CHAMPCAR/CART: Zolder: Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing preview



ZOLDER, Belgium (August 20, 2007) --- The Champ Car World Series will return to Europe for the first time since 2003 and perhaps no other driver has fonder memories of that sojourn than Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the No, 1 McDonald's race car. Although Bourdais has amassed 28 wins since coming to the series in 2003, it's said that you never forget your first -- and that one came in England in 2003 and was backed up the next weekend with a win in Germany. This weekend's Belgian Champ Car Grand Prix (Aug. 26) will be followed by the Dutch Champ Car Grand Prix (Sept. 2) and the Frenchman is looking forward to Champ Car's return to Europe.

"Obviously it would be  awesome to go back to Europe with the McDonald's
team and get another couple of  wins but those tracks are a big unknown for us,"
said Bourdais who leads the  championship standings with 250 points over
Robert Doornbos (213) and Will Power  (197).  "I have never been to Zolder  or
Assen but I didn't know Brands Hatch (England) or Lausitz (Germany) either  and we
managed to earn our first and second Champ Car wins there together.  I'm very
happy to race in Europe again.  Since it is an unknown, there is no big
advantage for us so hopefully we  can put together a good streak there."

His victory at Brandas Hatch, England came in only his fourth series start after he led a total of 95 laps from his second place start but his victory in Germany was even more impressive. At the Lausitzring, near Dresden, Germany, Bourdais became the first driver in series history to win from pole in his oval racing debut after he led 74 laps in the closest finish (0.08) since 2000 Michigan race.

Bourdais has a proven record of rising to the challenge of new venues. Seven times in the last four seasons, Champ Car has held inaugural events and Bourdais has emerged the winner in five of those and second in another. The streak started with wins at Brands Hatch in 2003, Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2004, Edmonton and San Jose in 2005, Houston in 2006 and this year's Mont-Tremblant event where he finished second. The only time he hasn't finished first or second at a new venue was the 2007 season-opener on the streets of Las Vegas where he had an uncharacteristically bad weekend and retired after contact. He knows that he stands a good chance at being competitive again this weekend due to a lot of hard work by Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.

"The team has prepared extensively and put in a lot of hard work," said Bourdais who plans to spend a little time in his homeland of France before, between, and after the two events. "They have made their best guess on the simulation and baseline setup. Obviously it's pretty difficult to prepare since we don't know what we're going to be facing for real but they have worked really hard and I'm pretty confident that we should have very good cars for both races."

Since Newman/Haas Racing  (NHR), now named Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR),
began competing in the  series in 1983 there have been a total of five races
held in Europe.  In  addition to the 2003 races won by Bourdais in England and
Germany, the series,  then named CART, raced in Europe in 2001(Lausitz,
Germany & Rockingham,  England) and 2002 (Rockingham, England).  In addition to the
two wins and one pole (Germany) earned by Bourdais  they have earned five
podiums in the five events (2nd -- Junqueira,  Brands Hatch, UK 2003 & Cristiano
da Matta, Rockingham, UK 2002;  3rd -- da Matta, Rockingham 2001).

Like Bourdais, his teammate Graham Rahal is also looking forward to returning overseas. Although he hasn't competed in a Champ Car race in Europe, he did get a chance to see, and run on, many famous European race tracks and even lived in England for almost one year while his father, Bobby, was working for the Jaguar Formula One team. The 18-year-old is looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of his Medi | Zone race car after having earned his third podium with his third place finish in the previous race in Elkhart Lake, Wis., after running in second most of the event.

"I have been to a few tracks in Europe like Valencia, Bruno in the Czech Republic, and Silverstone and a couple of other places in England but never to ones in Belgium or Holland so I'm looking forward to getting there," said Rahal who will travel to England between the events to spend time with friends. "I've been through both Belgium and Holland, driving with my family when we lived in England but never for any length of time so I'm looking forward to the next two races."

In 10 races so far in his  rookie season Rahal has finished in the top-10
eight times with his three podium  finishes as the highlight.  His  third place
finish in the previous event enabled him to move from eighth in the  point
standings to fifth with 170 points.  He has qualified six times in the first three
rows and led races  twice.  He knows the team has worked  hard to carry the
momentum forward and ensure a competitive run at the two new  European venues.
"I don't know much about  the track but I know it's going to be pretty quick,
" said Rahal of the  2.449-mile road course located approximately 45 minutes
from Brussels, Belgium.  "We have some data on the track and  there is a lot
of work the engineers have to put in before we get there.  You have to show up
on top of your game  and that's the plan for the Medi | Zone team."

The twelve turn course underwent some adaptations to increase safety preparing for Champ Car's first voyage into the country of Belgium.

"I think (the event) is  going to be great for the European fans because I
think something they always  miss out on with Formula One is the fan interaction
with the drivers," said  Rahal of what might separate the series from other
racing experiences available  in Europe.  "In Champ Car, we have autograph
sessions and the drivers are accessible at the team areas for autographs.  I
think that will be exciting for the  fans that come to Zolder and Assen.  They
also might be excited about Push to Pass, which gives us 75 more  horsepower and
exciting pit stops.  F 1 has them but there are so many people around the cars
that they  probably don't get to see much.  I  think ours are more exciting
for the fans because you can see the car and the  crew guys at work."

Advance ticket sales indicate that both event s should experience good crowds. Practice and qualifying will take place on Friday and Saturday with the Belgium Champ Car Grand Prix starting at 2:00 p.m. local time on Sunday. Live coverage of the race can be seen in the United Stated on ESPN Classic at 8:00 a.m. ET.

-credit: -NHLR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Graham Rahal , Sébastien Bourdais , Robert Doornbos , Will Power