Champ drivers dwarfed at Indy

Posted: Friday, May 27, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS — Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira are outsiders of sorts among the 33 starters in Sunday's Indianapolis 500.

The Newman/Haas Racing teammates are the only representatives of the Champ Car World Series entered in the rival Indy Racing League's showcase event.

''I think maybe the other drivers have more experience on this track and for sure in these cars,'' said Junqueira, a veteran of three previous Indy starts and the fifth-place finisher last year. ''I can't think about that, though. If I worried about that, I might as well go home.''

Instead, Junqueira, coming off a victory last Sunday in the Champ Car race in Monterrey, Mexico, heads into the 500 with the strong feeling that he can win it.

''You have to put everything behind and just go for the win,'' the Brazilian driver said. ''I'm not going for the (IRL) championship, so I'm just thinking about the win. I can maybe be more aggressive because I'm not thinking about points.

''If everything goes right Sunday — strategy, conditions and luck — we can win.''

He wouldn't be the first interloper from the opposition series to take the checkered flag here.

The IRL began competition in 1996 and, for the first few years, the top teams and drivers from the opposing series, then known as CART, shunned the biggest open-wheel racing event in the world.

Finally, in 2000, team owner Chip Ganassi brought 1999 CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya to the Brickyard and the Colombian dominated on the way to victory. A year later, it was the powerful team of Roger Penske that challenged the IRL regulars, finishing 1-2 with Helio Castroneves and two-time CART champion Gil de Ferran.

The next year, Penske moved his team to the IRL and won again with Castroneves, but it was a controversial victory over CART star Paul Tracy, driving for Barry Green's team.

Now, most of the teams that dominated are all IRL regulars. That leaves Newman/Haas, co-owned by Chicago businessman Carl Haas and actor/philanthropist Paul Newman, as the major open-wheel team not in the newer league.

Asked if he feels he's representing Champ Car, Junqueira, who starts in the on the outside of the fourth row Sunday, grinned and shook his head.

''I think I'm here representing Bruno Junqueira, Newman/Haas and (sponsor) Centrix,'' he said. ''Newman/Haas wants very badly to win here because they have not won, but I feel pretty relaxed and I have no pressure.''

Bourdais, who qualified in the fifth row and will start directly behind his teammate, is the reigning champion of the Champ Car series, but he is a rookie at Indy.

The 26-year-old racer from France said he does feel he is representing Champ Car, to some extent.

''Obviously, everybody in Champ Car is saying, 'Represent us the best you can,' and we can't say we're regulars of the IRL. But, I really wish we could raise the same banner, just going racing and forget about this controversy and just be one again.

''I'm just so sick of it, hearing Champ Car and IRL and all of that. It doesn't make any sense. We're looking for the same kind of racing. It's just so sad for the moment.''

Bourdais, who started the Champ Car season with a win in Long Beach, Calif., said the cars have much the same feel, although the IRL cars have normally aspirated engines and the Champ Cars have turbocharged engines.

''It feels very much the same. I just wish we had 45 cars out there and we could be just one racing series,'' he said. ''In the race, though, it makes no difference. You race the other cars and try to win. I just want to see the checkered flag.''

Tony Kanaan, the defending IRL champion, Sunday's polesitter and another former CART regular, said it really doesn't matter what series a driver represents at Indy.

''It is too bad there is still a split, but the only thing that really counts here is that the fastest 33 drivers start the race and the one that does the best job wins,'' Kanaan said. ''If Bruno or Sebastien wins on Sunday, they deserve it and I will congratulate them.''



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