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Minardi Team USA endures difficult conditions
Despite today’s unseasonable weather menu for southeastern Texas, which included heavy rain, hail and blustery winds, Minardi Team USA launched into a busy program at the second of three scheduled Champ Car pre-season tests.  Following on from its initial experience of the series’ new Panoz DP01 at Sebring three weeks ago, the Indianapolis-based team has now received its second car. 

Dutch racer, Robert Doornbos, is once again driving for Minardi Team USA at the test, and after some initial shakedown laps late yesterday and first thing this morning to familiarize himself with both the new chassis and the 2.38-mile (3.83-km) MSR Houston road course, he got down to some serious running.  The damp, windy conditions were not conducive to setting great lap times, but Doornbos and his engineers nonetheless took advantage of the wet track surface to work on suspension settings and accumulate useful mileage on the second car. 

They clearly did a solid job, as the Dutch driver recorded the fourth fastest lap of the morning, with only Champ Car regulars Justin Wilson, Sebastien Bourdais and Paul Tracy ahead of him.  The early part of the afternoon session was plagued by torrential rain, and virtually all teams elected to stay under cover until the downpour abated.  Once it had, Doornbos recorded a total of 16 laps, and although his best effort, of 1 min 33.617 secs, wasn’t an improvement on his fastest lap of the morning, it still saw him retain fourth place on the timing screens at the end of the session.  The team was also able to gather some useful data on standing starts during the late afternoon, which will be used to develop the system further over the remaining pre-season test days. 

Robert Doornbos        Fastest lap: 1 min 32.286 secs/92.842mph       Total laps: 48
“After the rain we had during the first test, at Sebring, and now with what we’ve encountered here today, I’m beginning to think we’re jinxed with the weather.  The track was damp and slippery first thing, but once we had some proper rain, it cleaned the surface up and we were able to start working on chassis set-up.  This is an unusual circuit – it’s bumpy and there are not many reference points for the driver – but we got to grips with it as the morning progressed and developed a good wet set-up that allowed us to be quite quick.  The rain was really heavy for awhile this afternoon, but when the conditions improved a little, we were again able to run well, but then we struggled a bit at the end as we were on full-wet settings and the track had started to dry. Even so, the times were reasonable.  It’s fun getting to know everyone on the team, and I’m really enjoying myself in the car, although I have to keep reminding myself that I’m in a Champ car, not a Formula One car, and there aren’t all the driver aids available to help out – you just have to get on and drive it.  We’ll now hope for some better weather tomorrow, so we can work on further improving the car and setting some serious times.”           

Paul Stoddart, Co-owner, Minardi Team USA
“It was a difficult start to the first day of the second pre-season test with a very green track and slippery conditions making the first half of the morning session effectively just a ‘rubbering-in’ exercise for the teams.  During the second half of the morning, however, the rain fell more heavily, allowing the team to set the car up for full wet running, and Robert recorded some very impressive times considering the conditions.  Despite the difficult weather that has dominated the first day of this test, all running is valuable at the moment, as the team continues to learn about the new Panoz chassis.  The whole Minardi Team USA crew put in a really solid effort today, in what at times were very unpleasant conditions, so a big thank you to everyone.”

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