CHAMPCAR/CART: Road America: Rocketsports Racing Friday report

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (August 6, 2004) -- Rocketsports drivers, Alex Tagliani and Guy Smith had a challenging first day of qualifying for the Grand Prix of Road America Presented by the Chicago Tribune. In the No. 17 Rocketsports Lola, Smith made his...

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (August 6, 2004) -- Rocketsports drivers, Alex Tagliani and Guy Smith had a challenging first day of qualifying for the Grand Prix of Road America Presented by the Chicago Tribune. In the No. 17 Rocketsports Lola, Smith made his first-ever Champ Car qualifying effort and finished 16th. Meanwhile, Tagliani, who claims two consecutive podium finishes at Road America, could not qualify the No. 8 Johnson Controls Lola, which was being repaired from damage done in the morning practice session.

Tagliani made contact with wall and tire barrier in the last five minutes of the morning practice session, damaging the No. 8 Johnson Controls Lola. The Rocketsports crew worked feverishly to repair and rebuild the rear end and body work on the Lola. While an extra half hour would have put Tagliani in the qualifying session, team manager, Phil Howard and Tagliani gave kudos to the team, which worked non-stop for the two and half hours between sessions.

Disappointed with the turn of events that excluded him from the qualifying session, Tagliani focused on the positive, saying, "I had a good car in practice -- easily a top-four car," but added, "I feel bad that we didn't get to qualify this afternoon. It was my mistake. I put a wheel off the track in Turn Seven, spun and damaged the car when I went into the tire-wall.

"The Johnson Controls crew worked straight through from, Practice to Qualifying, to rebuild the car, and I feel badly for doubling their work load. We were about 20 minutes short to make the qualifying session today, but we'll be out there and ready with a good set-up tomorrow. I plan to push hard tomorrow in my only opportunity to qualify and make it count," vowed Tagliani.

In his first Champ Car qualifying effort, Guy Smith in the No. 17 Rocketsports Lola, qualified 16th with a time of 1:47.948 (134.998 mph, 217.258 km/h). Smith, the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours winner, has so far made a smooth transition from sportscars to Champ Car and anticipates good results.

"My plan is to keep moving forward, keep learning and keep improving my times with each session," said Smith. "I need to get more laps under my belt and make moderate changes to the car as we progress. There's a lot of excitement on this first weekend with the Rocketsports team and in a Champ Car. I really have few memories to draw from in my experience testing in a Champ Car, and things have changed tremendously over the years. I've been driving all that time and have lots of comparisons and skills to draw from.

"The Cosworth-powered car is as fast as I thought it would be -- much faster than a sportscar," noted Smith. "One of the most impressive things about Champ Cars is the power and the amount of torque coming from the Ford-Cosworth engines. They (Cosworth engines) just keep pulling and pulling. The sound of the engine revving at 12000 RPMs as you're driving is amazing. And you need this strength in this series, where the competition is so close and intense. Each driver needs to keep pushing to keep up with the field and challenge each other.

"The Rocketsports team has been very good. There's a steep learning curve coming from sportscars and the team has made it an easy transition," added Smith. "It's a great benefit to work with Robin Hill. He has worked with many drivers and rookies, and knows how to get the best out of a driver. He's ideal to have on the radio in a session and I'm learning a great deal from him.

"The Bridgestone Potenza tires are remarkably consistent. Within one lap they are up to temperature and prime by the fifth or sixth lap, until about 20 laps -- which is a great distance here at Road America, where one lap is four miles. The tires are quick and a great indicator of the overall balance of the car. The Bridgestone tires stand-up to the demands of the Road America circuit, particularly the Carousel and Kink, which put a lot of load on the tires. The corners cause high G-force and strain, but the tires respond with effective grip each time. Road America is a dream to drive and a challenge for my first weekend. Nothing compares to it -- it's gorgeous," concluded Smith.

The Champ Car duo will return to the Wisconsin circuit on Saturday at 2:00 PM (CT) for their final attempt, and look for better results in the second qualifying session for Round Eight of the Champ Car World Series. The Rocketsports drivers invite race fans and biking enthusiasts to participate in the Tour de Road America with them on Saturday evening. Tagliani, Smith, Drissi and Kendall will step away from motor vehicles to hop onto Trek bicycles for five laps around the four-mile track, in support of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and make a difference in the cancer survivorship community. For information on the Tour de Road America, visit www.tour-de-ra.org.

-rsr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Guy Smith
Teams HART