Champ Car Sebring test begins
The 2008 open test season officially gets under way today with various Champ Car World Series teams and drivers turning in their first laps of the year at Sebring International Raceway.
Over the next three days, teams will run on the 1.7-mile “short course” at the famed Sebring track that has been favored by so many Champ Car teams for a number of years.
In addition to teams that plan to test with their previously announced drivers, some teams will use the test to evaluate candidates to compete in the series, which opens April 20 with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Making their debut as Champ Car teammates a week after sharing a car in the Daytona 24 Hours, Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal will turn their first laps of 2008 for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. The two drivers were confirmed for the NHLR lineup on Tuesday.
Certainly we need to keep learning as much as we can about the car and try to hone in on a good set‑up for myself and for Justin,” Rahal explained during Tuesday’s teleconference. “I'll be the first to admit I struggled at Sebring in the Champ Car. It was quite a tough track for me. But just go there and learn as much as we can. It's been a while since any of us have sat in the car, and it's going to be quite the change of pace from what I've been driving recently, but I'm certainly looking forward to it.”
Rahal, the 19-year-old American who finished fifth in the 2007 standings, returns for his second season with NHLR. Wilson, runner-up the past two seasons, replaces the man who won the championships those two years, Sebastien Bourdais. The British driver looks forward to working with his new team.
“Well, to start with the first thing is getting used to the team, getting used to the car and the environment,” Wilson said. “So the first test is all going to be about getting familiar with my environment and learning how to extract the most out of it. So this is going to be a steep learning curve this first test. Then, hopefully, we'll learn a few things and move on from that in the next few months and you know, find what suits my style and which bits are going to help us work best on the race weekend to go out there and win races.”
Paul Tracy returns to the fray with the newly reorganized Forsythe Pettit Racing operation. The 2003 Champ Car titlist will be joined at the Sebring test by France’s Franck Montagny, whose vast array of experience includes a stint in Formula One.
Rocketsports Racing recently announced the signing of Enrique Bernoldi, a driver who also has Formula One experience. The Brazilian driver tested with Rocketsports two years ago at Houston.
“I was impressed by the team when I tested with them two years ago,” Bernoldi said. “Unfortunately we were not able to get a deal together that year, but I am excited to have the opportunity now.”
Fellow Brazilian Bruno Junqueira, coming off an impressive season in which he scored three straight podium finishes, is testing for Dale Coyne Racing, the team he drove for in 2007 he will be joined by fellow Brazilian Mario Moraes.
PKV Racing will run both of its cars in Sebring. Spain’s Oriol Servia, who drove for PKV in the last two races of 2007, was recently signed to run for the team for 2008. He will be joined at the test by Canada’s Alex Tagliani. According to PKV General Manager Mark Johnson, Tagliani’s role will be two-fold.
“Alex is a very competitive and capable driver that has consistently placed among the leaders in races and the championship standings over the years,” said Johnson. "Testing Alex in Sebring will give PKV Racing an opportunity to receive the benefit of his experience as we work through the various projects we have for this test. In addition, it will give us a chance to see how Alex meshes with our team as we proceed with our search for a second driver.”
A veteran of eight full seasons and 131 starts, Tagliani feels he can contribute.
“This is a team that is capable of winning the championship this year and it would be a dream come true for me to be with PKV in 2008,” Tagliani maintained. “I think I can help them get to the top of the standings, but first things first and that is to get our work done and have a good test in Sebring. After that we will see where things go from there.”
Pacific Coast Motorsports will have cars for its second-year driver, Alex Figge, and Mexico’s David Martinez, who made his first Champ Car start in 2006 and two starts last season.
“I'm very excited to be able to go to Sebring with Pacific Coast Motorsports,” Martinez said. “I’ve always been very fond of the team, and I actually started my Champ Car career with their junior team, so it's a great feeling to be able to drive their car again. This will be a great opportunity to get to know and evaluate each other and build some foundation and relationships so we can start on the right foot if we end up being together for the full season this year.
“Everybody knows Champ Car is huge in Mexico and also among the Hispanic community in the United States so I'm really looking forward to giving everybody a great result at this test and hopefully for the whole year.”
Conquest Racing, which recently announced its sponsorship deal with Opes Prime, will be testing former Atlantic Champion Simon Pagenaud and 2007 Atlantic ‘Rookie of the Year” Franck Perera.
Finally, Ernesto Viso who tested with Minardi Team USA a couple of months ago will be back behind the wheel of the Indianapolis-based team for this first open test of the year.
Testing will be conducted today (Saturday) through Monday.