Newman, Haas untouchable in Champ Car's modern era
With seven Champ Car crowns and 100 race wins since 1983 -- and a guy named Sebastien Bourdais behind the wheel -- Paul Newman and Carl Haas appear downright unstoppable, writes John Oreovicz.
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Paul Newman and Carl Haas celebrated their latest victory the way they usually do.
They stayed out of the spotlight and watched the members of their team enjoy it.
Sebastien Bourdais' masterful drive in the Mazda Grand Prix of Portland provided Newman and Haas their 100th Champ Car race win since joining the CART series in 1983. Rechristened Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing with the addition of Mike Lanigan as a partner this year, NHLR is striving for its eighth Champ Car series title, including a record fourth consecutive for Bourdais.
With 133 race wins in USAC, CART and Indy Racing League competition since 1971, Penske Racing is the only organization in American open-wheel racing to have tasted more success than Newman/Haas. Since 1983, Roger Penske's team has won 94 CART and IRL races combined.
Newman and Haas were opposing team owners when the second iteration of the SCCA Can-Am series folded at the end of the 1982 season. They never thought about teaming up until Mario Andretti brought them together to create a CART Champ Car team for his full-time return to American open-wheel racing after he spent six years concentrating on Formula One.
The 1983 Lola T-700 was a pig of a car, but Andretti's victory at Road America turned things around and the '84 Lola was good enough for Andretti to claim the last of his four Champ Car series titles. In all, Andretti won 18 races for Newman/Haas as well as the team's first title.
"That first car was almost hopeless and it was not supposed to win," Andretti recalled. "Then it did and the momentum changed for us immediately. We were on a mission forever and it was so much fun."
Andretti drove for Newman/Haas until he retired at the end of 1994, and the joy he experienced in the latter years of his Champ Car career increased exponentially when NHR expanded to a two-car operation in 1988 for his son Michael. The younger Andretti drove two stints for Newman/Haas (1988-92 and 1994-2000) and is the team's most successful driver, claiming 31 of the 100 race wins and the 1991 CART series championship.
"My time at Newman/Haas Racing was some of the best years of my career and I can look back and say that Carl and Paul were not just employers, but friends," Michael said. "I believe the reason the team has been so successful over the years is because Carl has a knack for putting the right people in the right positions."
"People first" is a common refrain when any driver who has worked for Haas and Newman talks about them. Ken Siwieck, John Tzouanakis, Don Hoevel and Brian Lisles have been with the team for upward of 15 years, while engineer Craig Hampson represents NHLR's new guard.
"The guys at Newman/Haas are very motivated to win and they have been able to do that for a long period of time," said Paul Tracy, who won twice for NHR in his single season with the team (1995). "I think the team has had so much success because Carl maintains the same core group of guys; they have continuity and they don't have what I would call 'burnout syndrome,' where guys get tired and don't want to be there.
"I'm still friendly now with everyone that was on the crew and it's 12 years down the road."
Cristiano da Matta ended a nine-year championship drought for Newman/Haas when he took the 2002 CART crown.
"From the letter A to Z, the team is made of racers," the Brazilian said. "All the guys take it very serious and fun at the same time because everyone is doing what they love."
Haas has rarely gambled on young drivers during his 40-year career in motorsports, but he made a sound choice when he signed a relatively unknown Frenchman named Bourdais prior to the 2003 season. The then-23-year-old scored pole position for his first Champ Car race, won three times as a rookie and has been unstoppable ever since. "Seb" has racked up 26 of NHLR's 100 wins on the way to his three series titles.
"There are a whole lot of extremely famous names on the list before me and I'm proud to have contributed my share of wins," Bourdais said. "When I arrived I didn't expect to score so many wins or be so successful at Newman/Haas.
"At the beginning, I didn't know what to expect, but I got much more than a team out of it -- I got a second family."
Newman is 82 and just retired from his "day job" as an actor, while Haas is well into his 70s. So the recruitment of Lanigan as a partner this year signals the potential for change in the near future.
"You can't deny the weight of the years," Bourdais said. "You have to plan for the future, and Paul and Carl realize that and accept it. They want to see this great operation go on after their own legacy."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.