Minardi Team USA Prepares to Re-Visit European Roots
Minardi Team USA drivers, Dan Clarke and Robert Doornbos spent this past week taking part in the Champ Car World Series European Media Tour, each participating in a press conference in their home country, as well as in other European cities. Dan and Robert played an active and very important role in helping to promote Champ Car’s current, and future, expansion into Europe.
In addition to the drivers, Minardi Team USA co-owners Paul Stoddart and Keith Wiggins also have deep roots in European racing.
Paul Stoddart’s recent presence in Europe as a Formula One team owner and successful entrepreneur is well-known. His European Aviation Group was a major sponsor of Tyrrell in the late 1990s, before he started his own F3000 team, European Formula Racing. Stoddart is originally from Melbourne, Australia, but now lives in Ledbury, England. He purchased the Minardi F1 team in early 2001, and rapidly became known as a tenacious defender of the rights of the smaller, independent teams in the sport. He sold the Minardi F1 Team at the end of the 2005 season, but will return to competition in Europe with Minardi Team USA, less than two years after departing the Formula One scene.
Keith Wiggins had unrivalled success in Europe before making the jump across the pond to the United States. Wiggins, who hails from London, competed as a driver in British Formula Ford, and also as an engineer in British F3 and European Formula 2000. He then formed Pacific Racing in 1984, which is the only team to have won every single-seater European Championship below Formula One. He then established Pacific Grand Prix, which competed in Formula One in 1994 and 1995. Wiggins embraces his return to racing in Europe, both for himself and for the entire Minardi USA team.
“To me, Champ Car’s decision to return to Europe is great for the Series and for the teams,” comments Wiggins. “It is a motorsport enthusiast’s market, with the fans being both knowledgeable and passionate about good racing. Last time we went to Europe, it was a success, but even so, we weren’t able to show our true performance due to the requirement to race on an oval and a small road course, with the same car, on back-to-back weekends. Now with two road courses and no restrictions, we should be able to show the fans how competitive and close our events are, which is exactly what they like.”
He added, “From a personal standpoint, I have won championships in both these Benelux markets, and in fact have lived in both countries. I have also taken drivers from both Belgium and Holland to championship wins, so I am very familiar with the countries and the fans, and have a great deal of good memories relating to those days. I still enjoy going back, and obviously want to do well there. Europe is where I started my team and my career, so I’ll probably feel more comfortable and look forward to going there more than some of the other team owners. I suspect the places and the spectators have changed a little now, as time moves on, but hopefully, not all the journalists and fans I knew have retired yet!”
Dan Clarke was on hand for the London and Amsterdam legs of the four-day trip. He is one of several British drivers who have made their mark racing in the Champ Car World Series, and was thrilled to be a part of the press conference in his home country. Often referred to by his nickname, ‘Speedy Dan,’ the young Briton is known for his laid- back charm and quick wit, and certainly lived up to his reputation with the media on Tuesday.
“I really enjoyed traveling with the Champ Car people and helping to spread the message of the Series’ unique brand of racing to Europe, as it works towards developing more of a global presence, especially since these venues are much closer to home for me,” he observed. “For example, the Dutch are huge motor racing followers, and I'm excited to be bringing real racing to their back yard. I think once everyone here gets a taste and a smell of Champ Cars, they're going to be hooked! It’s also very exciting to hear about the possibility of having a Champ Car race here in the UK. Of course, I would love to race at Brands Hatch, where I won the Formula Ford Festival in 2004, but hey, that’s just me,” Dan said with a grin. “It’s been a somewhat rough start to the season for me thus far, but I believe the bad luck is behind us now. I’ve put my head down and worked hard, and it has paid off. We had a good test a few weeks ago, and I’m really ready to get back to racing after such a long break. I feel as prepared as anyone for Portland.”
Robert Doornbos picked up the tour, appropriately enough, in Amsterdam on Wednesday. He joined Bart Rietbergen (President of ChampCar bv and promoter of the Assen race) in welcoming the media, his fellow drivers, and the visiting Champ Car personnel to his home country.
This vibrant young man has become an icon of sorts to Dutch racing fans. As he was introduced on stage at the press conference, the enthusiasm in the air was palpable. The Dutch are unequivocally rabid followers of motorsports, and have been “foaming at the mouth” for some time now regarding an event in the Netherlands. Finally, though, they are getting what they want: a Champ Car World Series race at Assen, and a driver who is well on his way to becoming a national star (he currently lies 3rd in the Championship standings).
“We had a good press conference in Amsterdam, and it was really great to be home,” said Robert. “The build-up to the Dutch Grand Prix has now officially started. It was also a lot of fun. We made Steve Johnson (Champ Car World Series President) feel welcome because it was his birthday, and the Dutch chefs made him a proper cake! I’m very proud to be racing for Holland in the Champ Car World Series, and it would be a dream come true if I could get the National Anthem played for all of the fans at my home race.”
In recognition of their participation in the Amsterdam event, Robert and Dan were each presented with a pair of personalized clogs. The traditional Dutch shoes were painted orange, which is both the primary color of Champ Car’s distinctive logo and the national color of the Netherlands, and displayed the drivers’ names and car numbers.
The European Driver’s Tour concluded in Belgium and Paris on Thursday and Friday, where the participants enthusiastically continued to promote the Assen and Zolder races, and increase awareness of the Champ Car World Series.
Both Dan and Robert return to North America next week, where they will take part in a two-day test at the picturesque, and challenging, Mont-Tremblant circuit, near Montreal, in preparation for the race there in late June. They then travel to Portland International Raceway, for Round Four of the Champ Car World Series, on the weekend of June 8-10.