HVM AND MINARDI CONCLUDE FIRST ROUND OF QUALIFYING AT LONG BEACH
Long Beach, CA (April 19, 2008) -- The 34th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is under way and the three HVM Racing and Minardi drivers, EJ Viso, Nelson Philippe, and Roberto Moreno, have now completed the first day of practice and qualifying for the Champ Car World Series finale. EJ is currently 10th on the grid, and Roberto 11th. Unfortunately, Nelson's DP01 suffered from a gearbox issue, which prevented him from participating in the first of two rounds of qualifications. He is currently classified 20th.
All three drivers spent the day reacquainting themselves with their Champ Cars. EJ last drove the DP01 in the open test at Sebring in early February, while Nelson had not been in the car since last November and Roberto since April of last year. It was also a case of re-acclimating to the track for Nelson and Roberto, and learning it from scratch for EJ, who is competing in his first Long Beach race. After this morning's practice session, the crew made some changes in preparation for qualifying and lap times improved significantly. For all three drivers, confidence is up, as they believe there is a solid opportunity to build on today's performance in Saturday's final qualifying session.
Nelson can be seen wearing a new driver's suit this weekend, paying homage to the Series that gave him his start in top-level open-wheel racing. He was the youngest driver ever to start a Champ Car race -at this event, in 2004 - and by a twist of fate, this year's event will also be the scene of his last Champ Car race, just four short years later. Fittingly, his driver's suit is therefore emblazoned with the Champ Car logos since 1994, and inscribed on the back, "Thank you Champ Car staff and fans". Nelson will go down in the history books as not only the youngest driver to start a Champ Car race, but also the youngest to win a Champ Car race, at Surfers Paradise in 2006, for the same team he is running with this weekend.
"Well, in qualifying we had a few issues, and we couldn't use both of our sets of tires. We are starting to work in the right direction, and I'm sure for tomorrow's qualifying session we are going to be quicker. We just need to work a little harder. However, it is great to be here in Long Beach for this historic race, and I'm proud to be a part of Champ Car's finale."
"I'm extremely happy with this opportunity to drive here, and extremely happy with the package the team put together for me in a very short time. I'm also extremely happy with my performance today. I thought today would be spent with me getting used to the car again and although I have put a lot miles in with this car, I haven't done any set-up work. I had to get used to the speed again and I made a few mistakes, but I impressed myself today. After a few years out of the seat we got up to speed quickly, which had a lot to do with the car the team gave me. We have a little bit more work to do getting the car balanced but I think we'll be okay."
"It's great to be back in Champ Car, and great to be back at Long Beach for this last race. It's a great atmosphere and I'm really looking forward to the race. On the other hand, I'm pretty gutted we couldn't go out this afternoon. We had a problem with the gearbox that didn't allow us to go out, which is unfortunate because I think we had a good car. This morning the car wasn't great, but we made some big changes for qualifying. EJ and Roberto are 10th and 11th and I was quicker than them this morning, so I am pretty confident that we could have been closer to the top five this afternoon. I'm disappointed, but it's a new day tomorrow."
Keith Wiggins, Team Owner:
"Well, we have gone from one IRL car two weeks ago in St. Pete to three Champ Cars here, and then go back to one IRL car next week at Kansas. We certainly keep it interesting. The cars were running well this morning, but qualifying wasn't as good as we would like. We had a problem with Nelson's car, so hopefully tomorrow we'll get all three of them in the top ten."