There can only be one winner at each race and tracks worldwide are littered with the tales of those who could have, perhaps should have gotten to Victory Lane but never did. Certainly, circumstances play hard in this equation, but to place...
There can only be one winner at each race and tracks worldwide are littered with the tales of those who could have, perhaps should have gotten to Victory Lane but never did. Certainly, circumstances play hard in this equation, but to place oneself in position for a win is the surefire way to make it to the top step of a podium.
Oriol Servia used to be part of the category of those who came close, but his luck changed last weekend during the Champ Car World Series' fourth annual Molson Indy Montreal on the 2.709-mile permanent road course at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Servia became the fourth different Molson Indy Montreal winner and gave Newman/Haas Racing a second straight victory as Bruno Junqueira won the event in 2004 and Servia finished ninth. The Spaniard was second in the 2003 race, unable to move past Michel Jourdain Jr.
Driving in relief of Junqueira after the Brazilian was injured during this year's Indianapolis 500, Servia has shown any remaining doubters that he has the ability - given proper equipment - to secure fine finishes.
Joining Newman/Haas Racing at The Milwaukee Mile in June and finishing third in his NHR debut, Servia has compiled exceptional results, including five podiums in his last six contests.
The 31-year-old Spaniard from Pals, Catalonia won the 1999 Dayton Indy Lights title on the strength of five runner-up results and three pole positions, but no victories. "I was in position so many times but circumstances denied me," Servia admitted. It's been the same ever since as he moved up to the more powerful and difficult Champ cars in 2000.
In his first Champ Car season Servia drove for PPI Motorsports as teammate to Cristiano da Matta, scoring championship points in 11 of 20 contests and securing his first podium at Detroit. That kind of consistency got Servia a ride with the start-up Sigma Autosport team for 2001 and Servia responded by finishing second in laps completed and third in miles completed.
Sigma had difficulty maintaining the pace so Servia moved to Patrick Racing, replacing Townsend Bell for the final ten races of 2002. After a five-race trial, the Catalonian's abilities so impressed owner U.E. "Pat" Patrick and general manager Jim McGee that they kept him on for the balance of the season. His best results in that span were on a pair of oval tracks, as Servia finished fourth at Rockingham and fifth in Fontana.
Patrick Racing kept Servia in the fold for 2003 and he scored a personal best in Champ Car by taking seventh in the championship. When Patrick declined to return to the series in 2004, Servia moved to Dale Coyne Racing and helped that team to its best results in a 19-year span. In fact, Servia scored Coyne's first podium result since 1996 when he came third at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Without a contract in hand, Servia began the 2005 campaign with Coyne and looked to continue with him as the Chicago-area squad began to update its personnel and equipment to handle the skills of their lead driver.
Yet when Junqueira was injured and Servia got the call to take over for his good friend and Miami area cycling partner, Servia just had to take advantage of the opportunity to pilot the #2 PacifiCare Lola/Ford- Cosworth/Bridgestone entry and work with this exceptional team.
As in his entire American career, Servia's hiring paid immediate dividends to Carl Haas and Paul Newman, co-owners of Newman/Haas Racing. Stepping into a superlative ride, Servia knew this was his best opportunity to win, place or show, and he began in fine style by earning a podium his first time out on the tricky, flat Milwaukee oval.
He hasn't looked back from there with, again, consistent results. Last weekend's victory - while it might have been a long time coming - was certainly in the cards.
"It was absolutely great and I am so overwhelmed. So much people call me and congratulate me on this win. Now that I did it once," Servia exulted, "I want it again. We made the network news in Spain and that was tremendous."
Servia nearly ended up a bridesmaid again on Sunday as he was balked when attempting to pass then-leader Timo Glock, who heads Roshfrans Rookie of the Year standings. The German ex-Formula 1 driver tried everything he knew and then some to keep his pursuer at bay and was warned once that his blocking attempts would come to naught.
After ignoring that initial warning, Glock was told he had to give way and subsequently let Servia through. He finished a second behind the eventual winner, but neither Servia, Glock nor the latter's volatile team owner Paul Gentilozzi thought the win was a "gimme".
"I tried to line up Timo so many times but he was determined," Servia recounted. "I knew my first win would not be easy but I was not handed this victory," he declared. "The yellow flag put things out of order (at the two-thirds distance) and made it interesting. The officials got involved and waited for Timo's second blocking attempt to move. The officials were circumspect" in their decision, Servia said.
Race director Tony Cotman made the call: "Car #2 had tried passing #8 six laps prior to the incident in turn 15," Cotman stated. "Car #8 shortcut the course to maintain the lead and his team was warned. On the second incident, car #2 was alongside - if not in front - when car #8 shortcut the course to maintain the lead again. As the team had been warned, positions were reversed. It was a quick judgment that was made concerning the two drivers who were [each] looking for their first wins. It was a difficult decision," Cotman reminded, "but it was the correct decision."
Servia seems to thrive on racing by momentum. It's becoming a pattern in his practice, qualifying and racing endeavors to start slowly and build to a crescendo. That's exactly what he did this weekend in Montreal, as he took outside front row slot in the waning minutes of final qualifying and secured his first Champ Car win on the final lap of the 79-tour contest.
He now holds second place in the chase for Champ Car's Vanderbilt Cup, 61 ducats behind teammate Sebastien Bourdais. "I haven't had a teammate like him for a full season and Sebastien is the best on the planet," Servia revealed. "We have a very good relationship and work very well together. With our background we both know you need to work together to win and we make sure the balance of the team is behind us.
"Newman/Haas always has good drivers," so Servia's next challenge is to beat Bourdais in qualifying. "At Montreal I ran out of fuel and couldn't beat Sebastien. It's a huge challenge for me and I've been very close. I would like to beat him but he's always P1," the effervescent Servia laughed. "I'm getting closer, working better with my engineer Rocky and, if everything's right for sure I'm up to the challenge."
Junqueira has been cleared to drive and will be back in his familiar #2 car for the season finale at Mexico City. What's to become of Servia at that point? He doesn't know but believes good results in the next three races and a high standing in the championship chase could net the Miami resident work in a third NHR car for the grand finale.
"I'm just very happy to be part of this team and we'll get that answer when we go to Mexico City," he shrugged. The next Champ Car contest on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval comes at the end of September on a circuit where Servia led four laps in the series' first visit last year after starting 18th without a qualifying attempt. "Las Vegas is good for our series and we put on a great show last year. This time I hope we do the same."
In the meantime, Servia and his NHR squad have a test lined up in preparation for the final four contests of 2005 and he's taking pride in his first victory since 1997, feet nowhere near terra firma.
As his ascension to the ranks of Winners was celebrated late Sunday night before the Miami contingent headed home, Servia was already thinking about his next win. Now that he's got one Champ Car victory under his belt, can win #2 be far behind?