Champ Car 2007: What’s going on?

The Champ Car World Series fires up this weekend but with only days to go there are still seats unfilled and top drivers without teams.

The whole series seems to be in upheaval. Not only has the old Lola chassis been dumped for the new Panoz DP01, but practically every team is undergoing major change.

Champion Sebastien Bourdais has stayed put, but his team has metamorphosed into Newman/Haas/Lanigan racing and young charger Graham Rahal has replaced Bruno Junqueira.

Last year’s championship challenger AJ Allmendinger has flounced out of Forsythe to become a NASCAR non-qualifier (OK, he has qualified once). Paul Tracy remains but what on earth must he have made of the return of Mario Dominguez, dropped by the team last year after twice shunting Tracy out at the start.

Despite talks with both ‘NHL’ and Forsythe, Justin Wilson stayed put at RuSport, who then merged with Rocketsports to form a new team, RSports. His team mate is Alex Tagliani, who has moved over from Team Australia.

Take a deep breath because there’s a lot more to come.

Former F1 Minardi boss Paul Stoddart has moved in at CTE-HVM and renamed the team accordingly. He kept 2006 rookie ace Dan Calrke but let go 2006 debut race winner Nelson Phillipe go. In comes F1 refugee Robert Doornbos instead.

Phillipe was direct and honest about his chances of landing the kind of sponsorship deal that would keep him in Champ Car: “How can you find a sponsor who wants to put USD $2m into a series that hasn’t had a television profile for the last six years?”

Dale Coyne racing are yet to confirm their drivers. Junquiera and former PKV driver Katherine Legge are highly tipped.

PKV have an all-new line up in Neel Jani and Tristan Gommendy and Team Australia will pair 2006 driver Will Power with Champ Car Atlantic champion Simon Pagenaud.

Conquest Racing have their sights on New Zealand A1 Grand Prix racer Matt Halliday, who tested competitively for the team in the off-season.

In a few days time the music will stop and there’s going to be some top names left standing without seats. Phillipe along with Oriol Servia and Andrew Ranger look set to be left out in the cold.

Yet despite this influx of new drivers the series is still lacking one vital ingredient – an American driver. How is a predominantly American based series going to pull in race day crowds with no US talent?

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1 comment on Champ Car 2007: What’s going on?

  1. While there is reason to be concerned with a lot of the open questions in Champ Car, most of the ones asked in this entry don’t bother me. The reason why it doesn’t bother me is because I’ve seen this situation before in other American sports; this is not the end of the world.

    The pleasant thing is, aside from sponsorships (and there are a lot of near-blank liveries in IRL too), the biggest questions asked will be answered in less than a week as I write this.

    Champ Car has been on the brink of destruction since the schism, the only issue I take with the series is that because the teams use nearly identical equipment, it has little real-world meaning when I go shopping for a car.

    As for American talent, yes, I thought A.J. was impressive last year, and I’m disappointed that he’s going to Nascar instead of trying to replace Scott Speed in F1, but frankly, I like watching the cars run in the streets and actually have to turn the wheel in two directions. I don’t care what countries the drivers come from.

    Besides, Champ Car is moving farther and farther away from its Indianapolis roots every year, and that’s probably healthiest for it.

    A question I expect the folks that write this blog to be able to answer- What would it take for Champ Car to become a Formula 3, and would that be a healthy move for them?

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