Standing start testing up next for Champ Car teams INDIANAPOLIS – When sitting down to create the new Panoz DP01 Champ Car, Elan Motorsports Technologies and Champ Car engineers designed the new car to be sleeker and racier, with the end goal to produce a car that ran easier in traffic, promoted closer racing and created more passing opportunities.
It took just four sessions in this week’s first open test of the 2007 Champ Car preseason to see that the designers hit their mark. After the second of the three days of testing, just one second separated the top 10 drivers on the time sheets – a mark that was hit only in Portland and Toronto during qualifying on the Champ Car road-course schedule in 2006.
The tightly-bunched field made for a furious dash at the end of all three testing days, as most of the 14 cars on hand each day would go out looking for their best times in the final minutes of the session. Despite the traffic, some drivers were able to find late-day gains including Paul Tracy, who ran his best time of Thursday’s final day on the last of his 68 laps.
“Sure, nobody is awarding points for putting up the best time at Sebring,” said session leader Oriol Servia of Red Bull PKV Racing. “But it is nice to be on top and it is great for the team.”
Tracy and the Forsythe Championship Racing team had the only car to break 51 seconds on two different days around the Sebring International Raceway short course, but finished behind three-time series champion Sebastien Bourdais on Wednesday and behind Servia and rookie Neel Jani on Thursday.
“The Forsythe Team did a great job this week,” said Forsythe Team Manager Phil LePan. “Overall it was a good test and we gathered a lot of valuable data. The new Panoz overall has turned out to be a great race car and it looks like it’s going to be a very exciting season. Now it’s time to go back to our shop and analyze all the information and prepare for the next test at the Houston MSR Road Course.”
The new car saw times drop to within less than a second of the unofficial track record in Sebring after just three days of testing, making significant gains in three days on what it took five years of testing to reach in the previous machines.
“Considering this is a brand-new car, straight out of the box, the experience not only of Minardi Team USA, but also of the other teams present here in Sebring has been very positive,” said Minardi Team USA Co-owner Keith Wiggins. “As you would expect, there have been a few minor issues to sort out, but Champ Car has every reason to be very pleased. It has also been good for the team to get out and start working with the car, so that we can begin to understand it and how to tune it for optimum performance.”
The drivers were pleased with their experiences with the new car as 17 different drivers spent at least one full day of testing in the DP01, a list that featured six rookies including Champ Car Atlantic champion Simon Pagenaud and runner-up Graham Rahal. Veterans ran sessions with new teams in hopes of striking a deal for 2007.. Mario Dominguez posted strong times with RuSPORT, Katherine Legge and Bruno Junqueira were both in the top five after Wednesday with Dale Coyne Racing while Alex Tagliani returned to Rocketsports Racing to get acquainted with the new ride.
“What we were able to accomplish was finding the limits of the car,” concluded Tagliani. “It was actually fairly easy and we did not have to struggle to get to that point. Now that we have found that limit on the new car, we can start to work on finding a way to make it go quicker. Our future ahead will be focusing on finding a setup that creates a quicker car.”
Dominguez was one of just three drivers to log 200 laps over the three days and was impressed with the speed of the DP01. In all, the Champ Car field ran nearly 2,300 laps over the three days, putting more miles on the DP01 in three days than the prototype saw in three weeks of testing with Roberto Moreno at the wheel.
“We were able to try things with the new car and test details that will help the team for the rest of the year,” Dominguez said. “The technology of this new car is very good. I was impressed with the performance of the Panoz that on only the second day of testing it was doing comparable times to the Lola. I’m confident that with more testing, we will ultimately be setting faster lap times than in the past.”
The Champ Car drivers and teams will get their next shot at the DP01 February 12-13 at MSR Houston, where the two full days of testing will include an hour of standing-start practice each day. Champ Car PR