View from the topside
by Rick Benjamin
March 31, 2007
The Vegas GP lights
up the Fairmont Street sky in downtown Las Vegas
One week to go
before the excitement begins for real. Champ Car teams, some
of them still without driver lineups complete, are about to
load up the new DP01 race cars for the first time in the new
season and head to the race track to begin one of the
toughest stretches in memory.
For the first time in years, Champ Car opens with three
straight events, all on temporary circuits. And the series
has the honor of opening up what should be one of the
strongest venues in racing on the streets of Las Vegas next
Itíll be the toughest stretch for these teams in the new era
of Champ Car, about to begin its fourth year.
While we await the announcement due from China,
Champ Car officials, and Forsythe Championship Racing, we do know a good bit
more about the team configurations that will open 2007 on the streets of Las
Vegas next Sunday. The new Newman/Haas/Lanigan group will field the tourís
dominant driver and its brightest new hope, a rookie who just happens to be
an American and who carries one of the most famous names in
open wheel racing. FCR will field a returning former champ in Paul Tracy and
a returning former pole and race winner in Mario Dominguez. PKV is all set
with a very experienced rookie in Neel Jani and an unknown from France in
Pacific Coast brings a very capable newcomer in
Ryan Dalziel and an American blessed with plenty of attitude and desire in
There are high hopes as well at Team Australia, with sophomore Will Power
about ready to capitalize on his pole run last fall at Surfers and stake his
claim to stardom. And his stablemate, Atlantic champ Simon Pagenaud, should
have a smooth learning curve, though the transition from 300hp Atlantic cars
to 750hp Champ Cars is never easy.
And the new Minardi USA team, created from the base built by HVMís Keith
Wiggins, could be strong by midseason. Iím really pleased Minardi was able
to work out a deal with Dan Clarke, who brings passion, speed, and an
element of wildness that equals high entertainment value. Robert Doornbos
carries an F1 pedigree, and hereís hoping heíll prove to be as strong in
Champ Car as has Justin Wilson at RuSport.
Speaking of RuSPORT, now half of RSPORTS with the former Rocketsports squad
of Paul Gentilozzi, one of the most interesting things to observe over the
next few weeks will be how that newly-merged operation fares in the warm
West Coast sun of the season opening run. Itís certainly true in
contemporary motorsports that bigger teams have a better chance of success.
The economies of scale and the stronger engineering effort that follows a
growing team are qualities worth nurturing. But this newly amalgamated team
may, I think, have a tough road ahead as crews from both squads try to
determine the best ways to meld into a single unit and help their capable
drivers win races.
Alex Tagliani is surely able to do that; his sole career win was also
Rocketsportsí only victory, at Road America 3 years ago.
Justin Wilson, meantime, has some of the seriesí best backing in CDW and has
been a championship contender the past two seasons. Seeing how RSPORTS can
support his run this year will be most interesting.
Weíve yet to hear from Dale Coyne and Eric Bachelartís Conquest team. Based
on testing Iíd say itís fair to expect Coyne to field Katherine Legge and
Bruno Junqueira; that has the potential to be one of the yearís surprise
teams. As of the Laguna Spring Training test a few weeks ago Conquest
appeared set to run one car. Eric is one of the tourís
good guys, and Iím hoping some last minute backing will emerge that will
allow him to bring aboard Nelson Philippe, Oriol Servia, or even Jan Heylen
and Charles Zwolsman, all quality pilots who add depth and excitement.
Itís good to keep in mind that the economy remains strong, the motorsports
economy in my view is particularly strong, and that all concerned are
working non-stop to locate the backing needed to continue to grow the Champ
Car field. But the laws of economics havenít been repealed and it takes
considerable quantities of cash to go racing. Any names missing from the
entry list next week will have fallen victim to that reality. That is one
part of big-league motorsports that hasnít changed.
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