Bourdais leads testing at Sebring
With two rounds remaining on the 2007 Champ Car World Series schedule, a majority of the teams headed down to Sebring International Raceway in Florida for a last chance at testing. Rain showers interrupted the day in the early afternoon, but when the track dried and the cars returned, the times began to fall.
Top of the Time Sheet: Three-time champion Sebastien Bourdais finished his final day of Champ Car testing in a familiar position - at the top. The French driver recorded a lap of 52.15 seconds around the 1.67-mile Sebring road course. Throughout his Champ Car career, Bourdais has spent much of the time at or around the top of the time sheets. Bourdais will not run tomorrow after using all of his allotted miles for the season.
Back to School: Before coming to the Champ Car test in Sebring, Florida, 18-year-old Graham Rahal was in the Chicago area to participate in the Grand Opening festivities of the 200th Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes store. Rahal also took some time to visit with students from the Dwight D. Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Illinois, to raise awareness of safe driving through Champ Car’s Hands on the Wheel campaign. The visit was done without the presence of the media, just Graham, the students and the teacher.
The classroom couldn’t have been a better fit for Graham as he met with the students of an advanced automotive class. “I wish I would’ve had a class like this when I was in New Albany,” Rahal said with a huge grin on his face. The classroom was located in a garage and Graham felt at home amongst the car parts and motors spread across the room with even the smell of grease and oil in the air.
The Champ Car rookie wasn’t there to only talk about cars though. The reason for his visit was to spread the word about the Hands on the Wheel campaign and the dangers of distracted driving while amassing as many pledges as possible. Graham, who takes this cause to heart, added a little incentive of his own to get the students to gather pledges. He challenged the students of teacher Frank Valentino to collect 250 pledges within the next two weeks, and in return for reaching their goal, he said he would personally give them two tickets each to next year’s Champ Car event in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
The challenge was accepted and the teenagers immediately went to the front of the room to sign the giant pledge and pick up their Hands on the Wheel key chains as well as autographed posters from Graham.
New Faces, Similar Places: Some new faces appeared in familiar uniforms in Sebring. Mexican drivers Mario Dominguez and David Martinez are both testing with their new teams, Pacific Coast Motorsports and Forsythe Championship Racing respectively. Dominguez did race at San Jose for PCM and spent today working with new teammate Alex Figge. For Martinez, the day was spent getting used to the DP01. He started at Mexico City for Forsythe last November, it was in the final race for the Lola Champ Car chassis. Though he only did one race weekend in the Lola, Martinez can see a difference in the new DP01. “It’s really more secure in the rear of the car. We had some small problems that kept us off the track in the early afternoon but we were already getting up to speed and we aren’t that far off. I’ve got Oriol (Servia) and Paul (Tracy) here with me and talking to them and looking at their data is really going to help.”
Servia Testing: Oriol Servia was on hand in Sebring, testing the #3 Forsythe Indeck DP01 on Monday, even though the Spaniard is not slated to drive for Forsythe at either of the two remaining races. At the request of Forsythe Racing, Servia came down to Sebring to keep his skills sharp, in case he is needed at Australia or Mexico City. Said Servia, “I know it is kind of strange (testing with Forsythe) but at the end of the day, when you take away the anger it makes me feel good that they asked me to test for them. I must be doing a good job. As a driver it is good to do laps and to test. I still hope to be with a competitive team either this year or next.”
Figge Figured: PCM’s Alex Figge had a good first day of testing at Sebring, running a lap at 52.69 seconds. The lap time put him eighth on the time sheets and he said, having time to try new things has helped his team.
“It feels nice to be where we are with our lap time,” said Figge. “Our philosophy is different here at a test compared to a race weekend. During a race you have limited track time to find a good setup. You just get rolling right off the truck and you can’t try a lot of different things. Here we can try those things and in doing that we made the car a lot more drivable.”
British Invasion: James Winslow, a native of Great Britain, is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Nigel Mansell and Justin Wilson, both British drivers who found success in Champ Car. Winslow, the 2006 Asian F3 series champion, slipped into the cockpit of Conquest Racing’s DP01 for the first of two days of testing, posting a best lap of 55.66-seconds
One Year Anniversary: It was this time last year when Roberto Moreno was putting the first miles on the DP01 here in Sebring. Over the course of four weeks of testing, Moreno ran more than 2,500 miles around the 1.67-mile Sebring course that was once a World War II military base. Champ Car technical director Scot Elkins oversaw the testing program last year and is on hand in Florida again this week. “This time last year, a lot of us were just happy to see the DP01 on track. We built an amazing race car in a short amount of time and now one year later, we have great racing with a great car. The DP01 has done a great job for all of the teams and seeing 13 of them running together this week at Sebring is a testament to what Moreno and the rest of our test team did.”
Unofficial Lap Times for September 24, 2007
1. Sebastien Bourdais 52.15 seconds
2. Bruno Junqueira 52.18
3. Oriol Servia 52.31
3. Alex Figge 52.31
5. Neel Jani 52.38
6. Mario Dominguez 52.41
7. Tristan Gommendy 52.45
8. Will Power 52.51
9. Simon Pagenaud 52.52
10. Graham Rahal 52.96
11. David Martinez 52.97
12. Katherine Legge 53.04
13. James Winslow 55.66
Tuesday marks the second and final day of testing at Sebring. With testing wrapped up the teams will head back to their race shops and pack their equipment for the next event at Surfers Paradise, Australia on October 21. The race will be shown in the U.S. on ESPN2.