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Champ Car promises its still on the road

Plans for Portland unchanged despite two driver desertions

Despite the recent defections of Adrian Fernandez and Bobby Rahal, the Champ Car World Series remains defiant, with plans to race with at least 18 cars at Long Beach, Calif., on April 18 and show up June 18-20 at Portland International Raceway.

Champ Car spokesman Eric Mauk says 11 drivers have been confirmed for this season, not including the much-courted Michel Jourdain and his Gigante sponsorship; Jourdain could pilot a third Newman/Haas car. And Dale Coyne Racing has promised to field two cars, with drivers to be determined. Those additions would make 14.

Three other strong possibilities: the Conquest/Mi-Jack team with one car, the RuSport team with a second car to team with hotshot A.J. Allmendinger, and Derrick Walker planning one car, at least. Those would make 17.

'The 18th car is the mystery,' Mauk says. Series officials have promised at least 18 cars to venues.

Patrick Carpentier has been dropped by Forsythe Racing, but he still has a contract. 'We've got to find a place for Carpentier,' Mauk says.

And Emerson Fittipaldi, the former CART and F1 great who fielded one car last year, has been working on the same effort this year.

'There will be a few tracks where you see more than 20 cars,' Mauk predicts.

The 11 confirmed drivers, with their teams in parentheses, are: Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mario Dominguez (Herdez); Bruno Junqueira and Sebastien Bourdais (Newman/Haas); Paul Tracy and Rodolfo Lavin (Forsythe); Nelson Phillipe and Alex Tagliani (Rocketsports); Jimmy Vasser and Roberto Gonzalez (PKV) and Allmendinger (Mi-Jack).

There are 13 confirmed Champ Car races, and two venues to be determined.

Mauk says there will be spare cars and equipment for teams to lease, if teams have sponsorship money to race. A renegotiation with Cosworth has lowered engine costs, and Champ Car will be working with Bridgestone to lower tire costs, he says.

Rahal followed Fernandez and Pat Patrick and past megateams as defectors to the Indy Racing League, although Jourdain and Gigante would not join him. Fernandez won last year's G.I. Joe's 200 at PIR, and he takes with him the Tecate sponsorship, which substantially helped promote the 2003 Portland event.

Meanwhile, Bob Ames, a Portland race co-founder, has been working to attract the Indy Racing League to PIR next year. Portland officials have assumed little risk in planning to stage the Champ Car event this year Ñ a contract has not been signed.