Friday 1st December, 2006 -- American racer Carl Skerlong kicked off preparations for his rookie season in the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda yesterday, 30th November, with his first test run for US...
Friday 1st December, 2006 -- American racer Carl Skerlong kicked off preparations for his rookie season in the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda yesterday, 30th November, with his first test run for US RaceTronics at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, California.
The 18-year-old Washington-native sampled the Mazda-Cosworth powered Swift 016.a chassis for the first time Thursday and was straight down to business setting competitive lap times ahead of his series debut in Round 1 in Las Vegas next April. Comfortably stepping up from the 200bhp Formula Renault entry he raced in 2006 to win the Formula TR Pro Series 2000 Championship, scoring new fewer than 16 wins from 19 starts, Skerlong reported no issues in graduating up to the 300bhp Atlantic open-wheel challenger.
With testing continuing today, Carl took time out to preview his move to the Champ Car Atlantic Championship and reflect on his European open-wheel racing debut last month, where he claimed eighth overall in the fiercely competitive four-round Formula Renault UK Winter Series, competing with Fortec Motorsport.
Q: How did your move to the Champ Car Atlantic Championship come about and what excites you about the program put in place by US RaceTronics for the 2007 season?
Carl Skerlong (CS): "Having won the Formula TR 1600 Championship last year then winning the 2000 Championship this year we knew we wanted to progress further up the ladder. I had a great time competing in Europe and with that going as well as it did I knew a decision would have to be made about which direction to progress. Europe's definitely a dream of mine but at this stage it made more sense to remain in North America but at a higher level and that's what led me to the Champ Car Atlantic Championship.
"From what I've seen of US RaceTronics they've got a great program together and that was echoed in yesterday's first test where everything went better than expected. I couldn't really have asked for more from a first outing working with a new team and new engineer. I've also got a great team-mate in David Garza, who happens to be a good friend of mine which makes the situation here even better. I'm excited for the season ahead."
Q: You raced in both the Formula TR Pro Series and Star Mazda Series in 2006 -- how do they rate as training grounds for the demands of competing in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship?
CS: "From a driving point of view, as well as value for money, I think the Formula TR Pro Series offered the best starting point. My time there was an unbelievable experience. The cars there offer a decent amount of horsepower and grip so you get to learn a lot about car control, handling and also the engineering side of the business."
"When you're running with a small team it's definitely easier to get more involved in things like the engineering of the car and I think that experience really helped me improve my understanding of things like balance and set-up. The Star Mazda Series had a huge field so I learned a lot about how to race my way through traffic, how I can use traffic to my advantage and so on. I think everything I've learned from both series will really play into my results next season in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship."
Q: Personally what preparations are you making to step up to the series in 2007?
CS: "I have to give a lot of credit, as far as my new fitness regime is concerned, to my recent experience over in the United Kingdom. I was able to work out with accomplished drivers like Sean McIntosh and Adam Carroll, both guys really helping me to look at my training both on and off the track. Since then I've been on a far stricter fitness program while looking more closely at things like nutrition and diet. I've got to make the most of the year ahead and that includes a lot of work away from the race track."
Q: Did you follow much of this year's Atlantic action and what impressed you the most about the championship?
CS: "I followed most of the series and the thing that really struck me was the professionalism of all the teams and drivers. The competition is unparalleled by anything else in the United States, this is where the quick guys come to prove themselves. I've raced against quite a few of the guys who competed this season and can't wait to step up next year and sample the series for myself."
Q: As a young American driver, how important do you feel it is to showcase your talents competing as part of the Champ Car World Series' support package?
CS: "Champ Car is primarily a US-based series but unfortunately there are very few American racers. I think I can benefit from that in as much as it's a lot like having a race in your hometown, I can use my time in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship to showcase what young American open-wheel racers can achieve and build on that reputation."
Q: Which tracks are you most looking forward to racing on in 2007 and are there any you've been to before?
CS: "I've raced at Portland several times but I'm most looking forward to racing in Las Vegas and Long Beach. They look like great street courses and they're fun places to visit for anyone coming to watch the races!"
Q: You recently sampled European open-wheel racing as you competed in the Formula Renault UK Winter Series -- what made you want to test the waters over there?
CS: "As with the Champ Car Atlantic Championship, the competition level in Europe is above and beyond most other experiences. My dream has always been to compete in Formula One and if you want to get there then Europe's the place you need to be. I wanted to experience the competition for myself and I'd love to go back in the future but for now I'm processing everything I learned from my trip and looking to apply it to the season ahead."
Q: With options to remain in Europe following the success of your visit, was it a tough call to remain in North America for 2007, what was the defining factor for continuing to build your career on this side of the Atlantic?
CS: "It was a tough call but fortunately I think I'm still at a level that after Atlantic, if it was still possible, I could make the move back over there to another series. That said, I'm totally focused on the 2007 season with US RaceTronics and the package they put together was what really helped seal the deal. We've already proved we're competitive, a fact also reflected in the team's previous results, and I think we can work well together to achieve our goals."
Q: Given the depth of talent witnessed in the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic Championship, how do you see yourself measuring up against the competition next season and what are your expectations for your rookie year?
CS: "Like I said earlier, I followed Atlantics this year and I know just how close it is at this level. I don't think one guy's going to be capable of walking away with the championship. With regards to my own expectations 'Rookie of the Year' is definitely something I'm going to strive for! Obviously the championship is something everyone wants to achieve but whether that's realistic or not I guess we'll find out in time. Based on my first tests with US RaceTronics I definitely think we'll be a competitor."