Just back from the Champ Car season opener,
the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and a challenging
weekend covering both Champ Car and the new Champ Car
Atlantic Championship. Both series delivered plenty of
interesting story lines while still ranking clearly as works
The Champ Car round saw a typical Long Beach
incident in Turn 1 which knocked out several key contenders.
We never got the chance to measure how strong Paul Tracy,
Oriol Servia, Bruno Junqueira, or AJ Allmendinger might
prove to be this year against the dominance of Sebastien
Bourdais. Justin Wilson was left to try to keep pace with
Bourdais, a task no one could fulfill at least this day.
For Wilson it was a solid effort though he
obviously was disappointed. RuSPORT team President Jeremy
Dale was hopeful Wilson’s CDW machine would be able to
challenge Bourdais, especially after the addition of some
key engineering help in the off-season designed to address
the team’s perceived shortcomings on street circuits.
Unfortunately for RuSPORT it appears they’ll need to go back
to the drawing board over the next couple of weeks to
prepare for another temporary course in Houston.
For RuSPORT and the rest of the teams
chasing Newman/Haas the good news is Houston will be run on
a brand-new track where no one will have tested. In past
months that’s been the type of combination Newman/Haas has
had a bit of difficulty solving, so there’s hope for the
other eight Champ Car teams trying to elbow their way onto
Houston will open a tough two-week stretch
for the Champ Car family as well, with the tour’s annual
visit to Monterrey, Mexico, immediately following. The good
news is Champ Car runs Saturday night in Houston, allowing
team and series transporters to head south Sunday. And of
course the distance between Houston and Monterrey is not
nearly as great as the trip has been from team shops in Indy
I think the other noteworthy development at
Long Beach was the impressive debut logged by Katherine
Legge. Legge showed during her Atlantics year that she was
often able to race much better than she practiced or
qualified. And she carried that theme forward at the season
opener. After battling her PKV machine throughout Friday and
Saturday sessions she started 17th, used attrition and
caution laps to advance, and survived a 360 degree spin to
end up 8th. She was smooth and consistent and surely proved
her skills on Champ Car’s biggest stage.
Comparisons to other women racers are
inevitable but I believe Katherine is off to a terrific
start and may prove to be the best of all. I’m looking
forward to seeing how her rookie season plays out.
The Champ Car Atlantics Championship should be a one to
remember. True, Andreas Wirth also led all the way Sunday
morning at Long Beach, but he was under pressure most of the
way. Raphael Matos has shown plenty of talent in other
series and added to his reputation in California. Jonathan
Bomarito was strong as was young Graham Rahal, and there are
a host of other talented drivers who will no doubt build
strength as the season progresses.
I’m particularly impressed with 16-year old
Richard Philippe, the younger brother of Champ Car pilot
Nelson. Richard possesses a cool confidence uncommon in
someone who should be a high school sophomore. He clearly
expects a lot of himself and watching his development will
be fun. The four-car Forsythe “Track Pack” promises to be a
group to watch as well. Wirth was dominant, Leonardo Maia
was barely heard from, James Hinchcliffe was fast all
weekend long, and the four young drivers all seem to be on
the same page, hoping to learn and develop together. I think
Gerry Forsythe has assembled a very impressive group which
should accomplish plenty this season.
Team Australia’s Simon Pagenaud also debuted
impressively, qualifying up front and hanging in the lead
pack all morning. Besides being obviously fast he’s very
personable, and having the quiet backing of Sebastien
Bourdais is going to be helpful.
Atlantics officials, working with Swift
Engineering, Cosworth, Mazda, and Yokohama, may well have
crafted the best brand-new open wheel package in racing
history, especially when you consider the 7 ˝ months they
had from announcement to the first green flag. Contrast what
we saw Sunday with the nightmare USAC is facing with its
ill-advised new-generation Silver Crown machine and you get
the clear idea that Champ Car has hit a home run.
Champ Car teams are hitting their stride quickly, going
testing at a couple of venues before the inaugural Houston
event. Now that the first race of 2006 is in the books the
pace only gets quicker from here. Should be a fun ride.