Series season-opener in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as well as their
10th in history.
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (February 18, 2003) --- Not only have season-opening
races been kind to Newman/Haas Racing (NHR) in recent years but the team
has also fared well in inaugural CART Champ Car World Series events.
After winning the two previous season openers held in Monterrey, Mexico,
as well as nine of the previous 20 they have competed in, NHR will travel
to St. Petersburg, Fla. this week with the hope of duplicating their 2002
opening round victory by former driver Cristiano da Matta and continue
the domination that propelled them to the 2002 CART Champ Car World
Although the race will mark CART's return to Florida since the team
finished one-two at the Grand Prix Americas with Cristiano da Matta and
Christian Fittipaldi late in the 2002 season it will be their first in
the city of St. Petersburg. In the four inaugural events in 2002, da
Matta and the team won the pole and finished second in Montreal, finished
third in Denver, clinched the 2002 Championship after winning in Miami as
well as finishing second with Fittipaldi and finished second in Mexico
City. Of the team's seven 2002 wins - all by da Matta - six of those took
place on road/street courses. In total, NHR has won 45 of their 68
victories on this type of course and hopes to add more in the 2003
Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.
The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg layout will not be the only thing NHR
will familiarize itself with this weekend. For the first time in the
history of the team, both NHR drivers will be making their maiden start
with the organization as Brazilian Bruno Junqueira, 26, and Frenchman
Sebastien Bourdais, 23, complete the team's driver lineup. Both
anticipate the season-opener at the new venue to be a challenge.
"I think the race in St. Petersburg will be difficult because it is not
only the first race of the season but it's also a new track for
everybody," said Junqueira. "I think it will be a matter of who adapts
the fastest to the new challenge and gets an advantage on the others. I
hope the PacifiCare team will adapt quicker and prepare better for race.
I am quite confident that we will be close. Of the four new races last
season, Cristiano finished on the podium in all of them and won the pole
in Montreal and I won in Denver and won the pole in Mexico City."
While new to NHR, Brazilian Bruno Junqueira enters the season with plenty
of Champ car experience. As the runner-up to da Matta in the 2002
championship he enters the season amid high expectations from fans and
competitors alike. The pilot of the PacifiCare
Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone race car will carry the coveted No. 1 on
his race car and will attempt to add to his existing total of three wins
and five poles in 39 Champ car starts with Target Ganassi Racing from
"This is the first time in my life that I'm going to be driving the race
car of the previous champion," added Junqueira. "It's also the first
time I will be driving car No. 1. There is a lot of pressure but I had
more pressure in 2000 in Formula 3000. I had won a lot of races in 1999
so everyone was saying I was the favorite to win the 2000 F3000
Championship. Everybody starts with zero points and the same chance. I
plan to make the most of my chance."
In addition to attempting to win another championship title in 2003, NHR
will be also be a candidate for another honor for only the second time in
their history. Not since reigning Formula One World Champion Nigel
Mansell came to NHR in 1993 has the team been a contender for the Jim
Trueman Rookie of the Year award. Like Mansell, Frenchman Sebastien
Bourdais also comes to NHR as a reigning champion after earning the 2002
FIA International Formula 3000 title on the strength of three race wins,
six pole positions and a total of seven top-three podium finishes.
Although he is about to embark on a season filled with new challenges, he
is confident that he has the tools within his reach to propel him to
"I think it will be a tough weekend," said Bourdais. "To start the
season and a new experience on a street course is always difficult
because the type of track is asking for more concentration to not make
any mistakes and stay off of the walls. It will also be more difficult
because it will be my first race in a single seat race car that will last
for two hours. It will be a busy weekend but the car is good and the
team is good so that will make the weekend run smoother."
The rookie has already become one to watch after he set the second
fastest lap time, to Junqueira, in a CART-sanctioned open test in Laguna
Seca, Calif., in January and ran the fastest lap time in CART's annual
Spring Training in Sebring, Fla. earlier this month. New challenges he
will face in the coming days include a different flow to race weekend
than in other series, an extended race length and more
physically-challenging situation, as well as an increase from zero pit
stops to a minimum of three. Bourdais has met each new challenge with
success and hopes for more this week after some pre-season preparation.
"I have been running between one hour to one hour and 20 minutes to train
myself physically," said Bourdais who will celebrate his 24th birthday a
few days after the race. "My goal was to run for more than one hour
since the race will be two hours in length. I have also been able to
acclimatize myself with the Florida weather, which is important, because
I think it will be warm in St. Petersburg. I tried to run during the
warmest part of the day. We tried to simulate a qualifying session in
Sebring to prepare for qualifying during races. The thing that will of
course be different is that now there will be added pressure since it is
a race weekend. I hope it will be less frustrating than an F3000
weekend. In 3000, when you didn't have good car, you didn't have time to
improve because straight away you started qualifying for the race. In
CART if you arrive with bad car you might not win the race but you will
have a chance to improve your car before you qualify or race. The team
is very experienced and I am going to count on that experience."
Drivers by nature would gladly utilize as many test days as they were
offered but given the choice between testing and racing they would always
choose the latter. "The off-season was short but I am glad because I am
ready to start racing," added Junqueira. "After spending eight days with
Cristiano (da Matta) and Tony (Kanaan) in Brazil over New Year's, I said,
"Hey, where's my car? I want to drive! Now I'm looking forward to
Despite one fewer event that the previous record-setting season, a total
of 2,686,640 fans attended the 19 Champ car races in 2002. The Grand
Prix of St. Petersburg is sure to continue the trend and add new fans.
In addition to on-track activities, rock sensation Better Than Ezra will
perform a free concert to grand prix ticket holders. Fullback Mike
Alstott, Lineman Jeff Christy, and Quarterback Shaun King will represent
the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers as collective Grand Marshals
of the race day events, including announcing the most famous words in
racing, "Gentlemen, start your engines." As in previous seasons, an
all-driver Champ car autograph session will be held but has been expanded
from 30 minutes to one hour. The session will take place on Friday from
5:15 - 6:15 p.m. in the paddock.
Television coverage for the inaugural Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will
kick-off with live coverage of Saturday's Qualifying session beginning at
1:30 p.m. while race coverage will begin at 12:30 p.m. Both programs are
on SPEED Channel and all times are Eastern.
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