The 2-seater car is one of Champ Car's biggest assets

 by Mark Cipolloni
June 22, 2004

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Alex Tagliani with all of us that got a ride in Milwaukee that Saturday

Prior to the Champ Car race in Milwaukee, I had the opportunity to go for a 2-seat Champ Car ride with Alex Tagliani.  While I have driven race cars myself on a few occasions, I never had the opportunity to drive or be driven in a race car that was so 'bad ass' fast.  

When I was asked if I wanted to go for a 2-seat Champ Car ride in Milwaukee it didn't take more than 2 seconds for me two say yes.  That's like asking a kid in a candy store if he wants candy.  Be ready at 12:15 pm they said.  I was ready well before that.

After getting suited up it was off to the pits to get buckled in.  For a guy of my size, that wasn't the easiest thing to do.  On the first attempt I simply would not fit in the small passenger compartment.  On my second attempt I pulled my knees in front of the dashboard and they were able to shoehorn me in.

Sitting with my knees in front of the dashboard the entire ride wasn't going to be the most pleasant situation I ever found myself in, but there wasn't anyone who was going to talk me out of that car.


Talking about the ride

Since I was the last to go out, the engine and tires were already warmed up.  So when they signaled my pilot, Alex Tagliani, that the track was green he immediately engaged first, brought the rev's up and popped the clutch.  We burned rubber for about 50 feet down pit road and off we went.

The first thing you notice are the high g's we were going to pull through the corners.  We were still on the pit exit lane, and with tires already warmed, Alex was on it.  As we accelerated down the back straight I said, oh shit, my helmet is going to fly off.  I guess my head was sticking up too high into the airflow and the helmet was probably a bit too big for my head because my helmet felt like two goons were trying to pull it straight up off my head.  Warning - if you get a ride, make sure the helmet is snug and the chin strap is tight around your chin.


At Portland Bruno Junqueira spins the rear wheels as he takes his father, Jose Alberto Tavares Junqueira, for a ride on Father's Day

While I was prepared for the acceleration of a Champ Car, I didn't realize how many g's it could pull or how good the brakes were.  Because of the extra weight of the 2-seat Champ Car, Alex had to apply a pretty healthy dose of brake just before turn-in for turns 1 and 3.  While we didn't scrub off that much speed, you could really feel the braking power of these cars.  My head almost hit the dash board the first time Alex stabbed the brakes.  I was ready the next time.

Entering a corner Alex would stab the brakes, release, turn-in and let the car take a set in the beginning of the corner (1 & 3) and then gradually apply power starting about the mid-point between 1 & 2 (and 3 & 4) reaching 100% throttle just before exit of the corner.  Except for the stab of the brakes before turns 1 & 3, Alex was smooth and precise each lap, never once missing his marks, which is easier said than done at those speeds.

The cornering power of these cars is just awesome.  They are pulling so many g's through the corner that although not painful, the pressure begins to wear on you after several laps.  Having a helmet trying to yank your head off your neck the whole time doesn't help matters.

After a couple of laps I became acclimated with the punishment my body was undergoing and I began to imagine doing this with cars racing all around me.  That must be a real eye opener.


At Portland Ryan Hunter-Reay prepares to give his father Nick a ride on Father's Day

I am told we were hitting 180 MPH on the short straights so we were probably going faster than an IRL car can go around this flat 1-mile track.  I could not help but notice the track had no SAFER Barrier installed so I was glad I had someone with Tagliani's ability behind the wheel.

I was told before the ride that no one has pushed the panic button yet.  I decided I wasn't going to push it unless we were headed for the wall.  I figured if we were going to slam into the wall and experience a 100 g's or so, a push might be in order to signify I was saying "oh shit" while I was putting my head between my legs to kiss my posterior goodbye.  Whoever invented this silly oval race thing anyway?  The Europeans realized decades ago racing on ovals was ridiculously dangerous and costly and abandoned them.  Silly Americans.


At Portland all the drivers and their fathers who got 2-seat rides for Father's Day

I came away with a better appreciation of what it feels like to oval race at these speeds, because most of my prior experience was on road courses in an open wheel car, and in a slower Winston Cup car at Nazareth.  The danger and the almost constant g's definitely get your attention.

This 2-seat car is one of Champ Car's greatest assets.  They need another one or two more because the more people (media, fans and dignitaries) they can give rides to, the more people will become fans for life.  It may appear to be an expensive form of advertisement, but I suspect word-of-mouth promotion will occur from anyone who gets a ride.

The only thing better than this ride, was if I was driving myself.  Now if I can only talk a team owner into lending me a car for an hour on a road course........How about Road America guys?

Hey, I can dream can't I?

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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