CHAMPCAR/CART: Vancouver: Round seven preview

INDIANAPOLIS (July 18, 2004) -- Having fallen to fourth in the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford standings after a last-place finish in Milwaukee six weeks ago, Sebastien Bourdais ( ...

INDIANAPOLIS (July 18, 2004) -- Having fallen to fourth in the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford standings after a last-place finish in Milwaukee six weeks ago, Sebastien Bourdais (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) knew that he needed to string together some results in order to keep himself in the thick of the championship hunt.

Now after three consecutive victories, Bourdais is not just in the thick of the hunt, he has built the largest lead that anyone has enjoyed all year long as he leads the field to this weekend's Molson Indy Vancouver event. Bourdais scored wins in Portland, Cleveland and Toronto to amass a 28-point lead after six races, and rolls into the Pacific Northwest with the chance to join Champ Car greats Cristiano da Matta, Alex Zanardi and Al Unser Jr. as the only drivers since 1971 to win four consecutive races.

Bourdais will look to make Champ Car history on a track that features plenty of its own history. The 12-turn course on the streets of Concord Pacific Place features one of the longest and fastest straightaways of any Champ Car street course. The track has been a place that has seen the joys of initial Champ Car wins by drivers like Mauricio Gugelmin, the dominance of Juan Montoya, Roberto Moreno and Dario Franchitti as well as the heartache of near-misses like the 2001 gut-wrencher delivered to Alex Tagliani. This will be the 15th consecutive season that the Champ Cars will roar in British Columbia in an event that has drawn more than 155,000 fans in each of the last 11 seasons.

Bourdais returns to the 1.781-mile Vancouver street course after scoring a podium finish during his rookie campaign of a year ago. The Newman/Haas Racing pilot led a pair of laps on the day in his first Vancouver race and finished third despite a trying day that saw him make six pit stops to everyone else's three. The reigning Rookie of the Year suffered contact in the first corner that sent him down Pit Lane, then ran into a pair of stalled cars while leaving the pits. Those incidents dropped him well back in the field but he charged through the pack during the remainder of the day to finish third.

He and the rest of the field finished well in arrears of 2003 race winner Paul Tracy (#1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who led 77 laps in scoring his second Vancouver win. Tracy dominated the weekend as he rolled from pole and was rarely threatened on a day where he built a margin of victory of 17.820 seconds in becoming the first Canadian Champ Car driver to win back-to-back races on his home soil. Tracy has led in five of his 12 Vancouver starts, pacing a total of 162 laps. He has three podiums and three front-row starts to his credit on the tight street course and could use another strong run as he looks to close what has become a 56-point gap behind Bourdais.

The closest of Bourdais' pursuers is his own Newman/Haas Racing teammate, Bruno Junqueira (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Junqueira, who held the points lead for three consecutive events before Bourdais took the point in Toronto, scored a second-place finish on the Concord Pacific Place layout a year ago. The Brazilian was credited for leading 21 laps a year ago in Vancouver, but was forced to cede the top spot to Tracy by Champ Car stewards after Junqueira was found to have jumped the start. Junqueira remains in second place in the standings despite not having won a race and having led just six of the year's 678 laps. He has used four second-place finishes to score his 136 points, but comes into this weekend on the heels of a last-place finish in Toronto.

Canadian fan favorite Patrick Carpentier (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) scored his second podium of the year with a third-place run in Toronto and has used his quintet of top-four finishes to secure the third spot in the points. Carpentier has had his share of Vancouver success with a podium finish in 1999 and a front-row start in 2001, as well as two wins while in the Toyota Atlantic Championship, but has yet to lead a lap around the Vancouver street course in his six Champ Car starts.

Being Canadian, racing in Vancouver holds a special affection for Alex Tagliani (#8 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). But being a competitive race-car driver, Vancouver also makes his heart skip a beat when it comes up in conversation, as the fifth-year veteran knows that the talk will eventually make its way to the events of 2001. Tagliani had what may have been his best-ever chance at a Champ Car win during the '01 race as he stormed to the pole and led each of the first 68 laps of the event. But Lap 69 would signal the end of the day for the luckless Montreal native as his transmission gave way and sent him home with a 23rd-place finish. He has strung three straight top-seven finishes together this year however, and has climbed into the top five in the season point standings, just five points behind rival Tracy.

Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is another veteran that has yet to taste Vancouver success, but is serving notice that his PKV Racing team is ready to erase that zero from its record. Vasser improved nine spots to score a season-best and all-time team high second-place finish in Toronto, extending a streak of four consecutive top-eight runs. The Californian has a pair of Vancouver podiums to his credit including a second-place run in 1997 where he led 46 trips around the 12-turn course.

Ryan Hunter-Reay (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is the last of the seven drivers to have hit triple digits this year under Champ Car's new scoring system, but the American sophomore needs another good performance in Vancouver to stay in the title hunt. He had a strong run a year ago in Vancouver, climbing from 16th on the starting grid to place sixth. Another such finish would be a welcome sight for the Floridian as he has not finished higher than eighth since breaking a Champ Car record with a dominant win in Milwaukee. His teammate Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is in a similar situation after having a promising second-row starting spot ended on the first lap in Toronto. Dominguez has had decent results in Vancouver however, having scored top-10 runs in each of his two previous visits.

The Dale Coyne Racing stable continues to show vast improvement and last week it was the ex-Formula 1 pilot Gaston Mazzacane (#19 American Medical Response Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) that boosted the squad. The Argentine driver stormed from 16th on the grid to place a career-high sixth in Toronto, but did not score the point for improving the most positions in the race. That honor went to hard-charging Brazilian Mario Haberfeld (#5 Cummins Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) of Walker Racing, who matched a career best with a fourth-place finish. The placing was the best of the season for a Reynard pilot and was also the top finish of the year for long-time Champ Car team owner Derrick Walker.

The Champ Car rookie battle is a dead heat as the first-year drivers approach the halfway mark. A.J. Allmendinger (#10 BG Products/Red Bull Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Justin Wilson (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) are deadlocked at 83 points after six races, after Wilson has had two promising runs squelched by on-track incidents. The duo leads the Rookie-of-the-Year chase by 18 points over Roberto Gonzalez (#21 Nextel Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who had a two-race top-10 streak ended in Toronto.

The Molson Indy Vancouver gets underway with first-round qualifying on Friday July 23. Saturday's final round of qualifying can be seen live on HDNet while Sunday's 85-lap race can be seen on HDNet as well as Spike TV. The Spike broadcast will be live in the Eastern and Central time zones, and can be seen at 4 p.m. in the Pacific region. Fans can also follow all the action of the Champ Car World Series through the new Race Director feature on the series' official website, www.champcarworldseries.com.

-ccws-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gaston Mazzacane , Justin Wilson , Al Unser Jr. , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Roberto Gonzalez , Dale Coyne , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Dale Coyne Racing