Champ Car European Adventure Epilogue
It’s official, Champ Car’s European Adventure came to a close on Monday morning as all of the Champ Car branded mini-vans began pouring into the Hertz location at the “Schiphol” in Amsterdam. This year’s trip to Europe can only be classified as a success, evidenced by the large smile on promoter Bart Reitbergen’s face as he sat in the media center following Sunday’s race. The trip to Europe was more than just putting on events at two great race tracks; it was about showcasing Champ Car in new markets, and highlighting the great racing and accessibility of Champ Car and its drivers to fans and media. Over the two weeks, drivers sailed the high seas, herded sheep, and visited historic race tracks, but more importantly, they extended Champ Car’s reach into an important part of our “World Series.” I’m sure most of the paddock is feeling just like I am now, happy to be home but already wishing I could go back and have another Belgian waffle for dessert.
As this is my final post, I want to thank many of you for the kind words and suggestions. The feedback has been positive, and we plan to do it again Down Under in Oz!
-Ready to Move On by Robert Doornbos <Orange County Register>
-Weather bogs down Team Bourdais by Sebastien Bourdais <Long Beach Press Telegram>
-Champ Car Holland: Justin Wilson Scores First Win of the Year <AutoWeek>
-Wilson takes advantage of Bourdais' bad day to stay in title hunt <ESPN>
-Justin Wilson wins Champ Car's Dutch Grand Prix for 1st victory of season <Associated Press>
-CHAMP CAR: Sunday Assen Notebook <SPEED>
<Orange County Register>
***Ready to Move On by Robert Doornbos
September 2, 2007
We’re told in media training to avoid using words like “disappointing,” but that’s the best way to describe my home race at the TT Circuit Assen in Holland.
Throughout the weekend, my engineer Michael Cannon and I had a hard time getting our Minardi Team USA car balanced. We’ve had a problem on some of the faster road courses this year and obviously I wasn’t too happy to qualify ninth in front of the Dutch fans.
Before the start of the race it was obviously very special to drive around in the car and see all the people lining the circuit that came out to see me and the Champ Car World Series in action. Having more than 60,000 people cheering for me gave me a massive boost.
We had a decent start and a decent first lap and then we started the strategy game. If you follow all the sheep in front you never gain positions because it’s very difficult to overtake. So you try to deflect from their strategy and pit a bit early. That can be a good strategy, but you also have to stay out on the track when they pit again to gain positions. Somehow we misjudged that. Normally it goes in your favor, but today, nothing went in our favor.
I guess we didn’t get the strategy right, because we made four pit stops, and that was definitely too many to finish near the top. It was very disappointing.
For some reason the car wasn’t working very well on the red Bridgestone alternate tires in the first stint, so my engineer said to save as much fuel as I could. When the second round of pit stops came, I thought we would stay out like Bruno Junqueira and run in front. But that wasn't the plan.
Then I felt lost.
At one stage, I asked, “Am I going to make the finish?” Well, I tried to save as much fuel as I could and we thought we could make it, but then they called back and said you’re not going to make the finish unless you come back into the pits. That’s typical of how everything went so bad this weekend.
I could see all the fans as I was driving around, and all you feel is big disappointment. Not only for myself, but for the whole team. We’ve lost so many positions and so many championship points the last few races.
It’s been a great couple of weeks in Europe and a great championship for us up until now. We’ve been competitive from the beginning of the season and showed we were capable of fighting for the title. I got my first victories and my first podiums, but that was all so far from home. Now at home we couldn’t do it. Obviously that’s….disappointing.
But the Champ Car European Tour was very positive. I targeted the last couple of weeks – especially the Assen race – since the start of the season. Then suddenly halfway through the season we were first in the championship and that made Bart Rietbergen, the promoter of the European races, very happy and he got more and more excited as they got closer. We dropped back to second, but we were still fighting into July and August. We won a couple of races this year and got six podiums, and that was enough to bring the fans out here. So it has been a very positive couple of weeks.
The Dutch support has been incredible for the last few years and to give something back to the fans like that is great. They stay awake until the middle of the night to watch the races on television and they are probably as jet lagged as I was from flying back and forth to the States.
To see so many people coming out here was great. I think they saw what Champ Car is all about. It’s an exciting series with fast cars, and it’s just too bad there wasn’t a Dutch guy out front. But I think I’ll get a lot of support for the last two races. I definitely think this venue should stay on the Champ Car schedule, and maybe I’ll be back as well.
The next race is seven weeks away, but I’m quite busy actually. I have some Red Bull events to attend and we have some tests planned at Sebring International Raceway. Plus I’ll be flying out a week early to Australia to adjust to the time difference and hang out as a tourist.
We’ve got two races to go, at Australia and Mexico, and obviously it’s going to be a great fight for second in the championship. But we’re not in the position we should be in. The championship is getting intense and we have dropped to third, a couple of points behind Justin. But he hasn’t been very consistent this year so I’m not too worried. We’ll fight back strongly at Surfers Paradise and hopefully by the time we get to Mexico, we will have improved the car for high-speed circuits and we can try for another victory.
<Long Beach Press Telegram>
***Weather bogs down Team Bourdais by Sebastien Bourdais
SEPTEMBER 03, 2007
My first visit to Assen, Holland was enjoyable, except for the race. Claire and I spent the week after Zolder in Le Mans with our daughter and family, but on Wednesday it was time to leave Emma with her grandmother and for Claire and I to drive to Holland.
First we spent the morning in Paris at TF1 - the main television station in France. They were announcing their new programs for the next television season. As they will be concentrating on me quite a bit for their F1 coverage, it was important that I spend some time with them and be part of their announcement.
After lunch, we continued to Assen and Champ Car's version of the Olympic Village. I'm only exaggerating a little bit. The company that sponsored the Champ Car European Cup - Phanos - has an awesome vacation complex called the Hof von Saksen about ten miles from the race circuit. I calculated it's over 600 hundred houses, with between four and eight beds capacity. Pretty amazing. The place has its own lake and beach - in the middle of the countryside - and a kind of club house with three or four restaurants, an indoor swimming pool and a spa. Most of the Champ Car community stayed there and it was nice to see people you sometimes only see at the race track at the restaurants each night in a nice, no pressure environment.
We also had a race to run at the TT-Assen circuit, which is even more impressive than the Hof von Saksen. The circuit is just a first class facility, organized to the best European standards. The track is fast and fun, with the part coming back to the pits flat-out all the way - in seventh gear - through a couple of sweeping bends before a third gear change. Even the twisty section at the beginning of the lap starts out fast. Turn One is in fourth gear, then it gets slower and slower until you get to the hairpin at Turn Five which is almost - not quite - as tight as the hairpin at Long Beach. Then from there it's nearly flat out all the way back to the far end of the track.
Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with on Friday as the day started out nice but then it rained in qualifying. Halfway through the session the rain stopped and the track began to dry, but as we prepared to put slick tires on the car, the rain came back. We had an OK qualifying session, but decided to save our rain tires for the rest of the weekend and finished-up sixth.
Saturday started with more rain, but by the end of the practice it was dry. We were pretty good in the prequalifying practice but on my first set of tires I thought we were in trouble. But when we put our second set of tires on partway through the session, the McDonald's Panoz really came alive and I was able to secure the pole.
Unfortunately, all the hard work of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing didn't get rewarded on Sunday. I didn't make a great start and Justin Wilson passed me into the first turn. He made a mistake and slid off the track exiting the hairpin and when I hit the Power-to-Pass button (which gives us an extra surge of power) to go around him, the pit lane cruise limiter engaged instead. So instead of getting an extra 75 horsepower, the McDonald's car bogged down to 75 mph!
I was just a sitting duck. By the time I got it figured out I had dropped way back. From there it was a frustrating race. I made a stupid mistake on my second pit stop - I didn't get the engine revs high enough and I stalled. That cost us more positions. Then near the end Simon Pagenaud and I were racing Neel Jani for fifth place. The seventh gear in the McDonald's car was a little too short, so there was no hope of overtaking Simon on the straightaway. One time Jani held up Simon, so I gave it a try around the outside into the chicane at Turn Six and Seven. But the braking area is a little bumpy and so I locked up the front tires and went across the cones and eventually decided to settle for seventh place.
My teammate Graham Rahal didn't have a great day either, he finished ninth. But with my win and his third place at Zolder, it was enough to win the Phanos Champ Car European Tour Cup, which is a nice achievement for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.
So not a good day, but not a bad day either. Two of my championship rivals Robert Doornbos and Will Power had even worse days, so now Justin Wilson - who won the race - is our closest competitor. We learned in Holland that two of the last four races at Phoenix and China have been canceled. I'm not going to complain, that's for sure, because that puts us in a very strong position for the championship. But it's too bad for the series.
But the series also had a good experience in Europe. There was a lot of media attention. I think they enjoyed the open access to the drivers even more than the fans. And the fans were great too. When I arrived at the track this morning some of the grandstands were already full and thousands of people were already sitting on the spectator mounds around the track. The fans' enthusiasm was right up there with the best Champ Car events -- like Long Beach and Australia.
Speaking of Australia, we're heading to Surfers Paradise for the next Champ Car race in October. Nothing is done until it is done, but we are very close to securing the championship. I can't think of a better place to do it than Surfers Paradise.
***Champ Car Holland
Justin Wilson Scores First Win of the Year
By ANTHONY PEACOCK
Justin Wilson took his first Champ Car win of the year in Assen, Holland, on a narrow and challenging circuit normally used for motorcycle races. The RuSport driver started from the front row by virtue of setting fastest time in the opening qualifying session, held in mixed wet and dry conditions.
At the start, Wilson made a perfect getaway from second place to launch past polesitter Sebastien Bourdais, who entered the weekend with a chance of sealing the title. His chances were compromised badly on the opening lap, when he pressed the push to pass button and the pit lane speed limiter cut in instead. In the time it took to reset, the championship leader lost several places.
No sooner had the race started than it was neutralized by a pace-car period after Paul Tracy spun. This also affected Bruno Junqueira, who hit Tracy’s car—but not hard enough to damage his race pace.
When the race went green, Wilson led from Neel Jani and Tristan Gommendy, while Bourdais was stuck in fifth behind Graham Rahal. Wilson did not have it easy though: he missed the morning warm-up due to an oil pipe leak, so his engineers had to guess at the optimum race set-up.
“I was also hitting the rev-limiter through turn 15, as we didn’t get the gear ratios quite right,” he said. “Every lap was inconsistent.”
Junqueira had to pit early, on lap eight, to change a front-right tire that was possibly damaged by the earlier contact with Tracy. This put him out of sequence with his rivals, which moved the Brazilian into the lead on lap 16 after the majority of the field pitted during another caution period to clean up debris on the track.
At the restart, Conquest Racing’s Jan Heylen took the chance to make his way up the leaderboard, eventually passing Gommendy for third and going after Wilson. “The car felt good from the start: it makes up for the disappointment of my home race (in Belgium last week),” said Heylen. He was helped when Jani had a similar problem to Bourdais, with the pitlane speed-limiter making an unscheduled appearance.
Junqueira pitted again on lap 28 and then Wilson took over the lead. But with Junqueira running out of sequence, he claimed the lead again on lap 32—when the rest of the field came in for tires and fuel. Junqueira made his last stop on lap 48 of 69, but by lap 53 he was back to third, where he remained to the finish.
“It was always going to be close: I didn’t quite know where Bruno was going to end up,” Wilson said. “All I could do was concentrate on my race and try to save fuel.”
The strategy worked well, and the lanky Englishman moved up to second in the drivers’ standings, 58 points behind Bourdais.
***Wilson takes advantage of Bourdais' bad day to stay in title hunt
By John Oreovicz
Updated: September 2, 2007, 6:47 PM ET
Justin Wilson Wins in Holland
ASSEN, Netherlands -- What looked like a lost season for Justin Wilson is starting to look a lot better.
Wilson won the Bavaria Champ Car Grand Prix at the TT Circuit Assen on Sunday, elevating himself from fourth to second place in the Champ Car World Series points standings. It was the first victory of the season for the 27-year-old Englishman, who entered the 2007 season as a championship favorite, and the fourth triumph of his career.
The win was also the first for RuSPORT Racing since Champ Car series co-owner Dan Pettit acquired the Colorado-based team from Carl Russo. There was plenty of uncertainty about the RuSPORT group's future early in the year, and Wilson struggled in testing until the team entered a technical partnership to pool data with Rocketsports Racing and driver Alex Tagliani.
As summer rolled around, Wilson got closer to the pace inevitably set by Sebastien Bourdais in qualifying. But he still was often unable to keep up in races, when Bourdais' peerless ability to run fast while saving fuel has helped him rack up six victories so far this year.
Bourdais had pole position at Assen, but Wilson beat him in the long drag race from the standing start to the first turn. Once in front, Wilson's only challenge came from Bruno Junqueira, whose Lap 8 flat tire turned into an advantage because it put the Brazilian onto a different pit stop sequence that allowed him to lead 30 laps.
However, Wilson regained the lead for good after making his final pit stop on Lap 51 of 69. He won by 7.226 seconds over Jan Heylen, with Junqueira third.
Bourdais stalled leaving his final pit stop and finished in seventh place. He holds a 58-point lead over Wilson with two races to go; Dutch hero Robert Doornbos, who finished 13th Sunday and dropped to 63 points back, is the only other driver with a mathematical chance of stopping Bourdais from clinching a record fourth consecutive Champ Car title before he departs for Formula One in 2008.
With Bourdais struggling for a change, Wilson was only too happy to lead the charge of those picking up the pieces.
"I was definitely concerned at some points during the race that Bruno might be able to get the lead," Wilson said. "But I just stuck to my plan of trying to save fuel. I focused on getting very good mileage, and I let Bruno pull away.
"When it was time to go, I felt pretty good," he added. "The car was working well and the faster I went, the better the balance was."
Before the race, Wilson was certainly not optimistic about his chances even though he started from the outside of the front row. He missed the Sunday morning warm-up session because of a leaky gearbox oil line.
Wilson credited RuSPORT engineer Mike Talbot for a competitive race setup and said his only problem was running too short a top gear after a change in wind direction.
"Circumstances worked out for us today," Wilson said. "We weren't particularly confident but figured we had nothing to lose. I think we worked out what we had done wrong with the setup, and I guess our predictions worked out.
"But it was pretty tough," he continued. "I could see Jan was quick, and he was quick where I was weak. We got top gear wrong, and I was hitting the rev limiter through Turn 15 and until the chicane. I had to work hard to make sure I didn't hit the rev limiter too hard and lose momentum."
Heylen didn't have the speed at the end to challenge for the win, but second place was still by far the best result in Champ Car for the second-year driver from Geel, Belgium. It was also Conquest Racing's best finish since joining the Champ Car series in 2003.
The podium finish came one week too late for Heylen, who had his home weekend at Zolder nearly ruined by a Friday practice crash caused by Dan Clarke.
"Finally!" Heylen exclaimed. "We had a tough start to [the] season and missed the first few races and then we had some bad luck in the first couple races we ran. But from the first time on track here, the car felt good. I think we showed our pace Saturday, but I didn't get the best out of qualifying.
"I told Eric [Bachelart, Conquest Racing owner] that I had the same feeling this morning as when I won the Formula Ford festival. It was time for all the bad luck to change, and I'm so happy for the team and all the sponsors involved. Everyone has done an amazing job for the budget we have."
Junqueira was disconsolate after qualifying 11th at a narrow track where passing was expected to be impossible. But his early puncture turned out to be a blessing because it put him in front on two occasions.
However, Junqueira had a slow final pit stop, caused by a misfunction of his Dale Coyne Racing car's pit-lane speed limiter. A 4-second lead turned into fourth place.
"This is the only race with two pit-lane speed limits, and when I pressed the button for 75 mph, for some reason it went to the 40-mph setting," related Junqueira. "I tried to recycle it for 75 mph and probably lost three or four seconds on that stop. But I'm very happy after starting 11th. We have a third and a second and hope we can finish the season with a win."
Junqueira wasn't the only driver who had a problem with his Cosworth engine's electronics; pole winner Bourdais dropped to sixth place on the opening lap when he pressed "Power to Pass" and got the pit-lane limiter instead. That prompted Race Control to order all drivers not to use Power to Pass.
Junqueira was under investigation by race stewards for violating that order. The Brazilian claimed he had trouble hearing radio communications from his team.
Assuming Wilson wins the next Champ Car race Oct. 22 at Surfers Paradise, Australia -- but does not score any bonus points for leading a qualifying session or setting the fastest race lap -- Bourdais can clinch the series title with a 14th-place finish.
***Justin Wilson wins Champ Car's Dutch Grand Prix for 1st victory of season
Updated: September 2, 2007, 11:49 AM ET
ASSEN, Netherlands -- Justin Wilson won the Champ Car's Dutch Grand Prix on Sunday, holding off Jan Heylen of Belgium to clinch his first race of the season.
Bruno Junqueira was third.
"We just did what we had to do," Wilson said. "With the car working well, it was exciting to be out there."
Sebastien Bourdais' hopes of clinching a fourth straight title were hampered after a poor start forced him to drop from pole position. It was the Frenchman's first loss in four races in Europe.
Bourdais, who finished seventh, still has a 58-point lead over Wilson heading into the next race on Oct. 21 in Surfers Paradise, Australia.
"It's just frustrating. It was a weird race, it never quite got going for us," said Bourdais, who won from the pole last weekend at Zolder.
Wilson overtook Bourdais on the first turn and kept his lead through the first round of pit stops.
After the first pit, Junqueira took the lead with Bourdais dropping to seventh before recovering to fifth. Tristan Gommendy and Neel Jani also had quick pit stops to briefly stay in the top five.
Heylen moved up to second after the third pit, behind Wilson, who had opened up a six-second lead and was never caught.
Heylen put the frustrations of finishing 13th at his home Belgian Grand Prix behind to come second.
The Formula One-bound Bourdais had previously won at Long Beach, Houston, Portland, Edmonton and Elkhart Lake and Zolder this season.
Robert Doornbos, who needed a podium finish to boost his chances of catching Bourdais in the standings, placed 13th.
"Obviously, I am disappointed by the result, but we still have some chance in the next two races," the Dutchman said.
Champ Car president Steve Johnson pledged his commitment to the series' success in Europe after promoters said the Zolder and Assen races jointly attracted about 115,000 spectators,
"You have to like it here," Johnson said. "We will certainly be coming back because it's evident there is a lot of passion for the race."
CHAMP CAR: Sunday Assen Notebook
Written by: David Phillips,
Assen, Holland – 9/2/2007
The mysterious glitch that affected the Cosworth Power to Pass function resulted in some funny stories . . . the sort that people will laugh about later, rather than today. Take Oriol Servia who figures he lost as many as four positions because of the software meltdown . . .
“The Power to Pass didn’t do anything on my car until you dropped below 75 mph, then it activated the pit lane speed limiter,” said Servia. “That cost me two spots, because people passed me when it turned-on the speed limiter. Actually four spots when you think about it, because I might have passed the guy I was using the power to pass to get around and instead, I wound-up losing a position.
“Once, early in the race I was racing with Doornbos and I pullled out to pass on the pit straightaway. I hit the power to pass button and nothing happened. I thought ‘darn it, it’s not doing anything. And then, I slowed for Turn One and the car engine starts popping and banging and going slow . . . I thought I was an idiot and had hit the pit lane speed limiter.
“So a few laps later I tried it again and a similar thing happened. I thought ‘What’s going on here. I KNOW I hit the right button!’ Then a few laps the crew radioed to me to tell me what was happening... and I didn’t feel like such an idiot any more.”
PENALTIES IN THE OFFING
Not everyone followed the instructions to cease and desist with the P2P. According to race director Tony Cotman, seven drivers used the P2P function after they were instructed not to do so. However, none of them passed another driver as the result -- although one driver who shall go nameless for the moment -- did apparently use the P2P to successfully fend-off another competitor’s overtaking effort.
“I don’t think it would be right to take away points from this race for using the P2P after we told them not to,” said Cotman. “I’m more inclined to penalize them at the next race (Surfers Paradise) by either taking away half of their P2P time, or at least subtracting the amount of time they used illegally here in Assen.”
CHAMP CAR FANS
The award for the most avid Champ Car fans in Europe goes -- hands down -- to Guy and Monique Bonfils of Cannes, France. Both were in attendance for all six days of practice, qualifying and the races at Zolder and Assen. On Friday and Saturday at Zolder, Guy was wearing tee shirts from Miller Motorsports Park.
On race day he switched to his Milwaukee Mile tee shirt. He must have run short of American race track clothing, because he was wearing “non-branded” shirts all three days at Assen.
“We love Champ Car racing,” said Monique. “Guy and I have been to Montreal, Milwaukee and Indianapolis. And last year we spent a few days in Salt Lake City at Miller Motorsports Park for the ALMS race. Adrian Fernandez used to be my favorite driver, but since he retired I’m not so sure. But when we heard of the Champ Car races in Zolder and Assen, we decided we have to go.”
STAR MANGLED BANNER
Certainly the low-light of the day was the pre-race performance of the Star Spangled Banner. According the race promoter Bart Rietbergen, a high profile -- and un-named -- popular singer had been lined-up to do the honors. However, the singer came down with stage fright at the last minute and Rick Bolt -- a member of the race staff -- was pressed into service. Suffice to say Bolt should not plan to quit his day job anytime soon. He mixed up the lyrics on a couple of occasions and topped off a peformance that had cats howling halfway to Amsterdam by falling well short of the mark on the high register passage “and the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air.”
In truth, the performance was taken in good humor by one and all -- particularly Rietbergen who quipped, “if that’s the biggest disaster of the weekend, I’ll gladly take it.”
HOW MANY AGAIN?
Speaking of Rietbergen, his estimate of attendance for Sunday’s race was 61,200 fans. Which came as quite a surprise to many used to the grossly inflated numbers routinely tossed about at some other Champ Car races we can think of. Small wonder than that, after doing the morning warm-up in front of a virtually packed Hof von Saksen corner grandstand and seeing thousands upon thousands of people on the spectator mounds lining the circuit, Paul Tracy said “There’s gotta be 100,000 people out there.”
But Reitbergen put it best when asked about the crowd count. “There’s two numbers,” he said. “Bruno Junqueira’s number and my number. When I asked Bruno how many people he thought were here and then I gave him my number he said, ‘If that’s true, then I am puzzled by the American numbers because I thought there were many more here than that.”
For the record, Reitbergen estimated 61 to 62,000 on Sunday and another 15,000 (total) on Friday and Saturday.
OUT OF THE DOGHOUSE
Dan Clarke managed to work his way out of the dog house before and during the Assen race. You will recall he was barred from the Zolder race after triggering a four car accident on the installation lap of Friday morning’s practice session. He subsequently spent the Zolder race in the race control office, observing the officials at work calling the race and was duly reinstated prior to the Assen weekend.
Apart from an off or two in practice and qualifying -- and in that he was hardly alone -- Clarke was a model of decorum at Assen, this while wearing his flat black colored helmet rather than one with his trademark red and white vertical stripes (supposedly as a sign that he is the black sheep of the Champ Car World Series). The Briton qualified 10th and ran as high as fourth and set fastest lap -- nearly a second better than his closest competition -- before a late pit stop dropped him to an 11th place finish.
“For me, the most positive thing to come out of this race is that I succeeded in getting the monkey of the last race off my back,” he said. I would like to thank Tony (Cotman) for giving me the chance to race here in Assen and prove to those people who had quite a bit to say after Zolder that, strategy permitting, we can be right there in terms of pace. We may not have achieved the result we would have liked today, but I take great pleasure from our performance, and from the fact we set the fastest lap of the race. The No 4 crew has done a wonderful job over the two weeks of this Champ Car European Tour, and even pulled an all-nighter to ensure our car was in the best possible shape for today’s race, so I would like to say a really special thank you to them for all their efforts. I’m definitely coming away from these two races a wiser and stronger person.”