Will this duo be the new force to reckon with on the Champ Car World Series circuit for the 2008 racing season? Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing will make every attempt to earn their ninth series title in their 26th season with Champ Car. The team has had the driver/car combination that has secured the Vanderbilt Cup over the past four seasons. With their eye on the future, they have officially added Justin Wilson to their driver line-up.
Wilson, the personable sportsman, who last season won the Greg Moore Legacy Award, started his quest for the championship with Champ Car in 2004.
For the past two seasons Wilson has placed second in the championship. With the departure of Sebastien Bourdais to Formula One, Wilson has his eye on the championship. "I'm excited to be joining Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. It's the team I've competed against in Champ Car and they have shown year after year they're strong and very motivated ... so I'm very pleased and proud to be chosen."
Wilson had tested with Newman/Haas in October of 2002 and came to a crossroads when called to Formula One. "Being from the U.K., the draw for Formula One at that stage was still pretty high for myself, so I opted to go that route". Fortunately or unfortunately, Sebastian got the ride with Newman/Haas and became a four time champion, with Wilson consistently being a reflection in his (Bourdais's) mirrors.
Knowing that he has big shoes to fill, Wilson jokes "...but I have big feet! I am excited to have the opportunity to add to the results that Sebastien and other drivers before me have achieved for the team."
2007 rookie Graham Rahal, the youngest driver in series history to finish on the podium ended the season in fifth, is excited to be back with the team as well. Rahal showed a growth in confidence during the 2007 season as he encountered many challenges during his first year in a Champ Car. "Obviously, last season was quite a learning experience for me. Coming out of Atlantic and straight into the Champ Car ... it took quite a bit of time for me to get comfortable."
Rahal is looking forward to better results this season, with his self-confidence evident both in and out of the car as he was asked, "Do you think you'll be able to handle the fact that you'll now be the shortest driver on a Newman/Haas/Lanigan team?" He joked, "I'm pretty happy about that. Because I can't say that I've ever been the shortest driver in anything. Well, but I think also it kind of works to our advantage slightly because obviously being a taller driver set-ups vary quite a bit when you've got one guy that is 5'5" and another guy that's 6'2". So putting us in the same height range should make the set-ups more similar and hopefully give us a slight edge."
Wilson and Rahal had a tremendous opportunity to connect as teammates when they raced the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona this past weekend. There is a definite sense of solidarity amongst these teammates as their respect for one another is quite evident. Wilson confirms "...I definitely appreciate having somebody of Rahal's talent and maturity for such a young age. I think that's key to being fast in a race car. So I'm definitely looking forward to working with Rahal throughout the rest of the year."
Team owners Paul Newman, Carl Haas and Mike Lanigan are excited about their line-up for the 2008 season. "Graham ran well for us in his rookie season last year and shoed the potential to win races. Over the past three seasons, Justin has consistently been one of the strongest challengers for the championship and we are now looking forward to having him represent us and again being a contender for the title."
Winter is still apparent in many of our regions but the songs of race cars is growing ever closer as the pre-season testing begins this weekend at Sebring, Florida. This will be the first of three open tests which include Houston Texas and Monterey California. The start of the Champ Car season and the race for the championship will begin at Long Beach on April 20th.