Servia tops all drivers in Sebring
At 8 a.m. this morning, Sebring was a fairly colorless place with gray clouds pouring down transparent sheets of rain which gathered in nondescript puddles. Black-jacketed Champ Car team personnel hurried through the morning rain with purposeful strides, heads bowed against the watery onslaught.
The lone splash of color was found in the Red Bull PKV Racing pit where Oriol Servia was bouncing up and down in his red-and-white driver’s suit, waiting for his first chance to test the new DP01 Champ Car. Having watched Jimmy Vasser test the car over the first two days at Sebring, Servia wasn’t about to let a little rain get in the way of his opportunity to drive the new Champ Car.
“I woke up at 6 a.m. and I saw the guys downstairs and I’m telling them ‘let’s go’ and they were telling me not to hurry because it was raining. I didn’t even know it had been raining yet,” Servia smiled. “I was upset but I just wanted to get out there, so we got it together and ran in the rain.”
Only eight of the 14 cars gathered for Champ Car’s first open test of the year turned laps in the wet morning, including Servia, but when the Central Florida skies cleared for the afternoon, everyone got in the act in attacking the 1.8-mile Sebring short course. The 2005 Champ Car runner-up didn’t mind the additional traffic as he set the best lap of the three-day session in leading Thursday’s outing, posting a best time of 50.741 seconds (118.413 mph).
“I really like the new car, it really feels good when you are on the track,” Servia said. “I think this team is doing a great job of stepping up and taking the opportunity with the new car to become contenders. For me, I hope I can stay here for the season and try to make Newman/Haas nervous. You don’t get any points for today but it is good to be on top of the charts.”
Servia’s teammate Neel Jani was second-fastest today and was both the quickest and the busiest during the wet morning session. Jani turned 64 laps in the rain during the morning, then came back with 60 more in the afternoon, logging a best time of 50.904 (118.034 mph).
Former Champ Car titlist Paul Tracy was third-fastest on the final day and was the only driver to break the 51-second barrier in each of the last two days. Tracy made a tour of the Sebring short course in 50.925 seconds (117.985 mph), posting his best time on the last of his 68 afternoon laps.
“I don’t put much stock in who is fastest yet because nobody is running at the weight they will be required to run, and nobody is using ballast,” Tracy said. “We are running our weight and I think the car feels pretty good. We had a good three days of testing and we are looking forward to the next one.”
Sebastien Bourdais was fourth-fastest after running a session-high 83 laps in the afternoon, and was followed by former teammate Bruno Junqueira, who piloted the Dale Coyne Racing machine to the fifth spot in his second day of testing with the Illinois-based team. Junqueira turned a best lap of 51.116 seconds (117.544 mph), an effort that was just .008 seconds off of his best time from Wednesday.
Graham Rahal was the best of the rookies today, finishing seventh overall with a time of 51.413 seconds (116.865 mph). Rahal put up 74 laps in the afternoon after sitting out the wet morning session, and posted his best time of the three-day test.
“We got through some changes this afternoon which was good,” said Rahal. “We continued to lower our times a couple of tenths over the test. Had I gotten one clear lap on the last run on new tires we could have lowered the time but just a little bit.”
The Pacific Coast Motorsports squad completed its first official Champ Car test session with mixed results, as problems with Alex Figge’s car limited him to less than 20 laps for the second time in three days. The outing gave the team a good look at what it can expect from Champ Car competition, and the California-based team is prepared to meet the challenge.
“We had some issues that kept us from getting the miles we wanted,” said team General Manager Tyler Tadevic, who did have Ryan Dalziel complete 73 laps today in the team’s #28 machine and set the team’s best time of the weekend. “Part of that was our inexperience, some was just problems with the car. Our team learned a lot, we have seen how high the mountain is that we have to climb, but we’re excited about going after it.”
The teams will now pack up and prepare for the second set of Champ Car tests, which take place at MSR Houston, February 12-13.
Thursday session times follow:
1) Oriol Servia - #22 Red Bull PKV Racing – 50.741 seconds/118.413 mph/110 laps
2) Neel Jani – #21 Red Bull PKV Racing – 50.904/118.034/124 laps
3) Paul Tracy – #3 Forsythe Championship Racing – 50.925/117.985/68 laps
4) Sebastien Bourdais – #1 Newman/Haas Racing – 51.056/117.683/83 laps
5) Bruno Junqueira - #19 Dale Coyne Racing – 51.116/117.544/42 laps
6) Mario Dominguez – #10 RuSPORT – 51.309/117.102/78 laps
7) Graham Rahal – #2 Newman/Haas Racing – 51.413/116.865/74 laps
8) Justin Wilson – #9 RuSPORT – 51.547/116.562/51 laps
9) Katherine Legge – #11 Dale Coyne Racing – 51.750/116.104/24 laps
10) Alex Tagliani – #8 Rocketsports Racing – 51.837/115.909/72 laps
11) Nelson Philippe - #4 Minardi Team USA – 51.892/115.787/60 laps
12) Will Power – #5 Team Australia – 52.394/114.677/48 laps
13) Ryan Dalziel – #28 Pacific Coast Motorsports – 52.459/114.535/73 laps
14) Alex Figge – #29 Pacific Coast Motorsports – 54.059/111.145/17 laps Champ Car PR