Bruno Junqueira is hopeful that his FIA World Endurance Championship debut in this weekend’s Six Hours of Mexico could lead to a full-time seat in the globe-trotting championship next year, as part of his goal to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The veteran open-wheel-turned sports car star has joined Mexicans Luis Diaz and Roberto Gonzalez in a one-off LMP2 entry from Greaves Motorsport, in what’s sure to be among the favorites among the thousands of Central and South American fans expected for the WEC’s inaugural trip to Mexico.
“I raced against Roberto in 2003 in IndyCar,” Junqueira told Sportscar365. “Out of nowhere, he ended up racing with me with RSR in 2012 in PC, at Laguna, Sebring and Road America. I’m good friends with him and Luis is a great person too.
“When he invited me to do this… I’m very happy to finally race WEC, which I thought I was going to race this year. That was my goal. Racing with two long-time friends. Mexico is another race track I love. I’ve had great success in Mexico, so I think it will be nice.”
The 39-year-old Brazilian, a front-runner in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge class, was left on the sidelines for much of this year, following RSR Racing’s shift to the new, yet-to-be-raced Lexus GT Daytona program, as well as the abrupt end of Nissan’s LMP1 program, which Junqueira was tipped to drive for in the WEC.
While nearly putting his racing career on hold, having dipped his toes into real estate in Miami, the former Chip Ganassi Racing and Newman Haas driver received two lifelines, one from BAR1 Motorsports for a two-race IMSA program, as well as former CART competitor Gonzalez for the Mexico WEC round.
Junqueira got his first taste of the Greaves Gibson 015S Nissan in a test at Monza last month, which saw all three drivers in attendance prior to the car being shipped to Mexico City.
“I love the P2,” he said. “I’ve never driven it before and the team is very nice. Both myself, Luis and Roberto got used to the car. It’s so hard to see if you’re good or not.
“When I arrived there, they said a certain lap time would be good and I beat it by one-tenth.
“I think we can be competitive. For sure, we’re not expecting to win the race, but to be somewhere halfway in the field towards the front, I think we’ll be happy.”
Junqueira has fond memories of Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, having raced there in CART, Champ Car and A1GP, and claiming a pole and three podium finishes.
While the layout has changed since his last visit in 2008, the Brazilian feels the level of enthusiasm and passion for motorsports from the local crowd will not be lacking.
“Without giving any respect of the U.S., when you go to Canada or Mexico, there’s more race fans,” he said. “They know the history behind it.
“I remember my first IndyCar race was in Monterrey in 2001 and I was impressed how knowledgeable and big of fans they are.
“When I raced in 2002 in Mexico City for the first time there were 200,000 people on race day. It was incredible. It was more than Formula One because at that time, Adrian Fernandez was their hero and he was so good there.
“I’m not expecting it to be that big [this weekend] but I think it will be a good race with very well knowledgeable race fans. I hope it will be a good success.”
While the Mexico City race is a on-off event, Junqueira is hoping a strong performance this weekend could propel him into a full-season drive in WEC next year.
“I have a big goal to race Le Mans,” he said. “I’ve raced Indy many, many times and raced Monaco and won the biggest race for me, Surfer’s Paradise, and won Motegi in Japan. I’ve raced all over.
“The biggest race missing on my CV is Le Mans. I’ve been trying the last three years and it hasn’t happened. Maybe it can be in the future.”