Bourdais begins quest for 4th straight title
LAS VEGAS --- The 2007 Champ Car World Series season-opening Vegas Grand Prix will unveil many new story lines and newly-renamed Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) plans to contribute to the list. McDonald’s® driver Sebastien Bourdais will attempt to earn an unprecedented fourth consecutive title but that quest could be even more difficult with the arrival of the first new racing chassis in five years as well as five new venues on the 16-race schedule.
“We obviously hope it is going to be possible for the McDonald’s team to capture our fourth straight championship but we definitely know it will be hard this year,” said Bourdais, who has amassed a 39 percent win average over his four seasons in the series. “Everyone has the same equipment and you really can’t change much on the car so for a team that likes to develop the car and experiment, this is a disadvantage. There are a lot of new venues where we don’t have the advantage of experience and there hasn’t been much testing so we start the season with a fairly unknown car and we won’t be allowed a ton of tests during the season. We can only run 600 miles, that’s it. In the end, we hope that consistency will once again be our strength, and after four years in the series, I hope to be able to lean on my experience.
While testing of the all-new Panoz DP01 chassis has been limited to help contain costs and new venues in Las Vegas, China, Holland, Belgium and Phoenix should put old and new teams on equal footing due to having no previous experience on the tracks, Bourdais has a proven record of rising to the challenge. Five times in the last four seasons, Champ Car has held inaugural events and in each of those five events Bourdais has emerged the winner. The streak started at Brands Hatch (England) in 2003 and continued to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2004, Edmonton and San Jose in 2005 and last year in Houston, so a sixth straight victory on a new course is just what Bourdais needs to take advantage of in order to make history winning four consecutive Champ Car titles.
The series will make its return to the city of Las Vegas after having run four events in two separate locations in the modern era of Champ Car racing. Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) ran events at Caesars Palace casino in 1983 and ’84 on a 1.125-mile temporary oval that was constructed in the parking lot of the casino. NHR driver Mario Andretti won the inaugural 1983 event and in the 1984 race that served as the season finale, Andretti clinched the series championship by coming home in second place. In 2004 and 2005 the Champ Car World Series (formerly CART) returned to the city to hold events on the 1.5-mile oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. NHR driver Bourdais won both events while his teammates for those years -- Bruno Junqueira and Oriol Servia -- finished second in 2004 and 2005, respectively. It will be the first time the series has raced on the 2.44-mile street course along popular Fremont Street, the first street to be paved in the city in 1925 and Bourdais is looking forward to his return here and the opportunity to keep his streak intact.
“Obviously Las Vegas has been very good to the McDonald’s crew,” said Bourdais who will make his first start as a father after he and his wife Claire welcomed daughter Emma last December. “We have two wins in two races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was a heck of a show but I think bringing the show to the city is going to make a huge difference and probably be more appealing to the Champ Car fans to come see a street course than a 1.5 mile oval where its pretty much flat out all around and very much IRL type racing. Hopefully racing on the city street will satisfy our fans much better.”
If history is any indication, Bourdais stands a good chance of not only keeping his Las Vegas streak alive but also that of the team. In their previous 24 seasons, NHR has earned 11 season-opening victories, with the most recent being earned by Bourdais in 2005 and 2006 in Long Beach. Under a newly revised name, the team will begin their 25th season of Champ Car competition in 2007 and will attempt to add to the seven championships, 97 race wins and 100 pole positions earned by NHR. Bourdais knows that adding to these numbers and banking some points early on in the season could be even more important this year due to the many unknown variables.
“I think to start the season on the right foot doesn’t win you a championship but not to have it can lose you a championship,” said Bourdais. “And the confidence built through starting last season strong with four wins was very much of a positive. Then the wheel turned definitely. We had big success at the beginning and then we started to pile on quite a few incidents with a terrible start that should have never thrown green at Portland, having PT run over the top of my car in Cleveland and after that as well. It was just things not going our way, not being against us but just not going our way. And so it was definitely very important for the McDonald’s team to start the season strong. We’re trying to be as prepared as we can and the team has been flat out. The new venue at Las Vegas is supposed to be really good. The promoter had a lot of support from the community and the layout seems to be pretty cool. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve got a few things to get figured out before the race. We had some very intensive days of testing and hopefully we are ready.”
The Vegas Grand Prix will be the first of three races in a row for the Champ Car World Series. The week following the Las Vegas race, the series will move to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and then the Grand Prix of Houston. The NHLR crew will stay on the road the first two weeks, take a redeye home from Los Angeles on Sunday night following Round 2 and be home for approx. 24 hours before they depart for Houston on Houston Tuesday morning to meet the transporters as they arrive to town in order to begin preparation of the race cars for that event. Although Bourdais is going to enjoy this stretch due to the purchase of a new motor home that he will drive between races ala John Madden, he knows it will be a difficult time for the team.
“As a driver having three races back to back is going to be easier because we don’t have to fly in and out,” said Bourdais who will stay in a motor home at the track for the first time. “Claire, Emma and I are just going to take the motor coach and go from one place to another. It’s going to feel very much like a NASCAR experience. It’s going to be cool for us. I think we’re really going to enjoy that stretch. For the team it’s a lot of work especially with the new car and not knowing what the reliability issues might be and not having any data on it. It’s quite stressful for everybody so hopefully we don’t suffer any major breakdowns.”
The Vegas Grand Prix will be a week-long festival both on and off the track. Activities include: poker events, concerts by Big and Rich with Cowboy Troy and Chris Cornell, and a Grand Prix Charity Gala that will feature performances by Jay Leno and Jon Bon Jovi. With the big event falling on Easter Sunday, the event even includes church services and an Easter egg hunt for kids of all ages. This weekend’s Vegas Grand Prix can be seen live on NBC Sports on Sunday, April 8 beginning at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. As always, fans can follow the action from every on-track session via the Race Director feature on the official website of the Champ Car World Series, www.champcar.ws. NHL Racing