Vegas Grand Prix takes to the streets
Vegas Grand Prix takes to the streets
Vegas Grand Prix takes to the streets
By DAVE TULEY
LAS VEGAS – When I first moved to Las Vegas in 1998, it was easy to drive anywhere in town.
As long as you avoided the Strip corridor on weekends, it was smooth sailing. Even the "rush hour" traffic was nothing compared to most big cities. But with the Vegas valley being among the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, negotiating the traffic jams now is a part of everyday life.
The secret to getting around the gridlock on the highways is knowing which surface streets offer the best out-of-the-way route that the tourists aren't aware of. But if you're looking for a shortcut this weekend, don't go driving through downtown Las Vegas. That area is usually much less crowded than the Strip and easy to navigate, but this Friday through Sunday is the Vegas Grand Prix, which will have open-wheel race cars zipping through the streets at speeds of up to 180 mph.
The 2.44-mile road course will start just west of the downtown casinos on Grand Central Parkway heading south, turn left onto Bonneville Avenue, then left on Main Street, right on Carson Avenue, a quick right on First Street, a quick left on Bridger Avenue, another left onto Casino Center, a right back onto Carson, a left on Fourth Street and under the Fremont Street Experience canopy, and then a left onto Ogden Avenue that will take the drivers on a half-mile straightaway back to the start-finish line and the pits. It's not the most direct route I would take, but it should make for exciting racing.
Tickets range from $12 to $175 in the reserved grandstands, but it's free along the downtown streets, and that's where the hotels are hoping for the expected 150,000 people to come check out their part of town for the qualifying runs and other events on Friday and Saturday, plus the actual running of the Vegas Grand Prix at 1 p.m. Sunday to be shown live on NBC.
Station Casinos auto racing oddsmaker Micah Roberts has Sebastien Bourdais as the 6-5 favorite to win the Vegas Grand Prix, which is the first race of the Champ Car World Series's yearlong calendar. Bourdais has won the series championship the past three years. Bourdais drives for the Newman/Haas Racing team, co-owned by actor Paul Newman.
"They have the best equipment and the most money," Roberts said. "I guess you can say Newman has money with all the movies he's made and all the salad dressing he has sold."
Most sports books in town have Neel Jani as the second choice at between 7-2 and 6-1, but Stations has Paul Tracy at 5-2. All of the drivers want to win the season-opening race, but Tracy has added incentive as he is a Las Vegas resident.
Other top contenders are Graham Rahal at 5-1, Will Power at 7-1, and Alex Tagliani at 10-1.
Roberts said the betting handle won't approach what he sees in Nextel Cup races (which is taking the week off), but it'll be about what Station Casinos will book next week when the National Hot Rod Association comes to town.
"This isn't something we book weekly like Nascar, so it's not going to be as big," Roberts said. "We've seen a steady stream of bets since we put the odds up last month, but we'll see most of the bets this weekend as people get more excited about the race and want to place a wager before checking it out."
Re: Vegas Grand Prix takes to the streets
Jeff Haney on why Bourdais is a solid bet, but lacks value
Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais looks like the driver to catch in the Champ Car World Series, but bettors won't find much value on Bourdais to win Sunday's season-opening Vegas Grand Prix on the streets of downtown Las Vegas.
Bourdais, who won seven of the circuit's 14 races last year on the way to his third consecutive series championship, was listed at odds ranging from even money (at the Las Vegas Hilton) to 2-1 (at Caesars and all other Harrah's properties) to win Sunday's race, expected to field about 17 cars.
Other sports books, such as MGM Mirage properties and Station Casinos, had Bourdais in between, in the 6-5 to 7-5 range. (As always, odds are subject to change.)
Bourdais, who won the Champ Car races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2004 and 2005, told reporters he expects a more exciting race Sunday on the 12-turn, 2.44-mile street course.
"I really didn't have anything against the oval," Bourdais said. "It's just the wind package we had didn't make for exciting racing, at least as far as drivers go, because we couldn't really drive the car. It was just flat all the way around, just very much like the IRL is doing these days, and we're not big fans of it."
A bet on Bourdais at a price approaching even money might not qualify as a "bridge-jumper" (like when you bet a hefty chunk of your bankroll on a 1-5 shot to show at Hollywood Park), but it's close.
And while it's a nice touch that fans can place a wager on their favorite driver before heading down to Grand Central Parkway on Sunday, more serious bettors probably won't find many attractive prices on the other leading contenders, either.
Veteran Las Vegas driver Paul Tracy was installed as a 9-2 shot to win Sunday, the second-lowest odds on the board at the Las Vegas Hilton, with fellow Las Vegan Alex Tagliani a longer shot at 15-1.
Australian driver Will Power, looking for his first win in 17 career Champ Car starts, was made a 6-1 shot to upend Bourdais by winning Sunday, with rookie Neel Jani at 5-1.
Justin Wilson, runner-up to Bourdais in last year's driver standings, checks in at 10-1.
The most heralded rookie driver in the race, 18-year-old Graham Rahal, was listed at 7-1 to win in his series debut. Rahal, the son of former Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal and a high school senior in Ohio, enters the circuit as a teammate of Bourdais.
Re: Vegas Grand Prix takes to the streets
Ron Kantowski checks out the Vegas Grand Prix course through the windshield of a '96 Chevy S-10 pickup truck
Hey, Sebastien Bourdais , you think passing Paul Tracy on full tanks and cold tires is difficult? Try getting around a cabby with an attitude on Fourth Street during rush hour behind the wheel of a 1996 Chevy S-10 that knocks and pings.
Bourdais, the three-time reigning Champ Car series champion, and his 200-mph racing pals will be takin' it to the downtown streets this weekend in the inaugural Vegas Grand Prix.
But if they really want a challenge that will rotate their tires right off the rims, they should stick around until Monday , when the temporary 12-turn, 2.44-mile circuit is reopened to the cabbies and the delivery truck drivers and the cigar-chomping bullies in forest green Cadillacs who think they own the road.
Forget the Indianapolis 500. If it's the ultimate test of man and machine you seek, try getting around downtown Las Vegas at 4:15 p.m. when the traffic lights are out of synch.
That's what I did this past Monday, a few hours before they started to close the course to Average Joes so it could be made ready for Exceptional Sebastiens like Bourdais - a necessary evil, which, no doubt, probably had the cocktail waitresses who use the employee lot at the Golden Nugget steaming like an old Offenhauser engine.
But driving the course with the concrete walls and barriers and imposing catch fencing in place was, for lack of a better expression, pretty darn cool.
I don't have a bumper sticker on my truck that says, "My Other Car Is a Panoz DP01 Cosworth." So I'm afraid I will never know what a "hot" lap, which is what these lead foots call a practice circuit made at roughly the speed of light, feels like.
But if you want to experience a "cool" lap of the downtown Las Vegas street circuit, move those cheeseburger wrappers and empty beer cans aside and hop in.
This is where it begins and ends. Unless, of course, you draw the ire of Tracy, who makes his home here and drives his race car as if a battering ram were attached to the front wing assembly. Then your race will probably end against the wall.
The start-finish line is on Grand Central Parkway, strategically located between a giant grandstand on the left and a giant grandstand on the right.
The one on the left is uncovered. This is where race fans will pay good money to get a nasty sunburn. The one on the right has a massive canopy . This is where CEOs will dine on fine meats and cheeses and try not to get any on their tasseled loafers.
The end of the main straight is in the shadow of the World Market Center. Literally in the shadow of the World Market Center. Of course, you'll be able to say the same thing about Henderson before long. The World Market Center is getting so humongous that when King Kong climbed the back side of it the other night he was mistaken for Cheetah, the chimpanzee.
After speeding past the hospitality tents and souvenir trailers like bats out of H-E-double gear shifts, the cars will dive into Turn 1, or Government Center Corner. The entry to Turn 1 is almost wide enough to land a DC-10, so this is where most - if not all - of the passing should take place.
There's a slight bend before you go under the Union Pacific railroad tracks on Bonneville Avenue. The race organizers call this Turn 2, but it's not much of a turn. A kink is more like it. Although, as you will read, that probably would be a better name for Turn 3. So it's under the bridge and left on Main.
Turn 3 is the nastiest corner on the circuit - not because it's all that tricky to negotiate, but because the Adult Superstore and 24-Hour Arcade sits smack dab at the apex.
I wonder whether this is what city and race officials had in mind when they spoke of how the event would call attention to Las Vegas' glamorous image.
South Main Street
Or maybe it was the South Main Street short chute they had in mind. After the bump-and-grind at bookstore corner, the cars will pass two bail bond joints, a rooming house that used to be a jail, a Greyhound bus station, a combination liquor store and market, two dozen news racks chock-full of pamphlets featuring naked women and an under-repair domicile that is being converted into a halfway home for the homeless, but, back in the day, was known as the Victory brothel.
"You can still see the safes in the floor where the girls would drop the money," said Kari Case, whose mother bought the place and the adjoining liquor store and hotel about 18 months ago.
We were told that at the Victory lobby, dolls would be placed on the bar. If the doll was upright, the lady in her room was available. But if the doll was laid flat/prone, the room was ¦ well, occupied.
In NASCAR, I think they call this "bump drafting."
500...400...300...200...100. White markers with bright red numerals count down the braking points to Turn 4, a right-hander onto Carson Avenue. The corner isn't very remarkable, other than it sits at the entrance to the Plaza Hotel, which once hosted a dinner show called "Natalie Needs a Nightie," starring Bambi Jr., the former Las Vegas stripper who divorced talk show host Montel Williams.
That trivia tidbit and 49 cents will get race fans a shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate across the street.
Turns 5, 6, 7 and 8
With the exception of the leasing office at Neonopolis, this U-shaped complex of 90-degree corners behind the Golden Nugget will be the slowest part of the circuit. It'll be a single-file procession through here, but if you're fortunate enough to be invited up to the Nugget parking garage, you'll be able to read the sponsorship logos on the cars. At least the ones that have them.
Back onto Carson, the cars will make their way toward Fitz Corner, or Turn 9. The fifth-floor parking garage at Fitzgeralds would be another ideal place to watch the race.
Word of caution: As I steered the S-10 onto Fourth Street, I was nearly overcome by a foul odor that was a cross between rotten eggs and the infield Porta Pottis at Talladega.
My advice would be to inhale the methanol fumes coming from the racing engines and hold them in until at least the first full-course yellow.
Seeing the race cars scream down Fourth toward Fremont Street will be the neatest thing to happen down there since The Edge played acoustic guitar on U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" music video.
What are the chances that Tracy will take a sudden right-hand turn and crash through the empty storefronts at Neonopolis, putting it out of its misery?
Probably not good enough.
Turns 10, 11 and 12
After a sharp left onto Ogden Avenue, the cars will begin accelerating again, zipping past the trendy Triple George Grill and Hogs and Heifers Saloon and past at least one guy wearing a Las Vegas Choppers T-shirt taking a long pull on a 40- ounce bottle of Miller High Life.
"I think this is as neat as hell," a race fan named Kelly from Beaumont, Texas, said as the S-10 idled in traffic.
When the light turned green, my Chevy belched a plume of oil smoke and sped - or at least rolled toward - the Hard Rock Hotel tunnel, which for my lack of money will be the ultimate place to watch the race.
There is a small grandstand on top of the underpass that will afford the well-connected a straight-on view of the field at full song before it dips into the tunnel under the railroad tracks and back onto Grand Central Parkway. The long, looping left-hand Turn 12 will take Bourdais - or whatever foreign-born driver you have never heard of who might be leading - back to the start-finish line.
By then, a waitress exposing way too much of her side pods will be pouring the CEOs in the suites another glass of Cristal, being extra careful not to spill any on their tassels.
Re: Vegas Grand Prix takes to the streets
Champ Car World Series presents world of firsts for teams
By Brian Hilderbrand
Las Vegas Sun
As a rookie, Graham Rahal knows he will have his hands full when he makes his Champ Car World Series debut this weekend on the streets of Las Vegas.
"The Las Vegas race weekend is going to be very difficult," Rahal said. "It's the first race of the season, it's my first race in a Champ Car, it's a new track and we've got a new car."
Rahal, the 18-year-old son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal and teammate of three-time series champion Sebastien Bourdais at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, won't be the only driver facing a high level of uncertainty this weekend. Every driver in the field, including Bourdais, will face similar adjustments as the Champ Car World Series opens its fourth season under the current ownership team.
Changes this season include the first new chassis to be introduced in the series in seven seasons, a half-dozen new venues - including this weekend's Vegas Grand Prix - and at least that many rookie drivers. All 16 races will be timed events.
The new Panoz DP01 chassis may be the most significant change - one that is expected to bring some parity to the series that Bourdais has dominated for three seasons.
"Everyone has the same equipment and you really can't change much on the car," Bourdais said, "so for a team that likes to develop the car and experiment, this is a disadvantage.
"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."
Bourdais, who has won 20 races and three championships in the past three seasons, won the Champ Car races staged on the 1.5-mile oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2004 and 2005. Those races were run as doubleheaders with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, but the crowds thinned considerably after the trucks were done racing and before the high-tech Champ Cars took to the track.
Despite his success at LVMS, Bourdais said he likes that the series has moved the event to the streets of downtown Las Vegas.
"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," he said. "Hopefully, racing on the city streets will satisfy our fans much better."
Paul Tracy, a Las Vegas resident who is in his 17th season in the series, agreed.
"I think it's going to be a lot of fun for the city and (the fans are) going to enjoy it," said Tracy, who has 30 Champ Car race wins and was the series champion in 2003. "This is what our cars are built to do, what makes it fun, and this is where we should be racing."
Alex Tagliani, the other Las Vegas resident competing in this weekend's Vegas Grand Prix, combined two of his passions last weekend in preparation for the race.
A fitness buff, Tagliani spent last weekend running the 12-turn, 2.44-mile street course.
"I headed out over the weekend to continue my physical fitness training, while taking some time to learn the racetrack," he said. "It was a unique experience, getting to learn first hand the layout of the new circuit we will be competing on this weekend.
"Having the chance to get out on the track and have a look, while training, is great because while you are working out you can prepare yourself mentally for the track. I feel more prepared than ever and I just can't wait to get started on Friday morning."
Tagliani will be driving this season for RSPORTS, a team formed last month when existing teams Rocketsports Racing and RuSPORT elected to pool their resources. Tagliani, a seven-year resident of Las Vegas, will team with Justin Wilson in the two-car effort.
Re: Vegas Grand Prix takes to the streets
Tracy on provisional pole in Las Vegas
April 6th, 2007
Las Vegas, NV (Sports Network) - Veteran Paul Tracy grabbed the provisional pole for Sunday's Vegas Grand Prix on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada. The No.3 Forsythe Championship Racing driver circled the 2.44-mile, 12-turn temporary street course in one minute, 19.784 seconds (110.097 m.p.h.)
The provisional pole guarantees the Canadian one championship point and a starting position on the front row in Sunday's race.
Rookie Simon Pagenaud, the 2006 Atlantic champion, was second quickest at 1:19.998. Three-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais suffered electrical problems early in the session but rebounded to finish third.
Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani completed the top-five.
It is a new season for Champ Cars with new teams and drivers, but one thing that hasn't changed is the brilliance of Bourdais on a race track.
The Frenchman has won three consecutive titles and appears to be set for a fourth. Since finishing his rookie season fourth overall, Bourdais has been spectacular winning 20 times and finishing in the top-five 33 times in 41 starts.
Last year Bourdais coasted to his third consecutive title by 89 points over Wilson and 102 points over A.J. Allmendinger who has since jumped to the cash and bright lights of NASCAR.
The final qualifying session is set for Saturday and the race is scheduled to drop the green flag on Sunday at 4 p.m. (et).
Re: Vegas Grand Prix takes to the streets
Bourdais and Rahal off to rough start
April 7, 2007
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) -The team that everybody expected to be at the front of the grid right from the start of the 2007 Champ Car World Series season isn't.
Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, which has won four of the last five series titles - the last three with Sebastien Bourdais - has had a miserable couple of days heading into Sunday's inaugural Vegas Grand Prix.
Bourdais and rookie teammate Graham Rahal, struggled with electrical problems on Friday and wound up third and 15th, respectively, in the first round of qualifying.
Saturday was even worse.
Rahal, son of three-time CART champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, slammed into a tire barrier in the morning practice. The damage forced him to move to a backup car that had never even turned a wheel on track.
Bourdais was fastest in that practice but bounced off a concrete barrier after just two qualifying laps. He lost his only fast time as penalty for bringing out a red flag and, after spending most of the final session sitting unhappily in a runoff area on the course, will start 16th Sunday in the 17-car field.
``I messed up and brushed the wall and hit the wall a little bit,'' said Bourdais, who will start a race outside the top 10 for the first time in 54 races. ``It wasn't that bad a hit but it bent the toe link and broke the (tire) rim.''
To make matters worse, the clutch was frozen and he couldn't get the car to move.
``We were stuck in fourth gear in front of tires and they wouldn't push me back or do anything, so I was stuck there until they moved me out of the way,'' Bourdais added. ``It's not the best way to start the season.''
Asked if he still feels he can contend for a win on Sunday, Bourdais gave a Gallic shrug and said, ``It's a new track, I don't know if its going to be possible to pass.
``Turn one seems to be pretty difficult because everybody is braking in the middle of the track. Turn four might be the best option. We'll look into things and try and pull it off. We've done it before, but this is a different deal and we don't have a car we know.''
Paul Tracy, the only driver to break the string of championships for what was Newman/Haas Racing until this year, was asked how he feels about nemesis Bourdais starting from the rear.
``I guess the situation today is I'm at the front of the grid and he's at the back,'' Tracy said. ``That's a first, I think.
``You can see today wasn't a good day, probably the worst day he's ever had in the four years he's been here. I'm sure he's frustrated but, usually, when he gets frustrated, he's going to drive good tomorrow. I would expect him to be a challenge tomorrow.''
Rahal said his backup car was better than expected.
``The team did a great job getting it ready, especially since it never turned a wheel,'' he said. ``Qualifying was pretty good but we just can't seem to get that last little bit. We need to find it.''
Looking ahead to the race, Rahal said, ``It's going to be tough. It's really hot out here and I think a lot of guys will fall out of the saddle.
``For me, it will be a learning experience to go out there and figure out what I have to do.''
Whatever he does, the youngster will finish better than his father in his first race. The elder Rahal wound up 18th on the one-mile oval at Phoenix in 1982 in his first race in CART, the forerunner of Champ Car.
FAST START: Dutch rookie Robert Doornbos, who came to Champ Car after being a test driver in part-time racer in Formula One, qualified third for his first race in the American series.
Asked how he is preparing for Sunday's race, Doornbos said, ``It's going to be the first rolling start of my life, actually. It will be very, very exciting.''
Everybody is concerned about all 17 cars racing into the first turn - a fast, sweeping right-hander - at the start.
``Obviously turn one is exciting because it gets very wide,'' Doornbos said. ``People can get very optimistic there. I hope everybody plays it smart and lets everybody race and don't make any sudden moves.''
SCHEDULE CHANGE: The European portion of the 2007 Champ Car schedule, featuring two first-time events, was finalized Saturday with the announcement that the race at the Zolder Circuit in Belgium has been rescheduled from Sept. 9 to Aug. 26.
That event will be followed by the Dutch Grand Prix, Sept. 2 in Assen.
``The Zolder date was moved to ease concerns that the FIA had about our race being too close to a Formula One event at Spa (Belgium) on Sept. 16,'' Champ Car official John Clagett said. ``And we want to give the open-wheel fans of the region every opportunity to attend both races if they so desire.''
The 16-race Champ Car season will include six events at new venues, including the inaugural race in Zhuhai, China. Clagett said Champ Car continues to work with the promoters and the FIA to finalize its China date.
The race was originally set for May 20 but is expected to be switched to fall date to coordinate travel with the race in Australia on Oct. 21.
Re: Vegas Grand Prix takes to the streets
Power wins Champ Car opener in Las Vegas
April 8th, 2007
Las Vegas, NV (Sports Network) - Will Power captured Sunday's Vegas Grand Prix on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada. The No.5 Team Australia driver took the checkered flag 16.787 seconds ahead of Robert Doornbos.
The victory was the first of Power's Champ Car career.
Power brought the field to the green flag, but he failed to keep the lead for long as Paul Tracy went around him in the first turn. The first few laps of the event were slowed by cautions for a Graham Rahal crash and an Alex Figge spin.
In a break from tradition, Champ Car officials decided that their races would be based on time, not a specific number of laps. This race was set at one hour, 45 minutes of which the first seven laps took up 15 minutes because of the multiple cautions.
They finally went back to green with Tracy leading the way. He held it until lap 11 when Power slid underneath him down the front straight. That was the way they sat when Dan Clarke slammed the tire barrier to bring out a caution flag on lap 14. Most of the cars took on fuel and tires, with the exception of Power and Tracy.
On the restart, Power got away quickly and built a lead of almost one second in just the first few green-flag laps. Lap 21 saw the end of the race for Justin Wilson (gearbox), who finished second overall in 2006.
The man who beat Wilson, three-time series champion Sebastien Bourdais was on the move. After starting 16th due to a qualifying accident, Bourdais charged up to fifth after 22 laps and 40 minutes. Then on lap 24 Bourdais suddenly slowed with a right-front flat tire and he lost all the ground he gained. He nursed his car back to pit lane, but his chance to win the race was over.
Just 12 cars were still running as the field hit the final hour of racing. Power and Tracy held nine seconds on third-place Doornbos, the former F1 driver.
The three leaders pitted on lap 28 giving the lead up to rookie Simon Pagenaud. Veteran Alex Tagliani then used his "power-to-pass" button to take the lead from the rookie on lap 29.
On lap 32, Bourdais had a "run-in" with the wall and his day was over. And Tracy had to come down pit road a second time when his team noted a fuel flow problem and he didn't get a full fuel load on his most recent stop.
So the front of the field was Tagliani and a couple of rookies - Pagenaud and Tristan Gommendy. Power was fifth but had stopped later than the leaders. On lap 39 the top-four drivers pitted leaving Power back on the lead.
Through 43 laps and Power held 17 second on Neel Jani and more than 30 seconds on Bruno Junqueira and Tracy. Doornbos, who was in second, made what could be his final pit stop and emerged in sixth place. A couple of laps later Power pitted for his final time.
Junqueira and Tracy were one-two, but only 10 seconds ahead of Power and they both needed to stop one more time. Junqueira made a stop on lap 48 and had a problem with his fuel filler as well. He left pit road, but had to make another stop on the next lap.
Tracy was leading on lap 50, but Power was flying up at him, now only four seconds behind the leader. There was still 20 minutes of racing left and Tracy couldn't go the distance so Power had no reason to make a risky pass of the sometimes moody star. Power caught Tracy on lap 54. What would he do?
Fortunately he didn't have to make the decision as Tracy pulled down pit road on the next lap. Power inherited the lead and an 18 seconds ahead of second- place Doornbos.
The only question was did he conserve enough fuel to reach the checkered flag?
Doornbos began to cut into Power's lead, but there didn't seem to be enough time left. Three minutes to go and Power was still comfortably ahead of Doornbos. Only a mechanical problem or a big mistake could keep Power from a victory.
Power didn't make any mistakes and won the race unchallenged.
Tracy, Tagliani and Gommendy completed the top-five.
The second race in the series is scheduled for Sunday, April 15 at Long Beach. California.
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