Maybe the most welcome sight of the 2006 racing
season came not during Sundayís Champ Car return to Road America,
but afterwards. Katherine Legge, who somehow came through one of the
most frightening wrecks Iíve ever seen with just a few bruises, was
seated at the next table for the Champ Car Atlantics banquet.
Weíd already seen Lady Katherine on television
emerging intact from the Champ Car Medical Unit, before chatting
with my colleague Jon Beekhuis. I knew that her toughness and her
real racerís attitude had stood her in good stead during the wreck.
But somehow seeing her myself, in person, was a
great relief anyway. Katherine may not yet have won her first Champ
Car race but her charm and determination are confirmed. And I
believe her talent has been as well. Her Bell Micro/Warriors in Pink
Lola was at its best Sunday and Katherine was poised to register her
best road course finish of the year.
Knowing that her wreck was not caused by driver
error was also a great relief. Everyone, even world-class racers,
makes mistakes. But in a high-stakes, high-speed game like big-time
open wheel racing, driver errors by their very nature can carry a
very high cost. The late Red Smith once said ďthereís no cheering in
the press boxĒÖbut I donít think Iíll be the only one applauding
Leggeís first Champ Car victory. And there were plenty of us
applauding Sunday as she emerged from the big yellow and green Champ
Car trailer in the paddock at Road America.
Hereís hoping PKV can put together an even better
ride for Katherine at Surfers and at the Autodromo Hermanos
Rodriguez to close the season.
Nearly as impressive was the appearance in public
for the first time of Champ Carís new DP01 race car, set to open
the new season in Vegas in April. Iíd of course seen the car before,
in its San Jose unveiling. But to watch the beautiful new machine
actually on track and at something close to race pace was
electrifying. Maybe the most amazing part of the effort to bring the
new chassis to the grid is the realization that the car you might
have seen Saturday and Sunday was the same car that was in the
spotlight out in California at the end of May, and the same car
thatís run more than 2000 test miles at muggy Sebring at the hand of
veteran Roberto Moreno. Iím hoping the aero tweaks included in the
design, aimed at allowing closer competition, will really pay off
come race time next year.
Now that the dust has settled in Phoenix, the new
Champ Car schedule is out. While Iíll miss the Milwaukee Mile,
Monterrey, and Montreal, I think Champ Car and its new VP of Venue
Development John Clagett have done a terrific job expanding Champ
Carís reach while developing key new markets. Street races in Vegas
and Phoenix plus the move to Mt. Tremblant in Quebec will be big
winners, I believe, and the trip to China next May will be one for
the ages. Iím among the fans of natural-terrain road courses whoís
pleased to see Road America back for another season, as well.
Thereís obviously a gap in the slate in September.
Thatís where the much-discussed European rounds were supposed to end
up. Word late in the Road America weekend was that financial
arrangements with the local promoter hadnít been completed. At this
point thereís no firm word on whether that will happen, so the
schedule may be complete at 15 events next year. But that gap
between August and October is pretty long and should be very
inviting to prospective promoters, so logic suggests we could well
see Champ Car in action somewhere during that stretch.
There are of course still plenty of blanks to be
filled in regarding the coming season for the Champ Car World
Series, but with new teams on the horizon set to take on the
established squads, the new venues, and the new race car nearly
ready for delivery, I suspect weíre on the verge of a new golden era
for the Champ Car World Series.. and Iím really looking forward to
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