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Champ Car World Series: Grand Prix of Houston

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Grand Prix of Houston

Champ Car World Series: Grand Prix of Houston

Sebastien Bourdais
Robert Doornbos
Graham Rahal
April 22, 2007


HOUSTON, TEXAS

MERRILL CAIN: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us for our top three press conference following a very exciting third round of the Champ Car World Series here at the Grand Prix of Houston. We're joined by our top three finishers in today's race.
We'll start out, get some opening comments from each one of the drivers. We'll start out first with the driver who finished third this afternoon, driver of the #14 car for Minardi Team USA, Robert Doornbos. Robert earned his second podium finish of the season today. Finished second at Las Vegas. Started 13th, finished third this afternoon. He earned a bonus point for improving the most positions in today's race.
Robert, what can you say? A very exciting race for you. You earned some great positions in the race, not only with your performance but also some good strategy as well.
ROBERT DOORNBOS: Thanks for the extra point. I didn't know that worked. No, the race was amazing. I think I made the biggest jump at the start. I had a really good start, rolling start. I really get the hang of it. I went on the inside. I think I passed five or six guys into turn one, which was quite close, quite exciting. And then we just had a really good pace.
Was very happy with the car. I was feeling comfortable with the car, saving a lot of fuel in comparison to the previous two weekends where I struggled a bit with the saving fuel thing because, you know, I'm really not used to it. But I learn quick. This time it went really well.
So, yeah, a good strategy. I mean, the guys, obviously Michael Cannon, my engineer, and Rob, his strategy partner, they're very experienced and it worked out today so I'm very happy.
MERRILL CAIN: Overall, give us a comment about the way your rookie season has started out. Joining the new team, your performance, you rose up to third overall in the standings. The start to the year you've had has been incredible.
ROBERT DOORNBOS: Yeah, it's been very good. We obviously had a very good one in Vegas where we just were competitive every session really. To finish on the podium on your debut is great. Long Beach, mechanical problem. But, you know, that happens in racing. You have to set yourself over it. Luckily there was only five days in between the next race, so we could take our revenge for a good result.
The beginning of the weekend we were really struggling around this place. I mean, I've never seen such a bumpy circuit in my life. At the end, you know, I enjoyed it. I mean, during the race it was really fun driving the circuit because you just have to be committed every lap. There's no point of relax really. And the car just came together in qualifying. We messed it up. We couldn't put it together, the lap. We knew the car was quick for the race, better than what our grid position suggested. And we proved it with very fast lap times and good strategy.
So I have to say a small thank you to my physical trainer as well because the bumps, you know, was quite intense for this hour race or hour and three-quarters. I had no problems. So, yeah, I'm happy.
MERRILL CAIN: Congratulations.
Finishing second this afternoon here at the Grand Prix of Houston, Graham Rahal, driver of the #2 car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Graham Rahal. His first Champ Car podium, just his third series start. He also becomes the youngest podium finisher in the history of Champ Car. He started sixth. First American rookie to finish on the podium since A.J. Allmendinger earned two podium finishes in the 2004 season. We pointed out he's become the youngest podium finisher in series history at 18 years, 3 months, surpasses Andrew Ranger, who was the youngest previous as he finished second in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2005 at 18 years, 5 months old.
Graham, a great run for you. We talked about it, a great qualifying performance, opening day of qualifying here on Friday. The race was certainly an interesting one for you. Talk about your day.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, all around it was a good weekend for the entire team. I mean, Sebastien was obviously the man to beat from the first session. It was pretty obvious that we had good cars this weekend. For me obviously just learning and gaining more experience from him. So luckily in the race we put it together.
I mean, we knew after qualifying yesterday, it was a little disappointing being sixth because in prequalifying we were on old tires and we were really fast. So we expected to be the same. But we had some issues so we basically couldn't put a lap together and all night, you know, the team worked really hard. We sorted out our problems, came out here today, and right away the car felt really good in the race. I was able to save a lot of fuel, keep pace with Oriol and those guys.
At the end of the day, he had to pit a lap earlier than me and that was that because I had a good inlap and good outlap. Unfortunately, went yellow. But still we got ahead of him and the team did a great job on pit stops. I have to really thank them.
MERRILL CAIN: Do you get a sense of your accomplishment at a young age? It's your prom weekend, for crying out loud, and here you are on the podium, youngest podium finisher in series history. Do you get a sense of what you've accomplished?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, you know, I feel like it is my job to be here and to do this. So, you know, I try to just put it behind me and do my best every weekend. Unfortunately, it hasn't been going our way the past couple weekends. Certainly Long Beach should have been a better result for us. But finally to be here, you know, a 1-2 for the entire team, it's a great result.
You know, I'm happy for Sebastien to have another win. I think if we keep performing this way, which is how I think we should perform, we'll be up there in the championship by the year's end.
MERRILL CAIN: Congratulations. Great weekend for you.
You talked about a 1-2 finish for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, the first 1-2 since the 2005 event at the Las Vegas oval with Sebastien taking first place and Oriol Servia finishing second. Your winner here at the Grand Prix of Houston, driver of the #1 car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Sebastien Bourdais. Represents the second win of the season, the 25th career victory in Champ Car for Sebastien Bourdais. That moves him now into a tie with Gordon Johncock for 11th all time in series history. He goes 2-2 here in Houston after winning last year here.
Sebastien, a couple of incredible moves from you, especially early on in the race. You've had an interesting weekend with the penalty yesterday, early on cutting through the chicane, but through it all you've been a true champion.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I don't know, it's not up to me to say. If you say so, I guess I'll take it (laughter).
It's just been a weird weekend overall. You know, it feels really good to be back at the top here. After a great weekend at Long Beach, you know, the first 1-2 with Graham, it has been a long time for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. It feels really good because the boys worked so hard last night. Like Graham was saying, it's been a long winter, they really worked their tails off. It's paying off. It's all to their credit. I couldn't be any happier.
But, yeah, about the race, I was really, really, you know, I have to say pissed off after yesterday's qualifying. I did really think it was a bad call. I think it was undeserved. I had only been in the way of Will Power because I had been blocked myself and I was just trying to get out of the way. They can say whatever they want. But once you're out there and you're trying to find another gap, you can't evaporate on such a short and narrow track. It was really hard. So I got penalized.
I knew it was going to have a big influence at the start, which did happen. You know, there's just no room for two side by side in the chicane. I took a good start, I was on the outside, which should have never happened. And I, you know, just really had a good run. I stayed side by side with Will. I made it through the chicane, then I was facing the second curb. There was just nowhere to go. From then on I just had to shortcut.
When I looked in the mirrored to reposition myself, because I knew I had to do that, there was just no way because Wilson was in Power's gearbox. If I had to do that, I was going to give up two positions. I was just not willing to do it.
It was a pretty tough beginning of the race. And then Justin made it a the easier for us. He got around Will. So I just had to give up that position. And then after that, we were saving fuel, saving fuel, saving fuel. And I kind of had the feeling that Justin might have been struggling a little bit to make the fuel mileage, so I just kept the pressure. And I think at some point he really, really tried to make the target, and he just, you know, couldn't keep the pace. Got a good jump out of turn 10, got around.
After that, it was a straighter shot. But pretty eventful race. I have to say it wasn't easy. We got I think quite a few things to look at the car because towards the end, it wasn't the same car as the beginning. So I'm just glad it turned out all right. You know, very happy for all the McDonald's crew.
MERRILL CAIN: Talk about the way you started the year obviously was very tough, Sebastien, but you've really corrected it at the last two events. Where are you at in terms of the new car? Do you feel comfortable with the team and the car?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It's not as satisfying as the Lola was to drive. We do struggle a little bit to get the whole four Bridgestone tires to work together throughout a race. We do hit the balance right from times to times pretty often, about you we just have a tougher time to keep it together for a full distance.
And the car is trickier to drive. It's just not as pleasant for me at least. And I have to say I'm struggling a little bit, but I guess everybody is. And it's just a new car and we just don't have the freedom to really bring it to where we'd like it to be. But it's the same game for everybody, so we're just trying to make the best of it. So far it's working out pretty good.
MERRILL CAIN: A great win for you today.
Sebastien earned a bonus point for turning the fastest lap of the race on the very last turn here with a 58.018. We'll quickly go over the top five in points unofficially after three rounds in the Champ Car World Series. Sebastien with today's performance takes over the points lead now with 73 points on the season, Will Power is in second position with 70 points on the year, Robert is in third place with 61 points earned over three races, Alex Tagliani in fourth with 57 points, and Bruno Junqueira rounds out your top five with 53 points earned on the year.
We also want to point out from our fine hosts here at the Grand Prix of Houston, the three-day attendance total here for today's race and this weekend's races, 168,259, three-day attendance total. That represents a 31% increase over last year's event here in Houston. Certainly a great weekend of racing for everyone.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I just wanted to say an extra thing for us, obviously it was a very important weekend, as Mike is now part of the team. It's his race. You know, I feel even sweeter to bring this 1-2 for him.
MERRILL CAIN: I think you made all your bosses walk away with a smile this weekend, Sebastien.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I just wish that Paul was there, but I'm sure he was watching.
MERRILL CAIN: Let's open it up for questions from the audience.

Q. Sebastien, I heard you say your car wasn't as good later in the race. Can you explain what happened?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I don't know what happened. But when the yellow came out, when we did our first pit stop, it felt like something broke on the car. I don't know if it's a damper or something else or maybe just we lost the handling on the car. That just feels like too much for a change of tires. I just felt like we had a flat right rear.
So it was -- I was really worried in the car, making quite a few mistakes after the race start. Oriol was quite fast. The balance wouldn't come back for at least six, seven, eight laps. So I was getting really nervous, having an even tougher time to make the mileage I was hoping to get.
So, you know, it was pretty uncertain at that point because I had no idea what the others had fuel in their tanks, if we were full or not. I didn't want to ask on the radio because I didn't want to give away our strategy. It was just really stressful. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea what I should have been doing. Hmm, not looking so good.
You know, between this and the fact that the car would not stop towards the end of the race, it was just a little bit of frustration from the inside. But I guess we made it stick, and it's even sweeter at the end.

Q. Your last five laps were like sensationally great. Is that because you couldn't stop?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: No (laughter). I think the reason -- the reason why I nearly crashed it is a consequence I couldn't stop the car at the chicane. You saw probably that I hit the curb pretty hard head on. The second one, the car was just sailing down the corners. I was kind of really unsure whether I would be able to stop it or not. There was just no bite any more in the brakes. I don't know why that is. The pedal was kind of normal long, which you'd expect toward the end of the race. But it wouldn't slow down, at least not as it should have been with the weight, with the fuel we had in the car. I don't know what happened. Maybe we just faded the brakes or something. But it was a weird feeling. Very uncomfortable when you're trying to stop at the end of the race, that's for sure.

Q. Graham, I think I heard you say in your TV interview that Servia might have had a problem with his 'push to pass'. Is that true?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, we came down the back straight, he got a bad run out of turn four. He was using the 'push to pass' trying to get ahead of me. I noticed his taillight started blinking. That's how I knew he pressed the button. Then he came out of turn six at the end of the back straight. I almost hit him. Obviously the pit lane limiter had come on.
But he figured it out pretty quickly, so. I mean, I think I know there was some issue there. I don't know how many cars that happened to. I mean, should have been aware that it was going to happen or the possibility was there. You could just look at the dash and see if it's on or not. Surprising that he hadn't caught it. But I guess it happens, so...
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, got it too. It's pretty much all the way up and down pit lane. A new interesting thing, you press overtake, you get the PLT on. It's interesting if you don't see it.

Q. Sebastien, you used the 'power to pass' on the last lap. Did you just want to set the fastest lap there? Were you concerned since the car didn't have much bite there in the brakes that that might be a problem?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I was just trying to make it up for a little bit, yeah. It was just a little easier to try to gain some time around the Astrodome, back off on the brakes, just to make sure I was there. It didn't cost as much on the performance side that it cost in the confidence. You know, it was stopping; it was just not stopping quite as well as I kind of was used to. And when you get into the attack mode, then you just lose a little bit in the confidence in the car and it gets a little bit harder.

Q. Robert, all the other things you're getting used to, the rolling start, saving fuel, can you talk about restarts and full-course yellows, not probably entirely new to you, but happen obviously much more often in this sort of thing, how you're adapting to that?
ROBERT DOORNBOS: Yeah, no, of course obviously the safety cars are normal in any type of racing. You just have to, you know, keep the tires up to temperature. The communication is very good with my team, you know, in asking what's going on, if I need to save fuel, you know, when I should start attacking the tires to bring up some temperature.
Yeah, and then you just have to be committed really straightaway even with cold tires. I really start enjoying driving the car on the limits obviously. And I have to say today for me was like every lap was like qualifying. I mean, I was really pushing to make up time for the other guys because I had to come from so far behind. It's not ideal. Obviously you want to start in the front and keep the pace.
It really worked out well and I could save the tires as well, which was very important. The rear tires, they went off quite quickly. Yeah, so the right foot today was my traction control instead of a button on the steering wheel.

Q. Robert, could you talk a little more in detail about the start. You said you passed a number of cars. I know you're not used to the rolling starts. Were you braver just because it's something you're not used to?
ROBERT DOORNBOS: No, no, I can imagine all the eyes were probably on the first row, the second row. But I was there in the back coming on the inside, you know, taking a lot of risk obviously because you have to make up time. There were definitely slower cars on the grid in front of me which I didn't want to be stuck behind really.
So, yeah, I took a bit of risk. It worked out. Was side by side with I think Servia at one stage or Dominguez, one of the Forsythe cars. It was fair racing. We didn't touch. We left each other just enough room. But I had the advantage. Yeah, then I took Junqueira as well in turn four. That was it. Settled in the pace behind Graham, was pushing really hard for Jani. I was just waiting for something to happen and saving my fuel. Yeah, it worked out well.

Q. Graham, you know a little bit about great race car drivers obviously from your dad, other guys you grew up watching, just what you've heard from them as a child about great open-wheel racers. How good do you think that guy is sitting next to you (referring to Bourdais)? How good do you think he is in terms of what you know about great open-wheel drivers?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, I think, as always, the record speaks for itself. I mean, I think my dad had 27 wins in this series. But you got to look, Seb is catching up pretty quick. I know a lot of people say that open-wheel racing in the United States, the drivers aren't as talented, this or that. I'll tell you what, I mean, it is still difficult to drive these cars at the limit for anybody.
So, you know, Seb's obviously mastered that. He shows it by the way he wins, I mean, basically most of the times that we come out to a track. I mean, learning from him, it's been awesome 'cause as the guys in the engineering room say, he's the king of saving fuel, this and that. If I can match him, then I hope my success will follow.

Q. Question for the king of saving fuel.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I haven't said that (laughter).

Q. Take us through that stretch towards the end when you were behind Tristan, deja vu from Long Beach. Looked like you made a serious effort to pass him in turn six.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: What was going on was: It's a pretty good day, don't fuck it up. It was getting to the point where between the brakes and everything else, it was getting -- you know, I felt like we had the car, but it was just not the time to run it really. And you just -- you know, I kind of had the feeling, well, you know, it's either going to go our way and it's going to go green to the end and we're going to win it or it's going to go his way and he's going to win it. That's racing, I guess.
Sorry for the F word.
MERRILL CAIN: We'll let it slide, Sebastien.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I'm just French. I cannot forget about it.

Q. Were you pretty sure he didn't have the fuel to go?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, yeah, I mean, the engineers knew exactly where he was going to pit, what was going to happen if it was to be green. But obviously any yellow was going to buy him the win. I guess they pushed it as far as they could. Actually, it nearly cost us the win because when he ran out of fuel coming off of turn eight, I touched him. I had no time to move over. He stayed pretty much in the middle of the racetrack. I was like, Whoa. I heard the front wing. I looked, it was still there, all right. Yeah, no, it was that close. It did touch. So I guess the Panoz front wing is pretty tough.
It's tough to improve from last year. You have to deal with the site you've got. The main thing is you don't have much of a straight line. The longest full-time throttle is around the Astrodome, and it's not quite long enough to really get a tow. Last year I was able to pass because somehow I just found the sweetest spot around the Astrodome. I was not jumping as hard as the cars that were in front of us. This year, even with Wilson when he was struggling, I was getting a little bit of a better exit off of turn four, but yet I never had the feeling that I could just go side by side with him and pass him. It was the same thing with Gommendy.
It really is tough to pass. It's just tough and rough racing. But I think it was a good show today. It's just a street course and it's tough to pass, period. It's not as easy as Long Beach or many other places.
MERRILL CAIN: I'd like to thank the media for their coverage this weekend. It's been a great weekend here in Houston. Drivers, thanks for putting on a great show today. Have a good evening.



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