Team ready to do combat
by Mark Cipolloni
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Rumors are rampant about possible new CART Champ Car Teams starting in 2001. We count no fewer than five. However, one new team isn't a rumor at all. The Brookville, Illinois based Sigma Champ Car Team, plans to hit the ground running in a few short weeks with driver Max Wilson and their new Ford Cosworth powered Lola. But this isn't just another new team destined to spend several years at the back of the grid learning the ropes. This is a well organized well financed team that aims to become a force to be reckoned with before very long.
The team is owned by CART Toyota Atlantic driver and businessman Tom Wieringa and will be based out one of Tom's distribution facilities. Sigma Champcar is located in Bridgeview, Illinois just west of Chicago and near the Chicago Motor Speedway. Tom is president and CEO of several companies involved in food distribution, real estate, financial investing and aviation. But it is his enthusiasm for auto racing that prompted Tom to start the Sigma Champ Car team. That and some serious arm twisting by Race Program Director Paul Cherry. Tom originally wanted to start a Toyota Atlantic team, but Paul convinced him to make the leap to Champ cars.
Englishman Cherry is a veteran of both F1 (12 years), F3000 (10 years) and Champ Car racing, having recently served as team coordinator for three years at Dale Coyne Racing while Dale was consumed with making the Route 66 race track a reality. Prior to that Paul worked with the Shadow and AGS Formula One teams. Although Paul is currently serving as Race Director, he will move up to Managing Director and a new Race Director, already identified, will come on board at the end of the year. Paul will have overall responsibility of the race team's operation.
David Luff serves as the team's Technical Director. He has worked for such revered names as McLaren and Brabham. David served in a similar capacity for the Provimi Veal Team when Arie Luyendyk was driver. If you recall, the Provimi Veal Team was relatively successful during that period, and David Luff was partially responsible for it.
Recently he has spent time in England overseeing some rigorous testing of their new Lola. The new car has undergone testing in conjunction with Lola engineers on Lola's 7-post jig (see photos at right) at Lola's Technical Center in England. The jig allows the engineers to simulate real-world dynamic loadings through the wheels (4) + both front wings (2) + the rear wing (1) = 7 post.
David is headed back to the USA as is the car. It will then be mated with the team's first new Ford Cosworth engine, slated to arrive at the teams shop in a few weeks. The team will have a pool of nine Ford Cosworth engines that they will rotate through to contest the entire 2002 CART Champ Car series.
Although David is responsible for all technical aspects of the program, the team has identified a seasoned Champ Car race engineer who will come onboard when the current CART season ends in late October.
The team will begin testing with driver Max Wilson the 2nd or 3rd week of September. The team will start out as a single car entry, but they have plans to eventually expand to a 2-car effort in a year or two. With a nearly $11 million 2001 budget in place for the single car effort, this team has the resources to make some waves its very first year. Most of the financing is already in place and the team plans on making some major announcement in the coming months.
We are told that driver, Brazilian Max Wilson, brings no sponsorship money to the deal except for some minor personal driver uniform sponsorship. Max was a F3000 driver where he won rookie of the year honors in 1997. He is highly regarded by the Williams F1 team where he served as their test driver for three years. Max was selected by Sigma not only because he is a very good race car driver, but because he is also a very good test driver, something that is very important to a new team. In fact Max is over in Europe right now testing Michelin tires for the Jaguar F1 team. Michelin is doing extensive testing in preparation for their F1 assault against Bridgestone next year. Max and Tom Kristensen, another highly regarded test driver, have been doing the bulk of the testing for Michelin. So far the tests have gone well, as Michelin has been right on the pace, and in some cases faster than Bridgestone shod cars.
27-year old Max Wilson has an excellent command of the English language and articulates well to the engineers. He is a dedicated physical fitness aficionado and is considered one of the most fit Champ Car drivers that will be in the series next year. He has a two year contract to drive for the team with an optional third year.
Starting in September the team will test a total of 10 to 15 days throughout the fall and early winter months. These initial test days will help galvanize the team and prepare them to hit the ground running starting with the first race on February 11, 2001. The car will initially be painted all white until the sponsor announcements are made.
The team chose Lola over Reynard primarily because of Cherry's previous relationship with them. They had to lobby Ford Cosworth hard to get them to expand the number of teams they supply engines to. They felt the Ford engine is a proven powerful and reliable powerplant, something that is very important to their first year success. Typically a new team will live or die based on the results of their first year, and although this team is no exception, it seems they are making all the right decisions to ensure their success. This team isn't a fly-by-night one year flash in the pan. They have a long-term program in place.
The SIGMA team has set some realistic goals for their first year - to qualify in the top 12 in 50% of the races and to finish in the points in 25% of the races. If they can achieve that they will consider their first season a success.
To learn more about the team, you can visit their web site.
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