Updated: Apr 8
The penultimate feature in my series looking at each driver who contested the 2001 Rockingham 500
My next series of features will be looking at each driver who competed in my first ever major international motorsport race, the 2001 Rockingham 500, the first time the American CART Championship had raced in the UK since 1978.
Having been confirmed the previous July, the race was held in front of 38,000 people who witnessed, at the time, the fastest ever laps on a British circuit, with hitting speeds of over 215 mph. It was also the first full length oval race in the UK since before the war, when cars roared round Brooklands.
I was seven when I watched the action at a very cold Rockingham, I remember my parents either side of me keeping me warm. However, I also remember the excitement of watching a major motorsport event trackside for the first time, having been to the official opening that May. The speed the cars hit was mind blowing and something I can still recall now.
The race was won by Gil de Ferran who executed a superb move on the last lap to beat Swede Kenny Brack, with fellow Brazilians Cristiano da Matta and Helio Castroneves finishing third and fourth.
Michael Andretti finished fifth ahead of his teammate Paul Tracy in sixth, with 1996 CART Champion Jimmy Vasser in seventh. The fourth Brazilian in the field Tony Kanaan was eighth ahead of home favourite Dario Franchitti.
Spaniard Oriol Servia rounded out the top ten for Sigma Autosport, while just outside the top ten, Italian Max Papis came home eleventh. After Papis in eleventh was Townsend Bell with his Patrick Racing teammate Roberto Moreno just behind in thirteenth. After the Patrick Racing duo of Bell and Moreno was the Forsythe trio of Alex Tagliani, Bryan Herta and Patrick Carpentier.
Following the trio was Fernandez Racing’s Shinji Nakano, a lap ahead of the sole remaining Chip Ganassi Racing entry of Memo Gidley.
Behind Gidley was Bettenhausen Racing’s Michel Jourdain Jr, ahead of PacWest Racing’s Mauricio Gugelmin, who finished five laps down and two laps behind Jourdain Jr. The final driver to finish, also five laps down was Gugelmin’s compatriot Max Wilson, who was racing for Arciero-Blair Racing.
Having looked at Scott Dixon, Adrian Fernandez and Christian Fittipaldi, the next driver I am going to look at, the penultimate in the series, is Brazilian Bruno Junqueira, who retired on the first lap after colliding with Walker Racing’s Tora Takagi.
Bruno was driving for Chip Ganassi at the time in what was his debut season in the CART series after starting his career, like many drivers, in karts in his native Brazil. After progressing from karts into cars, making his debut in 1994, he showed consistent improvement, moving up the ranks from Brazilian F3 to Campeonato Sudamericano de Formula 3, making his series debut in 1995, finishing fifth.
The season was full of drivers who would become successful in championships around the globe such as Ricardo Zonta and Max Wilson.
Bruno remained in the series until 1997, winning the championship convincingly for Prop Car with six wins from twelve races, beating nearest rival Nestor Gabriel Furlan by 32 points.
1998 was Bruno’s first year outside of Southern America as he made his debut in the International Formula 3000 series for Draco, and although his first year was not as successful as maybe he had hoped, finishing the year 18thwith three points, he did show signs of promise which ensured he joined the Petrobras Junior Team, run by Super Nova Racing, alongside compatriot Max Wilson.
His first victory in the category his highlight of the season as well as finished second at Silverstone, ensuring he finished the season fifth in the standings. 1999 also saw Bruno become Williams’ test driver which is when I became aware of Bruno, due to him being on the F1 Manager game, a game where you became the Team Principal of one of the teams on the grid. It was my favourite game and one I sometimes still play.
At the conclusion of the 1999 season, Bruno’s big chance came as he and Jenson Button contested a shootout to see who would get the second Williams seat alongside Ralf Schumacher, after Alex Zanardi’s three year contract was terminated after only one.
Sadly for Bruno, he missed out on the chance as Jenson got the drive, having raced in British F3 the year before, however Bruno regained his composure well for 2000, winning the F3000 championship with the Petrobras Junior Team. It was a phenomenal season for Bruno as he won four of the ten races that season.
A chance at F1 was not available however and Bruno opted to go stateside, joining Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2001 CART Series season. Bruno had success as he won once, finishing sixteenth in the championship. 2001 also saw Bruno make his Indy 500 debut, finishing the race an impressive fifth, only behind Helio Castroneves, and three CART champions in Gil de Ferran, Michael Andretti and Jimmy Vasser.
Bruno remained with Ganassi for 2002 where his results improved dramatically, having learnt his trade in his first year. His standout moment in the year however came at the Indy 500, where he qualified on pole for the great race, despite it being his only appearance in the championship that year.
Unfortunately, he was not able to finish, eventually being classified 31st after a gearbox failure forced him to retire after 87 laps.
In the CART series, Bruno won twice, only finishing behind compatriot Cristiano da Matta, whom he replaced at Newman/ Haas for the 2003 season as he joined Toyota in F1, as Chip Ganassi left CART to join Indy Car.
Bruno was partnered by Sebastian Bourdais, however once again Bruno finished the season second having won twice, this time behind Canadian Paul Tracy. Bruno remained with Newman/ Haas for 2004 alongside Sebastian Bourdais once more as the duo dominated the season, finishing first and second, although it was Bruno who once again finished second, making it three out of three for the Brazilian.
2005 was a real setback for Bruno however as while leading the Champ Car standings, he crashed into the turn 1 wall at the Indy 500 which left him with a broken vertebrae in his back, ensuring he missed the remainder of the season.
He returned to the cockpit in 2006 however for the first time since 2002 he did not win a race that year, finishing the season fifth while his teammate Bourdais went onto win his third title in a row. It was also his last season at Newman/ Haas as Bruno joined Dale Coyne for 2007, finishing seventh in what proved to be the final season for the Champ Car Series.
The reunification of the two major American single seater championships occurred ahead of the 2008 season, ensuring Bruno made his full season debut in the category, remaining with Dale Coyne Racing.
However, results were not strong and he only finished twentieth in the standings with two top ten finishes, ensuring he was left without a drive at the end of the season. As well as his Indy Car commitments, Bruno was also representing his country in A1 GP, in which he made his debut the season before, contesting six races before contested four in 2008. A best result of eighth in Mexico was his showing in the series.
The only race Bruno entered in 2009 wads the Indy 500, for which he qualified for however he relinquished his starting position for regular Conquest Racing driver Alex Tagliani who failed to qualify. Bruno returned to full time racing in 2010, contesting Formula Truck, as well as contesting his final Indy 500, in which he failed to finish.
Bruno was forced to miss the race once more in 2011 when his team-owner sold his spot on the grid to Andretti Autosport, after their driver Ryan Hunter-Raey failed to qualify due to mechanical issues. Alongside his final Indy 500 appearance, he contested selected rounds of the 2011 American Le Mans Series, driving a Jaguar RSR at eight of the nine races alongside compatriot Cristiano da Matta, finishing in the points once at Long Beach.
Bruno remained in the series for 2012 with RSR Racing, now in an Oreca FLM09, in which his results greatly improved, winning outright once at Mosport ending the season third overall. Bruno remained with the team for the final American Le Mans Series season, finishing the year seventh.
The championship then merged with the Grand American Rolex Series to create IMSA, for which RSR (Rocketsports Racing) remained with Bruno, finishing tenth alongside Duncan Ende.
His final full season in IMSA came in 2015 alongside Chris Cumming finishing third in the Protoype Challenge.
From 2016 to 2018, after RSR’s withdrawal from the series, Bruno contested part-time for BAR1 Motorsports, contesting two rounds in 2016, before competing one in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
2018 was Bruno’s final appearance in IMSA, contesting master’s races in classic F1 cars as well as the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America Championship in which he finished third with a single victory.
Following the disruptive nature of 2020, Bruno did not return behind the wheel, however that may change as time goes by.
Despite this, what an interesting career Bruno had, although he may look back and think “what might have been” when you look at the success Jenson Button had in F1 following his big Williams break.
He will always be a driver I admire though and I wish him the best for the future.
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