Champ Car European Adventure Day 10
As everyone is getting settled into the beautiful TT Assen Circuit (and our amazing perch above pit lane and next door to the podium stand), Champ Car is continuing to make news. Robert Doornbos took some of his fellow drivers on a sailing adventure yesterday, but in the land of windmills, unusually calm conditions kept speeds down (which he claims in his blog protects his sponsorship clauses… hmmmm, maybe he just doesn’t want to admit that he got his butt kicked by teammate Dan Clarke and a couple of Atlantics drivers!). While Doornbos was sailing away, Sebastien Bourdais was getting his family settled back into Europe, including his two cats. Tomorrow will include more adventures with animals as some of the drivers will take part in a photo op to include herding sheep before heading to Assen’s City Centre for a press conference.
-Robert Doornbos European Diary <Orange County Register>
-Sebastien Bourdais Diary <Long Beach Press Telegram>
-Promoters call off Grand Prix Arizona <Arizona Republic>
***Robert Doornbos European Diary
After a busy week and a tough race at Zolder, it was a pleasure to switch off the cell phone and rest for 24 hours. The hardest thing was staying away from the BlackBerry – that thing is addictive!
I’m back home in Holland as part of the Champ Car World Series 2007 European Tour and it feels great to be here. Actually, I’ve never been where we are today – Eemmeer Nijkerkernauw, a lake near the villages of Bucherhof and Spakenburg. We did some PR and media by staging a race between 100-year old sailboats.
There are fewer than fifty of these vintage wooden fishing vessels left, most of them having been destroyed in the 1930s and ‘40s. I’m “racing” three other Champ Car drivers and a couple of Atlantic Championship competitors as well, but I think the field is level - for all of us, it’s the first time to be in this part of Holland. Unfortunately, it is an unusually calm day and we didn’t get going too fast. But that’s a good thing, because my contract with Red Bull prohibits me from doing extreme sports!
The sailboat race is a good kind of preparation to relax a bit before going to the TT Circuit Assen for this weekend’s Champ Car event. It’s a 2.6-mile road course northern Holland that is famous for staging Grand Prix motorcycle races. I raced at Assen only once, and that was seven years ago in my first year racing cars. I finished second in a Formula Ford race, but the circuit changed quite a lot since then so it will be a semi-new experience.
I think the Champ Car drivers are going to like the track, because if you read the comments from the Moto GP guys, it has always been one of their favorite circuits. The corners are a bit banked and there are long straightaways with high speeds, which should translate well for our cars. It should actually be quite a spectacle.
Some people are concerned that the track is very narrow, so it will be hard to pass other cars. For sure, qualifying is more important than ever in the Champ Car series and at Zolder, the only pass I saw was Simon Pagenaud letting his teammate by on the straight!
That means two things. First, qualifying is going to be a great show. And if there are not a lot of Pace Car periods in the race, the best man is going to win. The Zolder race had a bit too much of guys coming from the back because of fuel strategy.
I know Bart Rietberger did a tremendous job in promoting the race. He leaves nothing to chance and makes sure that the fans are well taken care of. So I think it will be a great event.
In general we have quite good circuits here in the Benelux countries. Spa-Francorchamps, Zandvoort, Zolder and Assen are all very good in unique ways. A few drivers from Holland made it to F1 (including myself), and for a small country that’s quite impressive. And the Dutch fans are just nutters! They love the atmosphere of being at a circuit for the weekend, watching fast cars while having a beer and then sitting at a campsite.
They really enjoy the whole weekend, and that’s why I think Champ Car will be successful with the Dutch fans. In the U.S., Champ Car is promoted as a “Three Day Festival of Speed,” where you can actually hang out for three days in the paddock. In Formula 1, if you have spent one day in the paddock, you’ve seen everything and sometimes you have a better view on television. Champ Car offers the fans a little bit more.
The last two weeks have been very intense and it has been very hard to find any time for myself. But you have to do it because the fans have been so supportive. And it doesn’t take a lot of energy from me – I’m quite a social guy, so it’s not like I really have to push myself every morning just to speak. It’s tiring, but it’s usually quite a lot of fun – though some days are more fun that others.
For example, at Rotterdam, I drove a Champ Car at the Oude Ahoy Hall and then the next day through the streets of the city. You can’t call that work anymore
<Long Beach Press Telegram>
***Sebastien Bourdais Diary Part 1
We’ve been busy since the Elkhart Lake Champ Car race. With races in Belgium and Holland -- and with Claire and our baby Emma planning to move to Europe with me when I race for the Torro Rosso Formula One team in 2008 -- we decided to begin the moving process.
We spent two days packing because it was going to be a month in Europe for us. Also we brought along our cats, Chloe and Oscar. They are no special or exotic breed, but we love these little animals and couldn’t bear to leave them behind. But we also knew it would be impossible to bring them back in the winter; with the cold weather they wouldn’t accept it.
But bringing Chloe and Oscar home proved to be a challenge. You’ve got to go through customs and a ton of paperwork, then you have to pay $500 a cat, plus tax. We just went along with everything and went to pick-up the cats at Charles de Gaulle airport after we landed. But even that was like some sort of tricky video game. . . we were wondering which door the surprise was behind. We had to find Zone 6 and there was Zone 1, Zone 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7. No Zone 6. We went around for hours before we found the thing. It was quite an adventure.
Finally we drove to Le Mans and spent a couple of days with my family.
Then Claire and I left Emma with my mother on Wednesday and drove to Paris for a press conference for Champ Car, a full three hours of media. It’s fair to say with the European Champ Car races and my new contract with Torro Rosso, we have definitely been attracting a lot of attention. There’s no point in running away from it, so you just have to try to arrange it when it’s convenient.
But it meant not much vacation. From Paris we drove to the Zolder race track in northeast Belgium. People ask if it’s easier for us to get around and do things in Europe. But while we may be in Europe, it doesn’t feel a lot like home because we are in the Flemish part of Belgium, where they don’t speak French. In some way I have more communication issues here than I do in the States! But for the most part people here also speak English, so it’s fine.
The best part of racing in Europe is that it’s fun to race in front of your home crowd. There were lots of people waving French flags and some guys on the hill across from the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing pits had a banner that read “Sebastien: el Conquistador --- los amis du Club Le Mans.” It’s not so much the banner and the flags as it is sweet when you have family and friends coming there to support you.
The atmosphere at Zolder was very familiar. Like at Long Beach, the fans are very enthusiastic. And like at Long Beach, the paddock is open to the fans. That gives the paddock a fun atmosphere, more of a party atmosphere than at most races in Europe. But it also makes it a little harder for us because, typically, European fans are not used to open paddocks. So if people are very eager to get your autograph, when they see you they think it’s going to be a one time opportunity. So that can be a little hard to deal with. But it’s still a lot of fun racing in front of your home crowd.
Especially when you perform well. Although some Champ Car drivers had raced at Zolder, the circuit was new to our teams and the engineers.
We had no data to go on, just maps of the circuit, computer simulations and -- in the case of Newman/Haas/Lanigan -- the overall experience of one of racing’s best teams. So both my McDonalds Panoz and the Medi|Zone Panoz of my teammate Graham Rahal were fast right away. We made a small mistake on the set-up on Friday and didn’t manage traffic very well, but on Saturday we did things just right and earned the pole.
Sunday was going to be a difficult race. Zolder is very hard on brakes because you have go from top speed down to 30 or 40 mph five times a lap. That also makes saving fuel very hard, because you are always standing on the throttle or on the brakes.
But I made a good start and took the lead from Robert Doornbos and Will Power. I maintained the lead through the first couple of pit stops but then a full course caution came out with a half hour left in the race. The cars in the lead group needed to stop for fuel to make it to the end of the race, so we pitted. But several others -- including my old teammate Bruno Junqueira -- had either just pitted for fuel a few laps before the yellow or they decided not to stop.
So when the race restarted I was in fifth. Fortunately, Bruno was conserving fuel to reach the finish. So I passed him pretty easily, and then the other three cars ahead of me eventually stopped for fuel.
So we won the race and, even better, my former teammate -- Bruno -- and my current teammate -- Graham -- joined me on the podium.
So it was a good way to come back to Europe. It was very important for us to have a good weekend to get us closer to the championship. It didn’t need to be THIS good but we’ll gladly take it.
We’re 53 points ahead of Robert Doornbos now, but there are something like 150 points still to be taken, so the championship is far from over. Obviously things are going about as well as they could right now, but I always say ‘Don’t shout victory’ because it’s far from over and done with. We still have to keep plugging away at Assen next weekend.
***Promoters call off Grand Prix Arizona
Race organizers have canceled the inaugural Grand Prix Arizona, citing sponsor troubles and a poor economic climate.
People who have already bought tickets to the event, which would have been held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, will get full refunds, organizers said Tuesday.
"An event of this magnitude requires considerable corporate support and though we did establish some outstanding partnerships, there were simply not enough of these to create economic viability," said Dale Jensen, owner and managing member of the sports property.
The race Grand Prix Arizona was billed as a mega event that would bring high adrenaline Champ Car racing downtown for the next five years.
The two-mile track would have snaked around Chase Field, US Airways Center, Phoenix Convention Center and other landmarks.
Phoenix City leaders and race organizers had lobbied hard to bring the event to Phoenix.
The race overcame opposition by rival Phoenix International Raceway, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and even state lawmakers.
The cancellation in Phoenix does not impact the Vegas Grand Prix, which is put on by the same organizers. It scheduled for April 4 - 6.