LONG BEACH, California (April 18, 2008) - Despite some set backs for the Rocketsports team during the first day in Long Beach, California preparing for Sunday's 34th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the team and its drivers are feeling that things are coming together for a more positive rest of the race weekend.
This morning marked the first time for Antonio Pizzonia to drive the #9 Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone Champ Car. He previously drove for the team in 2006, back when the Champ Car series was running the Lola chassis. The Brazilian seemed to adjust rather well, as he finished the session 8th quickest, posting a time of 1:09.228. He logged his fastest time of the morning on his 22nd lap out of 28 laps run during the one hour and ten minute practice session.
The first round of qualifying did not finish on a good note for Pizzonia. On his 12th and final lap of the afternoon, Pizzonia lost grip in the rear as he headed into Turn 1, which caused the back end to spin around on him and make contact with the wall. There was damage done to the rear suspension and the rear wing, but nothing that the Rocketsports crew couldn't repair this evening in order for the car to be back on track tomorrow morning. The fastest time he record in the afternoon was a time of 1:08.658 on lap 11, which had him 13th on the preliminary grid.
Juho Annala had two days testing at MSR Houston last week to prepare for his Champ Car and Long Beach debut, but this was the first time he ran on track with competition. The driver from Finland appeared to adapt rather well, managing mid-pack times before a fire with the #10 Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone Champ Car ignited in the pit lane ending his session early.
The car was ready to get back on track in the afternoon, allowing Annala to maximize his track time in his second outing of the day. Annala was only able to run 17 laps in the morning, but was able to complete an additional 19 during the afternoon practice and qualifying session. He, just like teammate Pizzonia, ran both stints on the Bridgestone Black Potenza tires, saving the softer Bridgestone Potenza Reds for tomorrow. Running a total of 14 qualifying laps, he posted a time of 1:11.285 (99.415 mph) on his 12th orbit which put him 19th overall after the first round of qualifying.
There will be a one hour and ten minute practice session in the morning, followed by final qualifying at 2:00 p.m. locally. The Grand Prix of Long Beach will take the green flag on Sunday, April 20 at 1:00 PDT and with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. EST. Live video stream from this weekend can be viewed on indycar.com.
Antonio Pizzonia #9 Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone
"I am getting used to the #9 Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone Champ Car, but I am still not 100% comfortable. We continue to make changes to the car now that I have a little more seat time, so we are improving. We knew going into today that it was going to take a little time to really get to where we wanted to be. It is a shame that I had to end the afternoon session in the wall, I just lost rear grip at the turn-in point of Turn 1 and it caused me to spin and make contact. But I feel that we were able to take good advantage of all the time out on the track today, which will definitely help us improve for tomorrow. I think we are on the right track and expect better results for the final round of qualifying tomorrow afternoon."
Juho Annala #10 Pulp Management Agency/Rocketsports
"The #10 Pulp Management Agency/Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone Champ Car is even more comfortable for me and it is still a lot of fun to drive. This track is a lot of fun, but at the same time there are just so many new things to learn and it is a challenging circuit. It was unfortunate that we were only able to get about 10 good laps of practice in this morning, so I lost quite a bit of running time today. I think that we are getting there slowly as the plan wasn't for me to try and run for the pole today. We are taking it one step at a time as there is still a lot for me to learn with the car and track. But I think with a few more laps and some set up changes with the car, it will all come together, and we will have an even stronger day tomorrow."