Champ Car Laguna Seca postscript

View from the topside
by Rick Benjamin

March 14, 2007

Sebastien Bourdais in the McDonald's Panoz
Bob Heathcote/

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 season.

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 Vegas).

Ryan Dalziel
Bob Heathcote/

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.

Paul Tracy
Bob Heathcote/

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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