Originally created 04/16/04

Newman/Haas drivers ready for new Champ Car season



LONG BEACH, Calif. -- After a frustrating and uncertain offseason, teammates Bruno Junqueira and Sebastien Bourdais can hardly wait for the Champ Car World Series to begin.

"Nobody knew what was going to happen," said Junqueira, runner-up last season to series champion Paul Tracy. " We didn't even get our testing started until just a few weeks ago. I think everybody just wants to start racing."

CART, the former sanctioning body of the series, went bankrupt. The new Open Wheel Racing Series, LLC, bought its assets and renewed a commitment to the series.

Bourdais, last year's top Champ Car rookie and fourth in the season points, wants to show how much he learned in his first season racing in the United States.

The Frenchman started 2003 by winning poles in his first two events but finished 11th and 17th. He then qualified fifth at Long Beach - last year's third race - but finished 16th with an engine failure.

"Long Beach last year was probably the toughest race of the season for me," Bourdais said. "I was frustrated with the results from the first two races and then I got to Long Beach and the track was difficult to learn.

"Despite all of that, I was still on my way to a possible podium finish but the engine blew. The disappointment was unbelievable because our potential was much greater than our results up to that point."

Bourdais followed with a pair of victories in England and Germany and was on his way to a great first season. But Bourdais, who wound up with three wins, is certain 2003 can be improved upon, beginning with Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the downtown street circuit.

"This year we are in a much better shape," he said. "You can't win a championship just because you have a great start to the season, but you can definitely lose it if you have a really bad start."

Junqueira, starting his fourth season in Champ Car and his second with Newman/Haas, has finished second in the points each of the past two years. He won a career-high three races last season, but lost the title to Tracy by 27 points.

The Brazilian says he is in the best shape of his life, partly because of the unusually long offseason.

"With all the weight training and Pilates and cycling, I've got better flexibility," Junqueira said. "And I've learned how to relax more. I think for me to be more relaxed is going to show in the results. But, on the other hand, I am going to put a little pressure on myself in Long Beach because it's important that I win that race."

Newman/Haas, co-owned by Chicago businessman Carl Haas and actor Paul Newman, has won nine season openers in its 21 years in the Champ Car series.