Doornbos endures eventful day

With yesterday’s wet weather having cleared the area overnight and a pleasant, if windy, day in prospect, the Champ Car teams present at the Houston MSR road course for the Series’ second pre-season test were today able to get down to some serious work.

Minardi Team USA personnel again focused on their second, and most recently arrived, Panoz DP01 chassis, changing it to “full-dry" suspension settings before driver, Robert Doornbos, took to the 2.38-mile (3.83-km) track for the morning session. The effect of the improved conditions was immediately evident, the Dutch driver quickly getting up to speed and producing lap times well inside his Monday best.

Unfortunately, late in the morning, Doornbos went off track while on a fast lap, causing significant damage to his car, and Minardi Team USA mechanics quickly set about preparing the team’s second chassis for the afternoon session. Doornbos was soon back on track and consistently improving his times, eventually ending the day ninth fastest. The team’s technical program for this second, and final, day of the Houston test consisted of carrying out suspension set-up work, in order to understand how the car reacts to specific changes, and gaining experience of the latest engine control software. The final pre-season event for Minardi Team USA will be the Spring Training test, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, on March 9 and 10.

Robert Doornbos Fastest lap: 1 min 11.216 secs/120.310 mph Total laps: 135
“I think there are two things we can say for sure – it was definitely an eventful day for us, and there’s no doubt the Champ Car is a different animal in the dry compared with the wet. Whether wet or dry, though, it’s good fun. We started on a damp track again this morning, but as the surface dried out, we found the car wasn’t consistent from lap to lap. I then had a moment at Turn 3, which is a fast, fifth-gear corner, when I ran off onto the grass. Although I was completely unaware of it at the time, when I got back to the pits, it turned out the undertray had been ripped off in the incident. We’re still not sure how it happened, but there was a lot of damage, which meant we had to change to our other chassis.

"The mechanics did a great job of getting the car ready, and there’s no doubt they’re now fit for the coming season – they had a lot to do in a short time. We then did a considerable amount of set-up work and the lap times were looking good, but we went for a big change late in the day, and it turned out not to be quite the right direction. There wasn’t time to change back, and as a result, we were gradually bumped from fifth down to ninth as other people went quicker.

"It’s always nice to put in the fast times, but it’s also important to make sure we’re ready for Las Vegas. We’re definitely going in the right direction, and overall, I think we finished this two-day test with a positive result. We now know we’re good in the wet, but that there’s a little work still to be done in the dry. Speaking personally, I’m really enjoying working with this team, and now look forward to the next test."

Paul Stoddart, Co-owner, Minardi Team USA
“Despite the much improved conditions today, the strong winds caught quite a few drivers out this morning, including Robert, whose car sustained severe underbody damage after what looked like a fairly minor off-track excursion. Minardi Team USA personnel put in a sterling effort, working through their lunch hour to prepare the spare chassis, and had Robert back on track for the afternoon session. This meant he was then playing catch-up with drivers who had covered more laps, and an improvement of over 3.6 seconds between his best morning and afternoon times demonstrated a serious effort by both Robert and the team. Given a little more track time today, I’m quite sure he would have been among the three or four fastest drivers by the end of the session, as he was yesterday. In any event, we look forward to a further positive test, at Laguna Seca, in a few weeks."

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