The Players Playoff By Kristian Steenstrup, motorsport.com, Vancouver, ON - September 3 1999 - The team is calling it '..Taking part in private tests to contend for Greg Moore's spot'. But a lot of people might call it a 'Caged Grudge match' of...
The Players Playoff By Kristian Steenstrup, motorsport.com,
Vancouver, ON - September 3 1999 - The team is calling it '..Taking part in private tests to contend for Greg Moore's spot'. But a lot of people might call it a 'Caged Grudge match' of the type that Wrestling has become famous for. In a great piece of Canadian focused marketing the Players group is going to get the Canadian media attention on the events of late September. Said Mark Thorne, Marketing communications manager for Player's, '.. One of these three drivers will have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Jacques Villeneuve, Greg Moore and Patrick Carpentier. These are big shoes to fill, but first they need to get through the selection process that awaits in Sebring. Three men walk in, but only one drives out.
Canadian driver's Lee Bentham, Alexandre Tagliani and David Empringham will take part in the testing session to select Greg Moore's successor. All have enjoyed the considerable support of Players through their career thus far. Theoretically they could all put the car into the wall and none may be selected, but it is more likely that a close and difficult decision awaits Neil Micklewright, Vice-president of operations for the Player's Forsythe team. He will have the responsibility of consolidating the information from the tests and presenting the results to senior management. They will then draw a conclusion a couple of weeks after the completion of the tests.
The tests themselves are planned for Sebring in Florida where the team already has a wealth of data to assist with set up and comparisons. Three separate sessions will be held; September 16 and 17 for Taglianni, September 19 and 20 for Bentham and September 30 and October 1 for Empringham. "This isn't a contest to find out who does the fastest lap" stated Micklewright. Indeed there will be a composite of setup, engineering, pit stop performance, fuel and tire management and the whole gamut of what it means to be a driver in the late 20th century.
The drivers give an interesting contrast within the competition. The elder of the group is David Empringham for whom this is a career lifeline. He was Atlantic Champion in 1994 and 1995 then graduated to Indy Lights and became champion in his rookie year, 1996. His career became disjointed soon after and he has spent the last two years doing a lot of 'engineering focused work' and driver coaching at Stewart Racing. He feels this has provided him with a more analytical basis. "I am like a bull out of a gate" Empringham asserted. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime". And he probably knows that this will not come around for him again. There is a saying that the rabbit runs faster than the fox because the fox is running for his dinner, and the rabbit is running for his life. While Empringham probably wouldn't like the analogy he is indeed off and running. He has stepped up his fitness regime and aims to be in absolute peak condition for the tests. David is the wily veteran, with a lot of time to have thought about this major chance to rejoin the racing mainstream.
Alexandre Tagliani from Quebec is having a strong year and this will hold him on good stead. He has won at Long Beach and Montreal this year and is in top form. He has momentum with him and knows that not taking the next step when it comes can sometimes spell disaster to a driver's reputation. But he is hungry for success and will rise to the challenge. The charismatic Tagliani will fight hard for this to go his way.
Lee Bentham had his best year in 1998 and has been outshone by his teammate Tagliani this year. He won at Montreal and Mid-Ohio last year and at Milwaukee this year. The telegenic Bentham says, "this is a dream come true. We have all been working our careers to here". He genuinely looks forward to the challenge of the competition. "At least this is all in the open" and considers the level playing field the best chance he will get at this sort of career opportunity.
All three have had some ChampCar laps in the past and arguably start at a reasonably level footing. Although Empringham has had little recent seat time he feels that the knowledge and fitness will help his cause. So in September it is gloves off, and into the battle. One man comes out and the victor will certainly be Canadian racing and Players reputation as a nurturer of Canadian talent.