Can Justin Wilson or Alex Tagliani knock
Sebastien Bourdais off the top step of the podium in Houston?
Itís been a quiet couple of weeks since the Champ
Car opener through the streets of Long Beach. Champ Car teams turned
out en masse several days ago for testing at Portland, and this week
the tourís newcomers got their oval track indoctrination on the
Now, after taking care of some short track
commitments, itís nearly time for me to fire up again for the meat
of the 2006 season. The revival of the Grand Prix of Houston kicks
off a treacherous stretch for Champ Car and Atlantic Series teams.
The new Houston round, to be run on the streets surrounding Reliant
Stadium, opens a stretch of 3 races in 4 weeks, and 5 in 7. Itíd be
fair to say that any Champ Car driver hoping to unseat Sebastien
Bourdais as the tourís kingpin will have to excel during the
The good news for Justin Wilson, Alex Tagliani and
Paul Tracy is that Houston will represent a totally fresh start for
everyone. Newman/Haas and the McDonaldís team have excelled on
street circuits these past three seasons, but since thereís been no
testing at Houston the playing field should start out level.
Itís a tight new racetrack, just 1.7 miles long. Itís the
third-shortest circuit on the schedule, after the Milwaukee Mile and
San Jose. From the diagrams it appears there are just a couple of
short straightaways, but plenty of braking zones and a big sweeping
turn around Reliant Stadium that hopefully will provide good passing
With no long straights, is the Houston track too Mickey Mouse to
By the time the Champ Car field takes the green on
Saturday night there should be plenty of good rubber laid down,
since the American LeMans Series races Friday night and Star Mazda
will join the Champ Car Atlantic Championship on the track as well.
Champ Car officials have added another wrinkle to the mix for
Houston: changes to the Cosworth Power to Pass option. Power to Pass
will be worth an additional 75 horsepower for this event, a change
that had been looked at previously. Champ Car and Cosworth have
determined though that baseline power for this event will be dialed
back to 725HP, with the additional 75HP available for the customary
Since the track is new and relatively short the
premium will be on handling and gearing, but the extra 25HP worth of
P2P pop could make for plenty of fireworks in Houston.
Add in the fact that itís Champ Carís first road course event under
the lights since the Cleveland experiment a couple of years ago and
I think weíll see a show to remember in Houston.
Now, the rest of that tough early-season stretch could help
Bourdaisí challengers too. Recall that last year Monterrey saw the
first of the Tracy-Bourdais dustups that ultimately morphed into the
tourís best rivalry in years. Bruno Junqueira will go into that
round as the defending race winner so heíll certainly have extra
incentive at Fundidora Park.
And Wilson, AJ Allmendinger, Tracy, Mario Dominguez,
and drivers like Tag, Oriol Servia, and Cristiano da Matta will all
be looking for strong runs that could propel them into the points
fight. Any of those drivers could parlay a great day in Mexico into
a spot in the race for the Vanderbilt Cup.
Iím also looking forward to the third event in that four-week
stretch. The tourís annual visit to the Milwaukee Mile presents a
tough challenge for all the Champ Car teams. And it may be the one
place in the series where Bourdais doesnít have a demonstrable
advantage. Heís struggled there the past two years, while Paul Tracy
and the idled Ryan Hunter-Reay have been dominant.
So as we look ahead to the heart of the Champ Car calendar there
could be several challengers who can race their way into the
championship mix. Iím looking forward to seeing who will emerge to
take on the tourís current King. Weíll be there to show you all the
action of these next three events on SPEED, live. Hope you can join
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