Alex Yoong's personal account of his first Champ Car race in Monterrey. Where all the ingredients were there for a bad weekend but Yoong pulled through. From Alex Yoong in Washington DC - Mar 27, 2003: As far as weeks go, the last one was...
Alex Yoong's personal account of his first Champ Car race in Monterrey.
Where all the ingredients were there for a bad weekend but Yoong pulled through.
From Alex Yoong in Washington DC - Mar 27, 2003:
As far as weeks go, the last one was very interesting for me. It concluded with my 9th place finish in Monterrey, Mexico and it started exactly a week before when I got a call from my manager, Rick Gorne about the possibility of a drive in CART. On Sunday night Rick called saying that Dale Coyne might need a driver at the next race and asked if would I be interested. The opportunity included no testing and would require a long flight on short notice. The jet lag would be terrible because Mexico is 14 hours behind Malaysia.
At first glance this has all the makings of a recipe for a bad racing weekend. I had not been in a race car for 5 months and having a successful outing would be a tall order because I would be jumping cold into one of the quickest cars on the planet and I had never ever driven one before. But the desire to race again and strap into one of the turbo-charged champ cars sounded too good to pass up. It is a championship that is going places, with really good racing and a very professional setup. Also with the struggles we have had getting sponsors, I was fully aware that this might be my only opportunity to show what I could do. So with this in mind I told Rick that I would be on a flight as soon as possible.
I arrived in Mexico Wednesday afternoon after a journey that took 40 hours. Luckily I had two day's until Friday and so by the time practice started, most of my jet lag was gone. We then made a quick seat for me on Thursday and I went out Friday morning for the first time in a Champ Car. My initial impressions were not good. The track was so slippery that I was getting wheel spin in every gear, with the back of the car stepping out everywhere. I thought to myself I hope it's the track causing this because If it's not, then this is an evil handling car. Due to the low grip and the fact that these cars have a lot less down force than a F1 car, it felt more like an out of control rocket than a racing car.
With some relief the grip levels came up as more rubber was laid down and the car started to behave in a way I was more accustomed to. I planned to take thing easy on the first day and just get as much time in the car as possible and worry about lap times the next day. Well things went to plan with only a small spin in the last session of the day and I was really starting to enjoy driving the car. Champ Cars have a lot more mechanical grip and less aerodynamic grip than compared to F1 which means you slide around quite a bit more, which is fun, not to mention entertaining for the spectators. I discovered that to get a quick time out of the car you really had to be physical. Champ Cars weigh about 200kg more than a F1 car so it pays to be forceful to get a quick lap time. That means using the curbs, the grass and generally chucking it about.
On Saturday I was pushing a bit more and by the end of the day we had qualified 17th. I was quite satisfied with that because there were a lot of new people in the team with not much present CART experience and we had struggled to get the car right. Also I was fully aware that I did not have the experience with these cars to know what to change to make it better. So in the end as soon as we had a decent balance with the car, I said let's just leave it the way it is and I'll just work on getting the most out of it. I was also pleased because I was a second quicker than my team mate.
It was kind of surreal on Sunday as here I was about to start in my first CART race when I had never even been to a CART event before. Not to mention the fact that a week ago I was prepared to accept that I would be at home watching the F1 race in Malaysia, not racing in Mexico. Having said that I had always prepared myself mentally and physically just in case this exact scenario came up. In racing you don't get many breaks, so when they do come about, you'd better be ready to grab it with both hands.
It was an interesting first race for me. To begin with on the first parade lap my seat belts came undone. They were new and had not been clipped in properly. So I had to pit to get them done up again. This left me in last place for the start. I had a good first lap though and managed to overtake two cars. After the first few laps, things gradually settled down, leaving me to concentrate on getting into the groove. It was all pretty uneventful for me, up until my first pit stop. As I came into the pits I got on to the dirty stuff off-line and got it all crossed up. Did a little 360 degree spin, and touched the wall with my rear wing. Fortunately I did not lose much time and the wing was fine. Yellows came out right after that so I did not lose many places either. Soon after going green again, Oriol Servia tried to come down the inside of me at the hairpin and we had contact. At this point I was really beginning to appreciate how strong Champ Cars really are. I got a better drive out of the corner though and made it back pass him again. Things soon calmed down, as Servia dropped away after our little touch and I could concentrate on doing some good lap times.
The race day was beautiful with the sun shining down on a clear day. Great for the spectators, not so good when you are racing in a fire suit with no drink bottle in the car. The team passes a drink bottle over the wall during the pit stops but I had not taken a drink at my first stop and so was really dying for some liquid by the second stop. I was pretty dehydrated after the race and in the closing stages of the race we started to pick up a small misfire. I backed things off at that point and just concentrated on finishing the race.
To say I was pleased with how it all turned out would be an under statement. We had taken a big risk to do this race without any testing. The team and I were both happy with how it all worked out and 4 points was a good result. Now hopefully I'll be in the car for the next race at Long Beach. I'm looking forward to it especially as there will be a bit of time to update the car to 2003 specifications.
Alex Yoong - Mar 27, 2003