champ Car field this season, the Quebec native has not had a lot of success in Toronto and comes into the weekend looking for his first top-five finish in the shadow of the fabled Princes' Gate.
The other driver besides Tracy that has had a measure of Toronto success comes into the weekend carrying the momentum of his best 2004 finish. Alex Tagliani (#8 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) scored his first podium finish of the year last weekend in Cleveland, surviving the first-turn melee and a subsequent high-speed spin to earn a third-place finish, moving him to fourth in the season standings. Tagliani won in Toronto in 1998 while in the Toyota Atlantic series and finished as the runner-up to Michael Andretti in 2001.
The rookie points battle is heating up with Justin Wilson (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and A.J. Allmendinger (#10 BG Products/Red Bull Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rapidly making names for themselves in the Champ Car World Series. Wilson leads the Rookie-of-the-Year chase by a single point over Allmendinger after last week's event in Cleveland. Wilson qualified on the outside of the front row but fell victim to a first-turn accident while Allmendinger roared to his third consecutive top-six finish. Allmendinger already has one Toronto victory to his credit, winning from pole a year ago in his Toyota Atlantic championship-winning season.
Veteran Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) returns for his eighth Toronto start after having found the way to the podium a year ago. Jourdain started third and outdueled Junqueira late in the race to score the second spot, giving him his best Toronto finish. Fellow long-time Champ Car campaigner Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) also has one Toronto podium to his credit, scoring the third spot in 1998, but the PKV Racing pilot has yet to duplicate the feat in his 11 other Toronto starts. The Californian has picked up the pace lately, earning two top-five finishes in the last three starts including a fifth-place effort in Cleveland.
Vasser's teammate Roberto Gonzalez (#21 Nextel Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has also been putting together some strong runs of late, earning top-10 placings in each of the last two starts. The Mexican rookie set a new career-best in Cleveland when he came home in seventh place, but will be making his first visit to Toronto. One of his fellow rookie-class members has a jump on the rest of the field however as Alex Sperafico (#14 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) made his Champ Car debut in Toronto a year ago. Sperafico drove for Dale Coyne Racing in Toronto and lasted just five laps in his first series race, retiring due to contact.
The Coyne squad continues to build momentum as the season rolls along, earning their best finish in seven years last weekend in Cleveland. Veteran Oriol Servia (#11 YokeTV.com Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) climbed from 13th to finish fourth in Cleveland, marking the team's highest finish since 1996 when Roberto Moreno placed third at Michigan. Servia may be looking for a similar finish this week as the team heads to a Toronto track where the Spaniard finished fifth a year ago.
The Herdez Competition duo of Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will be in search of strong finishes to right their ship after a strong early start to the season has been slowed in the last two events. Hunter-Reay and Dominguez stand sixth and seventh respectively in the point standings and each has a podium finish to their credit but Mario's eighth-place finish in Cleveland has been the team's only top-10 in the last two events. Neither driver has a top-10 in Toronto in a combined three starts although Hunter-Reay placed fourth on the Exhibition Place circuit during the 2002 Toyota Atlantic event.
Nelson Philippe (#17 LeasePlan Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) continues to win skeptics over with his early-season form as the second driver in the Rocketsports Racing stable. Philippe has a pair of top-10 runs to his credit and has finished each of his five starts this year, something that no other rookie has done this year.
The Molson Indy Toronto will get underway with practice and qualifying Friday July 9, with final-round qualifying set for Saturday afternoon. The 95-lap event will take the green flag at 1 p.m. Eastern Time and can be seen live on HDNet and on a same-day tape-delay feature on Spike TV.