Wilson and Bourdais tops in Houston testing UPDATE ANGLETON, Texas – As the first rains of the day fell in the paddock of MSR Houston this morning, 2006 Champ Car World Series runner-up Justin Wilson looked to the skies and remarked that it looked a little like his native Britain.
It became more and more like home for Wilson as the day progressed, but as the deluge created a miniature English Channel through the paddock Wilson showed himself at ease in the rain, setting the fastest time of the day in the opening outing of a two-day Champ Car test session at the 2.38-mile MSR Houston road course.
Wilson set a quick time of 1:30.162 (95.029 mph) in the rain on a day that was better suited for tugboats than Champ Cars. Wilson was followed by three-time defending series champion Sebastien Bourdais, who splashed his way to a top time of 1:30.378 (94.802 mph), as the two frontrunners were the only cars to get under the 92-second barrier, besting the remainder of the field by more than 1.5 seconds.
“I think it’s very important for us to test in the rain, any miles you can get in the wet in these cars are a big help in the learning process,” Wilson said. “We really learned a lot today, the car was reliable and ran all day with no problems and we got a lot done. We still have a lot of ground to cover to be ready for the opener, and hopefully it will be dry tomorrow so we can get more done.”
Former series champion Paul Tracy was third on the time charts today but only ran 14 laps while Wilson and Bourdais both logged more than 50 laps apiece. Minardi Team USA tester Robert Doornbos had the most impressive outing among the rookies, carding the fourth-best time of the day with a clocking of 1:32.286 (92.842 mph). The resident of Monte Carlo was running just his second full day of testing in the Minardi Team USA Champ Car and made the most of the opportunity despite the rain.
“I’m really starting to get used to the car and the rain made it harder, but it was better for me at the same time,” told Doornbos. “I’m used to just turning up the TC (traction control) in the F1 cars but here I need to use the right foot as my control, which is one of the things that makes Champ Car good, since the driver’s ability plays such a big role in the success of the team.”
Defending Australia winner Nelson Philippe got a last-minute call to take over testing duties for Conquest Racing in Houston and rewarded team owner Eric Bachelart’s faith by taking the #34 car to the fifth spot on the day’s speed sheets. Philippe turned 26 laps today with a best time of 1:32.847 (92.281 mph) and was the first driver in line to sample Champ Car’s new standing start procedure when it was practiced today for the first time.
“It was really nice to be back with Eric for the test and for the first time the car had been out, it was really up to speed quickly for us. The team did a nice job getting ready,” Philippe said. “They don’t have any data on the car from Sebring and to be that fast straight away is impressive. I’m not sure where I am going to end up this year but Eric told me he wanted a driver with some experience to test the car and I was glad to do it.”
Champ Car Atlantic title combatants a year ago, Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud both settled into what they hope will be new Champ Car World Series seats in 2007, testing for Newman/Haas Racing and Team Australia respectively. Rahal was sixth on the day while Pagenaud was 14th in the 15-driver grid. Rahal and Bourdais were the first drivers to go back out on track late in the afternoon when the rains finally subsided, and the young Ohioan found his pace while out with his NHR teammate.
“It was tough in the rain but when we were out just Sebastien and I, that’s when the car really felt good,” remarked Rahal (right). “I did my fast lap fairly easily and I think we are going to be really quick in the dry conditions.”
Veteran Alex Tagliani was really hoping to see some dry conditions in his Rocketsports car as the Michigan-based team continues to look for the sweet spot on the new Panoz DP01 chassis. Tagliani was 13th on the day and only was able to add 19 laps to his preseason total on a wet Monday.
“The weather really hurt us because it kept us from analyzing our changes as well as we need to,” Tagliani said. “In conditions like this, you make changes but when you gain time, you can’t be sure whether the changes made the car better or whether the track was dry in certain spots that made you faster. We will continue to work hard on it and we will get better.”
The second of three Champ Car preseason open tests will continue tomorrow with a full day of testing, ending with a full hour of standing-start practice.
Monday session times follow:
1) Justin Wilson – #9 CDW/RuSPORT – 1:30.162/95.029 mph/59 laps
2) Sebastien Bourdais – #1 McDonald’s/Newman/Haas Racing – 1:30.378/94.802/56 laps
3) Paul Tracy – #3 Indeck/Forsythe Championship Racing – 1:32.063/93.067/14 laps
4) Robert Doornbos - #14 Minardi Team USA – 1:32.286/92.842/48 laps
5) Nelson Philippe - #34 Conquest Racing – 1:32.847/92.281/26 laps
6) Graham Rahal – #2 Newman/Haas Racing – 1:33.163/91.968/54 laps
7) Neel Jani – #21 Red Bull PKV Racing – 1:33.168/91.963/8 laps
8) Alex Figge – #29 Pacific Coast Motorsports – 1:33.981/91.167/25 laps
9) Will Power – #5 Team Australia – 1:34.256/90.901/8 laps
10) Andreas Wirth - #19 Dale Coyne Racing – 1:34.314/90.845/51 laps
11) Oriol Servia - #10 RuSPORT – 1:34.989/90.200/83 laps
12) Ryan Dalziel – #28 Pacific Coast Motorsports – 1:35.573/89.649/33 laps
13) Alex Tagliani – #8 Rocketsports Racing – 1:35.714/89.517/19 laps
14) Simon Pagenaud - #15 Team Australia – 1:35.719/89.512/9 laps
15) Katherine Legge – #11 Dale Coyne Racing – 1:36.215/89.051/40 laps
Champ Car PR02/12/07 In an afternoon session at MSR Houston interrupted by rain, Sebastien Bourdais turned the fastest lap of 1m31.705s to lead the Champ Car test times over the morning's fastest runner Justin Wilson. They were followed by Graham Rahal and Robert Doornbos. Only 11 cars took time in the afternoon. See our Home Page for testing photos. More later.....