Editorial

View from the Topside
Looking ahead to Road America

   by Rick Benjamin
September 21, 2006

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Sebastien Bourdais will be looking to wrap-up his third straight title this weekend
Champ Car

We’re anticipating a chilly, damp weekend here in the Kettle Moraine of Wisconsin…but it’s great to be back at Road America with Champ Car and the Atlantic Series. After a year away the tour has returned to one of its traditional seats of power and prestige. I couldn’t be happier.

Despite the tragic injury to Cristiano da Matta racing here has always been terrific, full of high speed drama. Fans here are among the most knowledgeable in the sport. Road America, at least until the opening this year of Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, has long been the continent’s biggest permanent road course.

It likely will retain its mantle of being the fastest road course in Champ Car this weekend too, unless the weather turns completely awful for Sunday’s GP of Road America.

This is a storied place in Champ Car history. The series has run here since 1982, and most of the greats have run and won here. My first year broadcasting the series, 2004, saw Alex Tagliani score his first and thus far only Champ Car win for Rocketsports on a fuel-mileage gambit. Ironically it was also Rocketsports’ only series win to date. Tag has struggled with a variety of problems this year with Team Australia, but when things have been in place for the Quebec native the team has done well. Sunday’s run would be a perfect time for Alex and the Aussie Vineyards squad to put together their best run of the season.

This week’s event will see a couple of new car and driver combinations on the grid for the first time, with Mario Dominguez adding to his record by driving for his third team of the season, the aforementioned Rocketsports. Sounds like Mario and his camp have put together a good package of Mexico-based backing led by Pemex to support the Rocketsports effort this weekend and a solid top-five run would be a great payoff for both Dominguez and Paul Gentilozzi’s team.

Uruguayan Juan Caceres joins Dale Coyne’s team this weekend as well, taking over Mario’s seat in the Sonny’s Real Pit Barbecue 19 car. Say that again. Must be one of the most extreme cases of motorsports making strange bedfellows in recorded racing history…a driver from Uruguay promoting a product that sells best in Georgia and the Carolinas. Here’s hoping Caceres can adapt quickly to the pace of Champ Car and put together a representative effort.

Up front the battle by Sebastien Bourdais to lock down his third straight Champ Car championship will be hard-fought. AJ Allmendinger and Justin Wilson will be desperately trying to keep the title fight alive at least until Australia, though I’m hoping those drivers can close in on SeaBass come Sunday, and force a decisive battle in Mexico City in November. While I’m among those hoping Champ Car’s season finale will move back Stateside soon, I love the series’ visit to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez and our trip to the biggest city in the Americas. With the reported move back to the former F-1 layout there this time, the competition in Mexico City should be fierce, deserving of a championship battle.

We’ll also get our first look at the new-generation Champ Car, the DP-01, on track. From all reports the new car is terrific and will create a much stronger series for 2007 and beyond. With at least two new teams committed and the prospect of a much-larger grid next season count me among those who can’t wait to get started in the new year.

Here in Wisconsin the other huge story of the weekend will be the battle for the Champ Car Atlantics title between Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal. While it appears Rahal will be in Champ Car next season regardless of Sunday’s outcome, the $2 million prize for winning the title would help Pagenaud greatly in getting to Champ Car next season. Pagenaud has been the picture of consistency, while the younger Mr. Rahal has had the fastest car just about all season long. A fourth-place finish will clinch the championship for the Bourdais protégé, and if he can close the deal the title will be well-earned both for Simon and for team principal Derrick Walker, as fine a gentleman as this form of racing can claim.

Either way both events Sunday should be outstanding, and if we end up with our second rainy race day in a row, the results could be a huge surprise. Hope you can join us for the coverage Sunday afternoon, 2pm Eastern, on SPEED.

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