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CHAMP STAR PREFERS DRIVE (F1?) IN EUROPE

St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais wants to be close to family in France.

Sebastien Bourdais said there is a "pretty good chance'' this will be his last season in the Champ Car series in which he has won three consecutive championships. But NASCAR remains a contingency the 28-year-old St. Petersburg resident would rather not have to explore.

Though his Newman/Haas/Lan-igan team announced a partnership on Friday with the Robert Yates Racing Nextel Cup team, Bourdais reiterated that his preference and focus are Formula One. He's still awaiting a decision from Toro Rosso after a third test recently with the F1 team in Belgium.

An F1 offer would not only provide an opportunity he has long coveted but allow him and wife, Claire, to move to their native France so his 8-month-old daughter, Emma, can be near family. "Everything turned,'' he said, after her birth in St. Petersburg in December. But he, like everyone, needs a job that makes financial sense.

"Claire would be pretty happy to come back to Europe to be closer to family. It would be a big help for the kid and everything. It would be a lot easier,'' he said from his home. "But in the meantime you don't say you're going to go back to Europe because we want to. We'll go back if it makes sense. If it doesn't, we're still pretty fortunate to be where we are.''

Bourdais said he was "in the loop'' during Haas' negotiations with Yates, a former championship Nextel Cup team that has struggled in recent seasons, but will not ask to test a car or even explore NASCAR until Toro Rosso informs him of its decision. Bourdais said his situation will not be affected by the team's firing of American Scott Speed on Tuesday and hiring of Sebastian Vettel.

Bourdais could not convince a NASCAR team to allow him to test in 2005 though he showed stock car aptitude and earned a vocal supporter in Mark Martin after winning an International Race of Champions event at Texas Motor Speedway. Bourdais is compartmentalizing his options with so many life-changing decisions in flux.

"Right now there is Champ Car, which I can probably keep on doing for quite a few years, and then there is that F1 opportunity, which I have been chasing for quite a while, and then there is NASCAR if nothing else is satisfying,'' the Champ Car points leader said. "And there is definitely a lot of money to be made over there. But you have to find the right balance. So I cannot pretend I really have that yet.''

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