Keeping it Off The Wall


Speed Junquey
Ed Donath 
January 31, 2001  

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Bruno Junqueira

"It's like Dad has often told me," Al Unser Junior remarks from time to time, "If it were easy everyone would be doing it." 

If it were easy Bruno Junqueira, half of Target Chip Ganassi Racing's untried 2001 rookie driver tandem, would never have experienced the agony of defeat that is every Champ Car pilot's inevitable high speed encounter with some wall somewhere. 

Danny Sullivan likes to take credit for being the first to say: "There are two kinds of drivers…those who have already crashed into the wall and those who will be doing so in the near future." 

Bruno Junqueira's recent test at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway ended a couple of hours early when his Lola/Toyota spun coming off Turn 3 and then made contact with the wall. The Target Car sustained quite a bit of damage to its left side but, thankfully, the adrenalized 23-year old Brazilian rookie walked away from the wreck uninjured.

"It was a problem with the car," Junqueira said. [Certainly sounds like a seasoned veteran to me!] Bruno's speculation about his equipment being at fault was later confirmed, however, by the Ganassi brain trust. "At least I'm fine, Junquey continued, "that is the most important thing." 

The Las Vegas test broke new ground for Junqueira in more ways than one. Not only did it serve as his initiation into the Wallbanger Club but it also marked the first time that he had driven a Champ Car -- any car, for that matter -- on a superspeedway. 

Subsequently, of course, it was also his initiation into another exclusive organization…the 200-mph Club. "This is the fastest I've ever gone," Bruno proudly exclaimed. 

Junqueira won the FIA Formula 3000 Championship in Y2K while doubling as the Williams Formula One Team's test driver. Prior to his Las Vegas crash Junqueira had posted a 214.116-mph lap -- his fastest of the test -- and was running in the neighborhood of 212 when he spun. 

Perhaps as a result of this humbling dinger, Junqueira shied away from making any predictions about his performance during the upcoming CART campaign. It is likely that when Junqueira was suddenly confronted with the fact that the FedEx Championship Series will run nearly half of if its record 22 races on ovals in 2001 he was, finally, forced to admit to the difficulty of goal-setting for his rookie season. 

"I don't know what to expect this year," he said. "I just want to do a good season but I don't know whether I'll even finish a race or whether I'll win a race or fight for the Championship."

To further complicate matters for the oval racing newcomer, his Target teammate, Nicolas Minassian (a Frenchman with a Xerox copy resume) shares Junqueira's steep learning curve. While Minassian's Las Vegas test remained incident free he is, nonetheless, in no position to share anything but the experience of learning oval racing with his Brazilian cohort. 

Furthermore, young Nicolas Minassian has one more initiation ritual than Bruno Junqueira left to complete. Minassian is yet to experience his first wallbanger. 

Hey, in the words of Al Unser: "If it were easy everyone would be doing it."

[Note: Driver quotes in this commentary were originally published in a 1/24/01 Las Vegas Sun article by Brian Hilderbrand.]

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