Champ Car teams test standing starts
ANGLETON, Texas – Katherine Legge leisurely rolled her Dale Coyne Racing Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone Champ Car to a stop on the front straight as a rainy Monday faded to gloom, while rookie Graham Rahal sidled up alongside and stopped.
Both drivers fixed their eyes on a bank of lights perched over the track, revving their 750-horsepower Cosworth XFE powerplants higher and higher as each of the four red lights glowed one-by-one. The scarlet lights went dark as the two Champ Cars rocketed from their spots to make the first side-by-side test of Champ Car’s new standing-start procedure – which will go into effect at the start of the 2007 season.
Champ Car will institute the standing-start procedure beginning in Las Vegas, marking the first time that the starting method will be used in the modern era of Champ Car World Series competition. Today, the drivers got their first chance for side-by-side practice of standing starts, albeit on a wet MSR Houston road course where rains cut the session from 60 to 30 minutes.
“The standings starts are going to bring a lot of excitement to Champ Car and definitely adds a whole new element to the race,” said Legge. “You obviously don’t want to stall the car at the start. You need to find a way to avoid wheel spin and get up through the gears as fast as you can. That’s the way to have a good start.”
A damp morning gave way to heavy rains, which kept the Champ Cars in the garage for most of Monday afternoon. No one turned a wheel until Newman/Haas Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal hit the track at 3:30, leading the way for an hour of late-session action topped by the initial 30 minutes of standing-start practice.
Nearly half the field took advantage of the opportunity while some teams had already retired to their garages by that time, trading the chance to work on their cars for splashing in the rain. Rahal was one of the few drivers in the field with fresh standing-start experience, having won five races from a full stop in last year’s Champ Car Atlantic Championship, and spent most of the session working on his starts.
“It’s much more difficult to do the starts in Champ Car because there’s so much more power,” Rahal said. “It’s hard to put the power down on these cars as it is. In third gear coming out of a corner it can be hard to do so doing it from a stop is a tough thing, especially when it is wet.”
The drivers and teams of the Champ Car World Series will have another hour to hone their starting skills, at the end of tomorrow’s final day of testing at MSR Houston. The series will then prepare for its Spring Training test, to be held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on March 9th and 10th.