Champ Car had a busy day in terms of series announcements but still somewhat quiet on the driver front. The series has named its official vehicle, Mazda, which isn't much of a surprise considering the manufacturer badges the Atlantic championship engines. Mazda replaces Ford, whose partnership with the series was terminated after it was decided the pace car program would be discontinued in favor of two-seater cars owned and operated by new team owner Paul Stoddart of Minardi Team USA.
The absence of the pace car program is short-lived as Mazda will reinstitute it using their performance line of vehicles. Meanwhile the company's trucks, SUVs and crossovers will feature in the series' traveling safety team.
"This is a natural extension to our existing involvement with Champ Car as we enter our second season as the engine supplier for the Cooper Tires Atlantic Series," said Robert Davis, Senior Vice President, Product Development and Quality for Mazda North American Operations, and the man responsible for Mazda's North American motorsports programs through its MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development arm. "We look forward to expanding our relationship with the Champ Car team, and this is a great way for us to support one of the best open-wheel racing series in the world."
Mazda will promote their involvement in the series by producing advertisements that will be broadcast both online and on TV coverage. Those heading the broadcast coverage on CBS, ABC and ESPN will be a number of holdovers from last season as Champ Car revealed their announce team.
Rick Benjamin returns for his 4th season as the host with longtime pit reporter Jon Beekhuis moving into the color commentary position. Beekhuis replaces Derek Daly, whose intriguing but sometimes off-kilter analysis sees the Irishman looking for other opportunities this year. Bill Stephens and Cameron Steele take on the pit reporting, Stephens for his first full season after many years on the NHRA scene while action junkie Steele returns for his sophomore year. Michelle Beisner is also on the crew to provide the lifestyle elements of the broadcast.
Champ Car's safety team has a new title sponsor, Holmatro Rescue Tools, which replaces outgoing backer Simple Green. Lon Bromley is the director of the safety team and will head up operations for the world-traveling crew.
JAG Flocomponents was also announced as the naming sponsor of the street course in Houston, now into its second year. The track will be officially known as JAGFLO Speedway at Reliant Park and is the second circuit with this sponsorship, besides Edmonton.
Official driver announcements were few and far between. Only Minardi and Conquest made any news, the former naming F1 Rejects cult hero Zsolt Baumgartner as "official test and reserve driver" while the latter announced yesterday Kiwi A1 driver Matt Halliday would be in their #34 Panoz DP01 for this upcoming test at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
With on-track action beginning tomorrow, the supposed mass flood of driver announcements should come then. It is widely assumed Graham Rahal will be at Newman/Haas, Alex Tagliani with Rocketsports, and Bruno Junqueira and Katherine Legge at Dale Coyne. The rest is simply a crapshoot.