CHAMPCAR/CART: Servia in racing heaven here on Earth

Oriol Servia barely had to think once, much less twice when he got the call from Carl Haas, co-owner of Newman/Haas Racing. With good friend Bruno Junqueira lying in a bed at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis and the seat of his ...

Oriol Servia barely had to think once, much less twice when he got the call from Carl Haas, co-owner of Newman/Haas Racing.

With good friend Bruno Junqueira lying in a bed at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis and the seat of his #2 PacifiCare Lola/Ford-Cosworth/Bridgestone Champ Car available for the next race at the Milwaukee Mile, Servia jumped right in.

Servia's willingness was rewarded that weekend with a sixth place start in the Time Warner Cable Road Runner 225 and when Servia worked his way to a third place finish, team owners Haas and Paul Newman had to think twice themselves about looking farther for a replacement driver.

Junqueira is expected to be out of action for more than a month - although he is progressing well in rehabilitation after a four-hour operation to stabilize his lower back - leaving NHR with the need for a driver who knew the cars, the series, the tracks yet to come in a 14-race season that hits the meat of its schedule within the next month.

Oriol Servia was the obvious choice and Newman/Haas Racing accepted that. They declared, last Friday that the Catalan would step in until Junqueira was properly healed from his Indianapolis 500 injuries.

"I've been in the series for a while working really hard to get an opportunity to go on a good car," Servia acknowledged. "When it happened, for sure I had no doubt I had to take it." At that point it was a one-race deal but Servia's performance but the schneid on choosing anyone else.

"I knew it was risky because anything can happen [on an oval]. You can be involved in a crash - your fault or not your fault - and the weekend's over, so the season could have turned in a very different way."

Relishing the chance to work with a team that campaigns current Champ Car titleholder Sebastien Bourdais, Servia knew "it was the thing to do. So right now I couldn't be happier; I have the opportunity I've been looking for a long time and I am really getting prepared and ready for the upcoming challenges. Portland will be the first one."

Following Milwaukee, Servia moved to sixth in the season-long chase for the Vanderbilt Cup and goes into this weekend's G.I. Joe's Presents the Champ Car Portland Grand Prix on the reconfigured 1.969-mile Portland International Raceway.

"Portland is a very easy track to overdrive the car. You can get easily too excited and instead of gaining time you lose time trying a little too hard," he explained. Racing for NHR the first time on this permanent road course, "I can see myself wanting to do a little too much and that's not the track where you want to do it. So I'm trying to really attack the weekend in a right way, a cool way and just do the best job I can out there every time."

There is a lot more pressure to perform on this team than there has been in his former position with Dale Coyne Racing, Servia admitted. "Obviously you have more pressure than when you are on the smallest team out there. But that's the reason why they are leading; they just do everything a little bit better or a lot better than everybody else."

Based in Lincolnshire, Illinois, Newman/Haas Racing has many team members who have been with them well over 20 years, which makes it easier for Servia to step in. "Everything is just a lot better prepared, from the setup to the strategy to the race to the car itself to the cockpit, the communication with the team and engineers.

"Everyone's put a lot of thought into everything, so it's just an easier process for everybody. Of course there's more pressure, but it's just such a pleasure to be in that environment and I'm just really enjoying it so far," Oriol smiled.

He's not setting any championship goals at this point because Servia really doesn't know how long he'll be in the #2 car. "They say it could be between four and six months before Bruno is ready to return, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's sooner than that because I've seen many sportsmen, especially in good shape like Bruno recover a lot faster than anybody expected."

Servia has been pleasantly surprised by the attitude of upper brass at NHR since he arrived. "I'm Oriol Servia and I'm nobody compared to Newman/Haas and all the people that have been there forever with all the success they've had. But they really give you the greatest support.

"They listen to what you say and even if they think it's not sensible, for sure they have an open mind and listen," he laughed. "I'm here to learn and do the best I can and, from the setup point of view, we haven't been able to test anywhere yet. This week isn't an oval, so it's a completely different" kind of circuit for setup purposes.

Over the past season Servia was driving for Dale Coyne, who learned his lead driver was heading elsewhere just two days before practice began at Milwaukee. It could have been better circumstances for the two of them but Servia stated, "He has no problem with the situation at all. We didn't have a contract, a verbal agreement or even a handshake for the next race. We both knew what the situation was; if an opportunity would arise for me I was going to take it."

During the Milwaukee race weekend, Coyne was forced to race a sole entry but has vowed to come back with two cars this weekend at Portland. He did state, at the time that he had fulfilled Servia's request to hire an engineer, bringing Kyle Brannan onboard.

The only testing Servia had with Coyne was in Portland, which will aid him this weekend. "I think have only two, three days [testing time] left with Newman/Haas so we'll have a bit of testing, but not as much as we'd like to."

Servia's bicycling buddy Junqueira is home in Miami and the two got together last weekend. "You knock on his door and he opens it himself. He walks; already he sits down normally," Servia bragged of his pal. "I was very impressed how well he is already, just 10 days after surgery. From the first he was very supportive of my driving his car until he gets back.

"I told him to go quick and recover quick because I'm feeling more and more comfortable in the car and I'm not so sure I want to give it back to him later!"

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Oriol Servia , Paul Newman , Sébastien Bourdais , Carl Haas , Dale Coyne
Teams Dale Coyne Racing