SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS PACES OPENING DAY OF CHAMP CAR'S FINAL PRESEASON TEST SESSION AS SERIES PREPARES FOR SEASON OPENER FONTANA, Calif. (March 29, 2006) -- The day in Fontana, California was cold and breezy but the action on the track was hot...
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS PACES OPENING DAY OF CHAMP CAR'S FINAL PRESEASON TEST SESSION AS SERIES PREPARES FOR SEASON OPENER
FONTANA, Calif. (March 29, 2006) -- The day in Fontana, California was cold and breezy but the action on the track was hot and heavy as the teams and drivers of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford continued last-minute preparations for the April 9 season opener.
Thirteen of the 18 cars slated to see the green flag in next week's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach took advantage of the final preseason session of the year, running the first of two days of testing on the 1.459-mile California Speedway infield road course.
Two-time defending series champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) showed that he was more than ready to defend his title, posting the fastest lap of the day after stopping the clocks at 52.537 seconds. His best lap was just .003 seconds faster than the best effort of Mexico City winner Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), but was good enough to give the 2004 and '05 champion reason to be excited about next week's season lidlifter.
"Compared to last year, I feel much better," Bourdais said. "We have had good tests in Sebring and we ran well today. We have had good weather for our tests and that has allowed us to get a lot of work done. I feel very good with the progress we've made."
Wilson was neck-and-neck with the defending series champ after a day of running that got started two hours late due to overnight and early-morning rains.
"We had a good test plan that allowed us to evaluate a lot of changes that we hope will help us at Long Beach," said Wilson. "We've been working very hard on the overall quality of the team and I've been really impressed with the preparation as we head toward Long Beach."
The competition level in the 2006 version of the Champ Car World Series is expected to be higher than it has been in a number of seasons, and that was borne out in the faces of a number of drivers who had solid times -- just not as solid as they might have hoped.
RuSPORT's A.J. Allmendinger (#10 RuSPORT/Red Bull Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was fourth on the charts while four-time Long Beach winner Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was fifth, but being in the top five was of little comfort to two of the drivers that are expected to contend for the 2006 championship.
"We've generally been pretty quick here but today for some reason we've been lost," said Tracy. "It's a little frustrating. It doesn't feel like the same car I've been driving for the last three years. We're going to have to go over the data and see what changes we can make."
Allmendinger was equally concerned even though he was less than a half-second off of Bourdais' pace.
"It's good to get out here with everybody else and see where we are and Justin is giving us a lot of good information with his car, and it should help," he said. "We have got to start the season strong. We can not start like we did last year and have any chance to win the championship because you know one or both of the Newman/Haas guys are going to be on the podium, You can do that if you want to finish fourth or fifth, but you can not play catch-up in this series and expect to win a title. You have to be there every race and we are working very hard toward that goal."
The day also featured a number of drivers making their first test runs of the season, including new Dale Coyne signee Cristiano da Matta (#19 Dale Coyne Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Nicky Pastorelli (#11 Sonny's BBQ Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Last year's runner-up in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year chase Andrew Ranger (#27 Tide/Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) made his first preseason appearance as well after being named to the second Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing seat for Long Beach, and was pleased after showing up eighth on the speed sheets.
"It has been a long five months waiting to get back in the car but it felt really good today," Ranger said. "But I feel a lot better about things this year. Last year, it was tough to learn the car and the tracks, but I learned so much over the year and feel more confident. Now I feel I know what I need to fix the car and I think I can really help the team."