Enrique Bernoldi in the Rocketsports Panoz at Sebring
Rocketsports Racing and newly-signed Champ Car World Series driver Enrique Bernoldi hit the Sebring International Raceway over the weekend, February 2-4, for the first Champ Car open-test in 2008. The team was excited to get their first test underway after hiring two key additions to the engineering staff and announcing a new partnership with Bernoldi and Sangari.
The efforts of this test focused primarily on getting Bernoldi familiar with a Champ Car and to find a setup on the #8 Sangari/Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone that would suit his driving style and needs. This was also a good time for not only him, but newly hired Mark Hutcheson, to get acquainted with the Rocketsports crew and engineers. Hutcheson, the team’s newest addition, brings a wealth of experience to his new role as Race Engineer for Bernoldi and the #8 Sangari/Rocketsports car. Hutcheson was David Coulthard’s Race Engineer in 2006 with the Formula One Red Bull Racing team. He and Ryan McCarthy join John Gentilozzi and Randy Gibson in hopes of producing a dynamic engineering staff this season.
On Saturday, Bernoldi was immediately put to the test as the challenge was not only mental but physical for the first-year Champ Car driver. The Brazilian managed to log 172 miles, recording the fastest time of 52.019 (115.504 mph) on the 1.669-mile permanent road course during the afternoon session. Unlike the other new drivers testing in Sebring who ran open-wheel cars last year, Bernoldi drove stock cars in Brazil. And despite an enriched open-wheel racing background, which includes six years of Formula One experience, Bernoldi realized he had quite the learning curve ahead of him. However, he was feeling rather confident after his first day in a Champ Car.
“I think being away from single-seaters for the last two years makes it hard at the beginning” expressed Bernoldi. “Everything is completely different, but I feel that we are making constant progress. I did 103 laps, so that was hard physically, but I feel that I learned a lot in just one day.”
Over the period of the three-day test, further improvement in lap time and comfort in the car was established. This time was also used to move Bernoldi through a progression of changes that allowed him to feel different suspension and aerodynamic configurations. Bernoldi was then able to direct setup development in a similar fashion to a race weekend so that he would be able to better assist the team in providing him with a fast race car.
After logging 95 laps on Sunday, Bernoldi showed an increase in speed by recording a quicker time of 51.313 (117.093 mph). Monday was the last day of the test and a short one as teams were only allotted the morning hours to run. Rocketsports took full advantage of their final hours by completing an additional 58 laps with Bernoldi behind the wheel. It was during the middle of this run when he posted a time of 50.714 (118.476 mph), marking his best time of the test. During the last session, he finished as the second highest “rookie” driver, preceded by Champ Car Toyota Atlantic standout Frank Perera.
“The #8 Sangari/Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone is a very nice car to drive and something that I am more familiar with,” added Bernoldi. “We were not the quickest this test, but we were able to go faster in each session and close in on the leaders. The 14 cars testing this weekend were rather tight; we were pretty much within a second from each other. So that goes to show that this Champ Car season is going to be very exciting and challenging. I was able to run 425 trouble-free miles, which is a testament to the Rocketsports crew. I really enjoyed getting to know the guys and they were a tremendous help to me over the last three days. I look forward to working more closely this season with race engineer, Mike Hutcheson, along with the rest of the Rocketsports engineer staff. I am confident that with a little bit more work, we can be more competitive.”
“First of all, I would like to welcome Sangari and our newest engineering staff additions to the Rocketsports team,” stated Paul Gentilozzi, Rocketsports Racing team owner. “It is always a pleasure to introduce new companies to the Champ Car World Series, and vise versa. Sangari and racing go together; Sangari has more then 40 years of dedication to developing and improving education by the use of science and technology, we use science and technology to go racing. We are thrilled to have them join Enrique and partners with us this season.”
Gentilozzi continued, “We are also very excited to have Mark (Hutcheson) on board with us. The Race Engineer is one of the most important roles on the team, and I feel that Mark’s knowledge and experience will be a great addition to the role and team overall.”
In regards to the test, Gentilozzi said, “Enrique was able to adapt quickly to the car. His feedback was clear and precise, which enabled us to adjust the car to suit his needs. We made a lot of changes to the #8 Sangari/Rocketsports car and all the hard work was rewarded with improved lap times as Enrique’s runs progressed. There is definitely a huge learning process that is involved with driving these cars, but give him a little more time to adjust and he will definitely have what it takes to be competitive this season in Champ Car.”
Gentilozzi added, “Things are certainly shaping up for a good season this year. I am looking forward to it.”
All in all, confidence is what the Rocketsports team took with them from Sebring. They have just over a month to prepare their next test, which will take place at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, March 13 and 14. The 2008 Champ Car World Series kicks off with the 34th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 20 in Long Beach, California.
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