Paul Tracy Leads First Day at Laguna Monterey, California – After completing what Paul Tracy described as the ‘worst test session of his career’ at MSR Houston last month, the veteran Canadian racecar driver found his way back to the top of the speed charts today during the first day of the final preseason open test at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Tracy (#3 Indeck Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone) marked the return of Champ Car to Laguna Seca by setting the fastest time of the day with a lap of 1:06.707 (120.779 mph) on the 2.238 mile road course, only four-hundredths-of-a-second off the Formula One track record (1:06.309).
"It was great, we have not been to Laguna in years and they have done some repaving, so it is a little bit smoother on the tires and a little more consistent,” said Tracy. “Over all I am very happy on how the day went. We had such a bad test in Houston, but we came out here and were flawless today, no mechanical problems and the car ran perfectly, so I am happy for Forsythe Championship Racing."
The day might have been flawless for Tracy, but three-time Champ Car Champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonalds Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone) suffered gearbox problems throughout the morning and afternoon sessions. Despite those mechanical gremlins, he did manage to register a lap time of 1:06.737 (120.725 mph), only three-hundredths-of-a-second behind Tracy, good for second place.
“We didn't get as much accomplished as we'd like, we kept having the same gearbox problems all day and it cost us quite a bit of time,” stated Bourdais. “The afternoon was much better for us. For the first time we were able to try some things on the car and it responded as well as the old Lola did. I'm not unhappy with the car at all it's been consistent and very enjoyable to drive.”
Rookie Neel Jani (#21 Red Bull PKV Racing Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone), who led the morning practice session, found himself in third quickest at the end of the day with a lap of 1:06.749 (120.703 mph).
“The morning went very well, beyond my expectations because it was the first time I had ever been here,” expressed Jani. “I admit I was a little surprised that we were fastest. In the afternoon, we made some longer runs and that showed me that I needed to be more patient and learn to work with my tires better. I am used to my first couple laps on a set of tires being my fastest, and when that doesn't happen, I get a little impatient and start throwing the car around. These Bridgestones hold up well and I need to be more patient with them.”
Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone), who topped the MSR Houston test last month, continued his strong showing with a lap time of 1:06.939 (120.360 mph), placing him fourth on the time sheets. Robert Doornbos (#14 Minardi Team USA Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone) rounded out the top-five with a time of 1:07.237 (119.827 mph) while Graham Rahal (#2 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing) set the sixth fastest time of day with a 1:07.243 (119.816 mph).
“We were ahead of schedule for most of the day and got a lot accomplished,” said Rahal of his day in the #2 car. “We did a long run in the afternoon and weren't really trying to set a time, but we still did pretty well on the charts. The car was very consistent on the long run today and we were even faster at the end than we were at the start of the run, which is impressive.”
Rahal’s closest rival last season in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Simon Pagenaud (#15 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone) was seventh for Team Australia while RuSPORT driver Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Cosworth/Panoz/Bridgestone) was eighth. Canadian Alex Tagliani who was announced yesterday to drive the #8 Lexington entry of Rocketsports this season placed himself ninth and Conquest Racing tester Matt Halliday completed the top-ten.
The Champ Car drivers also had time to test the standing start procedure that will be used throughout the season. F1 test driver Robert Doornbos who is testing with Minardi Team USA this week says that the procedure in Champ Car is less forgiving than in F1.
"In Formula One the computers control the standing start, so the driver has no excuse if he messes up the start,” explains Doornbos. “Here it is all driver. If you mess up, you stall and have a big problem. I did three or four and it went quite well. It is just finding a strategy that works for you."
The final day of testing before the inaugural Vegas Grand Prix gets underway tomorrow morning.
Friday session times follow:
1) Paul Tracy – #3 Indeck/Forsythe Championship Racing – 1:06.707/120.779/80 laps
2) Sebastien Bourdais #1 McDonald’s/Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing – 1:06.737/120.725/83 laps
3) Neel Jani – #21 Red Bull PKV Racing – 1:06:749/120.703/80 laps
4) Will Power - #5 Team Australia – 1:06.939/120.360/83 laps
5) Robert Doornbos - #14 Minardi Team USA – 1:07.237/119.827/61laps
6) Graham Rahal - #2 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing – 1:07.243/119.816/104 laps
7) Simon Pagenaud - #15 Team Australia – 1:07.380/119.573/90 laps
8) Justin Wilson – #9 CDW/RuSPORT – 1:07:497/119.365/49 laps
9) Alex Tagliani - #8 Rocketsports Racing – 1:07.623/119.143/63 laps
10) Matt Halliday - #34 Conquest Racing – 1:08.338/117.896/52 laps
11) Katherine Legge – #11 Dale Coyne Racing – 1:08.543/117.544/54 laps
12) Alex Figge – #29 Pacific Coast Motorsports – 1:08.930/116.884/54 laps
13) Andrew Ranger – #19 Dale Coyne Racing – 1:09.208/116.414/66 laps
14) Ryan Dalziel – #28 Pacific Coast Motorsports – 1:09.562/115.822/57 laps
15) Tristan Gommendy - #22 PKV Racing – 1:10.229/114.722/64 laps
16) Zsolt Baumgartner - #4 Minardi Team USA – 1:10.415/114.419/53 laps