View from the Topside
Looking ahead to Denver

   by Rick Benjamin
August 11, 2006

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Cristiano da Matta at San Jose
Bob Heathcote/AutoRacing1

Looking ahead to a visit to the Rockies, and another joust in the streets for the Champ Car World Series in Denver. The tenth event of 2006 will be Champ Car’s first since the violent wreck in Road America testing that has taken Cristiano da Matta out of the seat, perhaps permanently.

It’ll be a somber gathering of the Champ Car family this weekend, I’d guess, since Shorty is one of the series’ most popular drivers, and one of three past champions currently active. The effect of da Matta’s collision with a wayward deer goes far beyond the loss of a top-flight driver. The decision by RuSPORT to withdraw the entry of their yellow #10 car this weekend costs fans the opportunity to see one of the best in the series compete…but I’m more concerned about the people involved.

The RuSPORT team is, like many good race teams, a family affair. Team owner Carl Russo treats his team like family, and their paddock and hospitality areas are full of couples, friends, and children who work hard while also loving their time at the race track. When RuSPORT cut AJ Allmendinger loose earlier this season I suspect it truly was an effort to help both parties. Obviously AJ got the bigger boost from the deal. But as da Matta settled in with his new squad they’d made steady progress and I suspected the #10 was not far away from finding its way to Victory Lane for the first time.

Justin Wilson will fly the RuSPORT colors in Denver alone
Champ Car

I don’t claim to know Carl Russo, his family, and his team extremely well, but it’s fair to say the injuries to Cristiano hurt everyone at RuSPORT on a very personal level. Team President Jeremy Dale survived one of the most violent sports car wrecks I’ve ever witnessed, not many years ago. He well knows how tough it is to come back from such a devastating wreck. Cristiano’s family arrived in Wisconsin shortly after the wreck to help the 32 year old begin his recovery, and I’m sure RuSPORT and everyone in the Champ Car family will work alongside the da Mattas to do all they can for the 2002 Series champion.

And we know from history that losing a champion driver to serious injury can cripple a race team. Despite a quick return to Victory Lane in NASCAR’s Cup series, and despite Kevin Harvick’s tremendous talent, there are few who could argue that the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001 didn’t put Richard Childress Racing way behind as a team. The Goodwrench team still hasn’t returned to championship form. And many observers have indicated that the testing death of Tony Renna in late 2003 was a major factor in the travails of Chip Ganassi’s open-wheel team in 2004 and 2005.

So while we await positive news on Cristiano’s recovery, we’ll also be watching to see how RuSPORT performs this weekend…with hopes that Justin Wilson’s CDW team will be able to carry the flag well for their fallen colleague.

Sebastien Bourdais won in Denver in 2005
Champ Car

On track it’ll be hard to argue against the chances of the Newman/Haas team, particularly Championship leader Sebastien Bourdais. Seb has won two straight in Denver, starting with his amazing back-to-front drive to win two seasons back. That was the first time Bourdais showed us he was just as good rallying from trouble as he is running up front all day. He’s a master of street-circuit qualifying and likes the Denver layout. His teammate, Bruno Junqueira, still needs to find race-long consistency as he apparently battles to keep his ride for 2007. Bruno is also a two-time winner at Denver and this would be a perfect time for him to recapture some of his Rocky Mountain magic.

But my eyes will also be on three other drivers: Dan Clarke, Nelson Philippe, and Oriol Servia. All three were very impressive at San Jose. And now that CTE-HVM has found consistent speed, I think we could be on the verge of seeing both Clarke and Philippe battle for victory in the late laps, when these races are won and lost. Watching their progress will be fun. Servia appears to now be settled in at PKV, working with new Team Manager Mark Johnson. While he rode an alternate fuel strategy to lead late at San Jose, he had no real chance to win. Perhaps this week they’ll solve the final parts of the equation and get PKV’s second victory ever. Now that would be a fitting tribute to da Matta, who bagged their only win thus far last year at Portland.

Of course the Tracy/Tagliani middleweight scrap at San Jose will be much discussed this weekend as well, and watching how those two treat each other on and off the track will be interesting. Last year Denver was one of the places where PT admitted overdriving while running up front, when he ended his day with the 3 car wrecked against a Jersey barrier. Both of those Canadian stars need good weekends in Denver, and you can bet both will be closely watched by Champ Car VP Tony Cotman.

We’ve got all the elements of a very hot weekend on track, plus the raging battle for the Atlantic title. We’ll have all the coverage for you on SPEED. Hope you can join us.

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Columns by Rick

Las Vegas GP Preview

Champ Car Laguna Seca postscript

Champ Car on verge of significant announcements

2007 NASCAR Media Tour Day 1

We enjoy the PRI Trade Show

A joyful holiday season this year for Champ Car teams

Who will have rides in Champ Car in 2007?

Looking ahead to Mexico City

What will Champ Car look like in 2007?

Road America postscript and new 2007 venues

Looking ahead to Road America

Looking ahead to Montreal

 Looking ahead to Denver

Looking ahead to Edmonton - Many storylines

For Allmendinger, life could not be any brighter

A big sigh of relief

Bourdais threatening to make it a runaway

Houston postscript

Looking ahead to Houston

Long Beach postscript

Paul Dana was living his dream

2006 Champ Car seats filling up

A view from the top - Miscellaneous pres-season ramblings

A look at the All-American Driver Challenge

2006 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 4 Wrap-Up

2006 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 3 Familiar Faces

2006 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 2 Toyota announces teams

2006 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 1

Some off-season thoughts heading into the holidays

A look at the collapse of the National Sprintcar League

Champ Car: Miscellaneous Ramblings

Champ Car teams/drivers in transition over the winter

A well deserved 2nd title for Sebastien Bourdais

We look at the benefits of the new Champ Car

Who will win Champ Car's only Superspeedway race?

A look ahead to Las Vegas, Champ Car's only Superspeedway race

Bourdais' winning percentage stacks up with the best of them

Looking ahead to Denver and Paul Tracy's first NASCAR race

Looking ahead to San Jose

Champ Car hits a home run in Toronto

Send F1 far from these shores

Milwaukee musings

May Happenings

Newman/Haas has a good chance to win Indy 500

Sebastien Bourdais and ALMS are making news

Bristol review, Long Beach preview

A look back at Sebring

A peak at Champ Car TV for 2005

IROC is foreign for the open wheel drivers

Rolex 24 Recap: A short day for Champ Car drivers

Champ Car drivers take on other stars in Rolex 24

Champ Car is in the driver's seat

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