Sunday, February 11, 2007

Champ Cars Damage Control

Ah, the joys of confUZers! As Blogger.com seems to have been suffering bouts of ADD recently…

Naturally after penning Open Wheel moving further Apart? Which questioned Champ Cars current chassis count, Champ Car decided to publish a press release on January 9th, just prior to the Sebring test. The release stated that 25 Panoz Dp-01’s had already been ordered for the upcoming season…

Yet while the yearly soap opera ““As the Daze’s ‘O Champ Cars Turns” continues playing on the small screen, Champ Car president Steve Johnson claimed that all is well in the Champ Car World Series and that car count will be up for the 2007 season with many driver announcements to follow shortly…

Here’s what the sorid 2007 Champ Car grid looks like after testing at Sebring this past January…

1. Newman/Haas
Reigning champion Sebastian Bourdais will return in attempts to become the first 4 time consecutive Champion, while Rookie sensation Graham Rahal will be his teammate. And with both drivers participating in the 3 day test it’s clear that Bruno “Whiny bags” Junqueira will not be returning to Newman/Haas in 2007…

2. RuSPORT
I assume the team’s name will remain unchanged now that Dan Petitt is the new team owner. Justin Wilson and sponsor CDW were confirmed just prior to the test’s kick-off, while Ryan Briscoe signed with Roger Penske to drive a Porsche Spyder…

Mario Dominguez tested in Sebring in the team’s second entry, yet Dominguez has nothing further lined up with the team, as the seat remains unoccupied. Once again it’s down to whom can bring the necessary dinero with a quartet of drivers in the running…

3. Forsythe
This “Big Team” seems wrought with question marks, as Gerry Forsythe seems to be getting advice from Gerhard Berger? While “Sand Dune” Tracy is assured of a drive, the team’s second seat is currently empty…
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It’s hard to fathom that one of Champ Cars winning drives will be left vacant, especially with the surplus of drivers currently available. Yet it appears that the Forsythe “sweepstakes” will become a bidding war between Jos “The BOSS” Verstappen and Red Bull’s Robert Doornbos who’s flush with cash…

I’d give the nod to Doornbos, although I think the better bet would be Team Minardi USA since Forsythe’s top engineer Scott Cannon has moved there after being let go. Cannon led AJ Almendinger to 5 victories last year…

4. Team Minardi USA
This team is a bit of a wildcard now that ex-Formula 1 boss Paul Stoddart has bought into last year’s CTE/HVM race team. Although Nelson Philippe just completed a seat fitting prior to Sebring, there was speculation that he’d possibly jump to the empty Forsythe chair. Yet Philippe’s best options appear to stay put or jump to RuSPORT...

“Speedy” Dan Clarke would like to retain his drive with the team, although there had been whispers of Katherine Legge’s name as a possible candidate, this now seems unlikely…

Although Doornbos tested for the squad at Sebring, I still expect that Verstappen will join the team for a 3 car effort…

5. Team Australia
Look for Will Power to continue with the squad with Reigning Champ Car Atlantics Champion Simon Pagenaud most likely bringing his $2 million paycheck with him to replace ex-team leader Alex Tagliani, Pagenaud tested with the team at Sebring…

6. Rocketsports
Will Mario Dominguez retain his seat at the floundering race team? And Tagliani seems destined to rejoin the very team that dumped him in favor of Timo Glock’s Deutschmarks as he was the sole driver testing at Sebring…

And with one seat available, will Junqueira join the fray, or will this seat also go to the highest bidder?

7. Mi-Jack
Unfortunately last year Andrew Ranger’s on-track performances were overshadowed by Rick Benjamin’s sponsor endorsements, along with Rookie driver Charles Zwolsman showing brief flashes of brilliance…

Going into this year’s upcoming season both drivers appeared to be hard pressed towards retaining their seat’s since the team is struggling to obtain funding…

With Mi-Jack skipping the Sebring test there were rumours of team owner Eric Bachelart being forced to close his doors. Now word comes that Mi-Jack will only be fielding a single car entry for 2007, with the team’s previous driver duet looking for employment elsewhere…

So just who will be the team’s new driver? Could it be Reigning A1 GP Champion Alex Permit?

8. PKV
This team is once again being revamped upon announcing that it will
Become Red Bull’s American farm team…

And the poorly kept rumours suggesting that Scuderia Toro Rosso test driver Neil Jani would join PKV were confirmed prior to Sebring. Meanwhile relative unknown Clivio Piccione waits in the wings. Perhaps there are some delays with the necessary wire transfers?

Also making a strong case for remaining with the newly renamed Red Bull PKV was Oriol Servia who set the fastest overall test time…

And although there appears to be no room for Legge at PKV, with the massive personal investment that Kevin Kalkhoven has made in Legge it’s hard to believe she’ll be dropped from Champ Cars…

9. Dale Coyne
Once again “The little Team that could,” will have NO shortage of veteran Champ Car drivers knocking at its doors along with several aspiring young-guns to choose from. The question is who’ll be willing to drive for Coyne or bring the needed “dinero” to fill a seat…

While last year’s final line-up did a yeoman’s job, it’s hard to tell if Jan “Van Haggar” Heylen and Andreas Wirth will return?

And with Legge and Junqueira setting quick times aboard Coyne’s new Panoz’s, it appears that they may be hard pressed to retain their seats…

Meanwhile Coyne has quietly admitted that he already has a sponsor lined-up for one of his race cars…

10. Pacific Coast Motorsports
Making their Champ Car debut this season, PCM was one of the 3 teams with confirmed drivers prior to the upcoming 3 day Sebring test. The team will feature American Alex Figge and Scotland’s Ryan Dalziel…


With Champ Cars second open test at Houston set for Feb. 12-13, it’ll be interesting to see if Champ Car can alleviate any of the bleeding towards the swirling negative publicity over their faltering car count…

And unless Champ Car makes some really really really bold moves… It’s likely to have another “minimalist” car count for the upcoming season, which would be a far cry from the predicted increase of 22-24 chassis…

And I can tell you its pretty SAD to see only 17 cars taking the green flag while the lower series feature full grids of 10+ more cars…

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