in the McDonald's Panoz
After 3 glorious days on the Monterey Peninsula,
the Champ Car World Series teams and drivers are in the final stages of
preparing for the new season’s first real action. The new cars have wrapped
up their third official test, with perhaps another day of
officially-sanctioned preseason action to come.
And now drivers, crew chiefs and engineers have
another pile of data to work through after a few hundred miles of hard
running through the hills of Laguna Seca.
After the young guns of the Atlantic
Championship took center stage through Thursday, the roar of Cosworth motors
reverberated through some of the prettiest real estate in racing on Friday
and Saturday. While this final Champ Car session saw many questions
answered, others remain to be resolved. It’s clear that Graham Rahal will
drive the second Newman/Haas/Lanigan entry alongside 3-time Champion
Sebastien Bourdais. We also got a chance to see little-known French driver
Tristan Gommendy take over the second Red Bull-PKV seat, paired with the
quick newcomer Neel Jani.
The situations at Forsythe, Minardi, Conquest,
and Coyne are still in flux, but we know Paul Tracy remains in the Indeck 3
car for the long haul, Robert Doornbos will have one of the Minardi seats,
and in all likelihood Dale Coyne will get to work with Katherine Legge this
The weekend was also a coming-out party for Pacific Coast Motorsports in
their new Champ Car livery. It’s a tall order, moving up from Atlantics and
then Grand Am into the Champ Car firepit. But if support and preparation are
the keys to success, I think PCM will have a great chance to turn some heads
by the late stages of this season.
Tyler Tadevic, the veteran team manager, has a
plan that he’s executing carefully. The team has more than sufficient
backing from the Figge family, and has had success in gathering a roster of
rotating sponsors for the year, backers connected to the varied markets
Champ Car will visit this season (for example the Hard Rock Café for the
race in Las
And in Ryan Dalziel the team has a lead driver
of great potential. Alex Figge, son of the team patrons, has an Atlantic
victory to his credit, and the chemistry between Dalziel and the 27 year old
American is strong. If Alex can get up to speed by midseason, this team
could pack a significant surprise.
The other big surprise to me was the apparent
partnership building between RuSPORT and Rocketsports. If indeed these two
veteran Champ Car squads are going to field one car apiece this season,
combining to share information and engineering expertise makes plenty of
sense. And talking to both Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani during the
weekend, you get the sense they will be able to work well together, pushing
one another to strong performances.
After Saturday’s final test session, we also got
a glimpse into what was once and may become again the tour’s toughest
rivalry: Sebastien Bourdais against Paul Tracy. As the clock ticked down,
Bourdais was gunning for a new Laguna track record and the $5000 bounty. His
ex-teammate, Bruno Junqueira, went off course at turn 6. Officials
contemplated throwing a red flag….but Bourdais had the opportunity to finish
his final flying trip around Laguna…one fast enough to get under the 1:06
mark and claim the prize.
Sources say PT had some choice words on the
radio for the decision to hold the red to allow Bourdais to finish the
fastest lap of the weekend.
The battle at Laguna will be forgotten once we go racing, but if it
indicates the two former champs are going to be able to rekindle their duel
for dominance, Champ Car fans everywhere will be the big winners. It’ll be
fun to watch.
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