Editorial

View from the Topside
What will Champ Car look like in 2007?

   by Rick Benjamin
August 19, 2006

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Sebastien Bourdais should lock up his 3rd straight title this weekend
Mark Cipolloni/AutoRacing1.com

Itís October, and that means itís race week at Surfers Paradise for the Champ Car World Series.  Once again it seems likely that Sebastien Bourdais will lock down the Vanderbilt Cup signifying his third consecutive Champ Car championship.  Once that business is taken care of Bourdaisí place in Champ Car history will be secure.

But there are a raft of bigger questions before the court than that.   What will the team lineup look like in Champ Car next season?  Which drivers will stay, and who will move on?  What venues if any will join the schedule next September to fill a significant gap?

And who will move up from the Atlantics to Champ Car for 2007 besides Graham Rahal and presumably $2 million dollar man Simon Pagenaud?

Donít know for sure how many of those questions will be answered this weekend Down Under, but you can bet at least some of them will move closer to a resolution.  It appears likely Newman/Haas will be able to retain Sebastien Bourdais next year, and all indications are Graham Rahal will join him there. Whether Bruno Junqueira, whoís quietly regaining his pre-Indy-injury form, will also remain at N/H is uncertain.  I for one would love to see the í04 Surfers winner stay on; it seems heís closer and closer to returning to Victory Lane for the 6-time Champ Car champion and in my mind, considering how hard heís fought to regain his health and abilities, it would be the right thing to do.

At Forsythe Championship Racing it seems certain that í03 Champ and Bourdais antagonist Paul Tracy will remain the team leader.  PT has put together some improved runs of late and Iím thinking heíll spend the winter months regaining his edge and preparing the teamís new Panoz DP-01 chassis for an assault on another title. 

His stablemate AJ Allmendinger hopefully will return as well.  By now itís well known that Allmendinger has been Champ Carís hottest driver this summer since joining FCR and his stock has never been higher.  AJ has been impressive in a couple of NASCAR Truck events for Bill Davis Racing, and with his longtime backer Red Bull making a major Cup effort next season AJís options seem as plentiful as his future is bright.  Having a young American driver as one of the seriesí top stars is clearly a major coup for Champ Car and will be a huge factor in keeping the World Series on a nice growth curve.

RuSPORT has bounced back nicely from the disaster of Cristiano da Mattaís testing injury.  While Cristiano continues to recuperate the Colorado team has turned to Ryan Briscoe for the yearís last two events and Briscoe I suspect will show well both this weekend and in Mexico.  While nothing is firm for 2007 Iíd suspect Briscoe is the front-runner to keep the seat in the 10 car at least until Cristianoís future becomes clearer.  Briscoe is a proven open-wheel racer and will, once he gets enough seat time with the team, be a major asset.  It appears Justin Wilson is gong to have to settle for another top-three points finish this year but with his strong CDW backing the Englishman will definitely be a contender next year and beyond.

Iím really high on the futures, too, of  PKV, CTE-HVM, and Team Australia.  All three squads have shown brilliance at times this year and I think their driver lineups will only get better as the weeks roll by.   Oriol Servia is already a terrific driver and Katherine Legge, who may be ready to swap her ďLady KatherineĒ tag for something along the lines of the Iron Maiden, seems ready to break through.

The great improvements made by Dan Clarke and Nelson Philippe this summer are obvious.  And I think Alex Tagliani is a very good mentor for Will Power.   

Rocketsports, with Antonio Pizzonia now rejoining Mario Dominguez, should return to form, and Mi-Jack Conquest will also continue to gather strength as Andrew Ranger and Charles Zwolsman mature.

The new venues Champ Car is moving into are also a sign of strength.  Iím really anticipating my first visit to Mt. Tremblant next summer; everyone Iíve ever spoken with whoís run there or seen the place raves about its beauty and its challenges.  I think street-course runs in Vegas and Phoenix will be big hits.  A Champ Car return to Europe will be a major asset.   The schedule event in China will make history.  And returning to Cleveland and Edmonton will further solidify Champ Carís footprint both in North America and around the world.  Itís a great mix of permanent circuits and street courses with those two terrific airport tracks to give the tour plenty of high-speed stadium-type excitement.

This weekend, Iíd anticipate Sebastien taking it mostly easy and locking up his third championship.  I expect Allmendinger, Tracy, and Junqueira and Philippe to battle it out up front.  As always, especially with Bridgestone bringing an alternate ďredĒ tire, there are any number of others who could surprise.

I donít know who will triumph this Saturday night, Eastern time, at Surfers.  But it will be a great show as always, full of high speed action.  Weíll have the coverage for you Sunday afternoon on SPEED.   Hope you can join us.

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Looking ahead to Montreal

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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

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Long Beach postscript

Paul Dana was living his dream

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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

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Champ Car: Miscellaneous Ramblings

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Champ Car hits a home run in Toronto

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A peak at Champ Car TV for 2005

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Rolex 24 Recap: A short day for Champ Car drivers

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