CHAMPCAR/CART: Team PRG test goes well for Garcia and ex-F1 drivers

The Project Racing Group killed two birds with a stone at its test at Putnam Park recently. Owner Andreas Leberle wanted to get current pilot Luiz Garcia Jr. some time on the track before taking it to the streets of Houston and Australia, and...

The Project Racing Group killed two birds with a stone at its test at Putnam Park recently.

Owner Andreas Leberle wanted to get current pilot Luiz Garcia Jr. some time on the track before taking it to the streets of Houston and Australia, and also wanted to give friend and German Formula 1 reporter Christian Danner a chance to reacquaint himself with a Champ Car.

In addition, two other ex-Formula 1 drivers, Marc Surer of Switzerland, and Ivan Capelli, of Rome, Italy, who are also F1 commentators on their respective countries networks, would also be given the chance to experience driving a CART Champ Car.

Danner, 42, who is part owner of the P.R.G. team along with Leberle, had the most experience of the three. In fact, Danner was part of the CART circuit in the early 90s before going into television.

The German driver, who also drove for Leberle's earlier CART effort, Project Indy, last drove a champ car in 1995, and claims to have driven every type of race car except for stock cars and sprint cars. Danner said it was great to be back in the car and pointed out that both the 99 and 2000 Reynard/Mercedes-Benz cars were better than the ones he drove.

"The feeling was nicer and the car was easier to drive," said Danner. "It had a little less power, but it felt similar to the earlier cars and was a smooth drive. I had fun."

Danner was the only driver/commentator to take spins in both the 99 and 2000 cars and was the fastest of the F1 drivers with a time of 59.1.

Surer, 48, a veteran Swiss driver with 82 Formula 1 starts, said it felt great to be back in a race car even if it was only a test.

"I have not driven in a long time," said Surer. "It is a very special feeling to be back in a racer. I have never been in a Champ Car before and it's nice. The car is a handful, that's for sure, but overall with a little hard work it could be great to drive."

Surer, whose career ended after a rally crash in the 1980s, said the last time he was in a car was a Formula 1 car three years ago.

"It was only for a test much like this one, but I had fewer laps," indicated Surer, who drove for Brabham, Arrows, ATS, Theodore and Mo Nunn's Formula 1 team, Ensign.

Surer admitted he was impressed by the engine and compared it to a Formula 1 model.

"They both have a lot of power in them. It would have been nice to drive one (Champ Car) on a regular basis," said Surer.

Capelli, 37, agreed, only he still hopes of returning to racing full time and he made no secret of the fact that it would be nice if it were in the CART series.

"I had a lot of fun today," said Capelli. "You know it's been eight years since I've been in an open-wheeled single-seater. I didn't want my career to end, but with racing being a big business deal anymore, you can easily get lost in the shuffle."

Capelli, whose time was the slowest of the three, agreed with Danner and Surer saying it was great to be in a racecar again, and was surprised at how smoothly the Reynard/Mercedes-Benz handled.

"I didn't have to use the brake a lot and it was easier to drive than I originally thought," said Capelli. "Of course it can be troubling if you go in with too much confidence but overall it's a very good car with the balance, engine and overall package.

"I definitely want to return to racing these cars," said the Formula 1 veteran of 93 races, whose stints in F1 included AGS, March, Jordan, Tyrrell and Ferrari. Capelli finished second in F1 races, most notably at the French Grand Prix in 1990 where he led most of the way before giving the lead up to Alain Prost, when Capelli's March began experiencing engine problems on the final two laps.

Garcia was there more for his own benefit than that of observer (he was the fastest of the bunch), but he still found time to enjoy the other drivers take his old 99 Reynard out for a few laps.

"They all looked like they were enjoying themselves," smiled Garcia. "I enjoyed watching them and being out on the circuit with them."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Christian Danner , Alain Prost , Marc Surer , Ivan Capelli , Luiz Garcia