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Junqueira ends troubled weekend with third

By KEVIN KELLY and MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- Considering all of the obstacles -- starting in seventh, the unpredictable driving of rookie Mario Haberfeld and a delay during his first pit stop -- Bruno Junqueira wound up having a pretty good weekend.

The 26-year-old Brazilian, who replaced 2002 CART champion Cristiano da Matta in the No. 1 Lola/Ford-Cosworth this season, finished third in his first race for the Newman/Haas team.

"If you had told me before the weekend that I was going to finish third, I would not have been too happy," Junqueira said. "But considering everything that happened, we're happy with third."

Haberfeld and Junqueira nearly wrecked each other twice during the race.

The first happened on Lap2 when Haberfeld squeezed Junqueira to the inside wall on the front straightaway and nearly collected Michel Jourdain in Turn1.

Race officials issued Haberfeld a blocking warning.

The two tangled again after Junqueira pitted on Lap16, a stop delayed when a crewman experienced a problem with an air gun. Junqueira felt he was squeezed again by Haberfeld as he left pit road.

"He behaved really badly," Junqueira said. "I hope the stewards do something about it because that can be very, very dangerous. ... If you want to keep alive, it's better to behave than to do that."

Junqueira moved into third place on Lap51 but couldn't gain on either eventual winner Paul Tracy or second-place finisher Jourdain on a restart 36 laps from the finish.

"If I could have gotten to Jourdain a little earlier, I could even have had a try at Paul even though the track got really slippery at the end and my brakes began to fade," Junqueira said. "I told myself, 'Let's keep third.' From where I was, that was pretty good."

GRIDIRON GEARHEADS: Some of the loudest cheers came before the race.

Bucs receiver Joe Jurevicius and fullback Mike Alstott rode around the track and gave the command to start engines as grand marshals.

"It's unbelievable what these guys are going through, and it's a lot different than what we do," Jurevicius said. "It's unbelievable. I'm thinking about how I've got to slow my SUV down to 20 mph to take a turn like this. These guys are in the 80s and 100s and probably up to 180.

"They're amazing athletes and the way they handle machines like this just says a lot about what they do."

BABY UPDATE: Jurevicius said his son Michael William, who was born premature on Jan. 14, remains in the hospital.

"He's doing all right," Jurevicius said. "He's getting himself better. A steady day is a good day for him. He's hanging in there."

TROUBLESOME TURN: Though drivers felt Turn8, where Patrick Carpentier crashed on Lap48, was the most difficult to navigate, Turn10 caused the most trouble. Alex Tagliani, Rodolfo Lavin and Florida native Ryan Hunter-Reay all missed the turn and slid into the tire barriers.

"I got a bit wide into the marbles and that was it, that's all it takes," said Hunter-Reay, who started 12th and finished 16th. "I'll chalk it up to experience and definitely learn from it."

LIGHTNING FAST: There was one very interested bystander in Patrick Carpentier's pits this weekend. Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier visited his fellow Canadian on Saturday, experiencing for the first time a CART race from up close.

"I've always been a big fan of Patrick and think he's a great guy and a great driver," Lecavalier said. "I've been to a Formula One race in Montreal but this is my first time to see one of these races. I love cars so I've always been a big fan of fast cars like these."

Lecavalier met Carpentier about a month ago when the driver attended a Lightning morning skate and the two exchanged uniform tops.

EXPERT OPINION: The first-year course caught the attention of a couple of road racing veterans.

"This is a beautiful course. One of the best I've ever seen. I want to drive it," former Formula One and CART champion Emerson Fittipaldi said.

Added veteran Boris Said: "This is the best street course I've ever been on in its first year."

CLEAN UP TIME: Race organizers expect it to take 12-14 days before the 1.806-mile course is disassembled and the area is completely back to normal.

ODDS AND ENDS: Jourdain's second place finish was his best in 121 career CART races. ... Nigel Mansell, the 1993 CART champion and last driver to win both the pole and race in his CART debut, waved the green flag to start the race. ... Team Rahal co-owner and late night host David Letterman did not attend. ... Tracy's win was his 20th and tied him with Earl Cooper for 16th all-time. Cooper drove in the 1910s and '20s.

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