San Jose Diary:|
Whatís Going On?
San Jose, Calif., July 28 ó With most Champ Car teams, there is very "little" going on at any given time beyond showing up at the races, competing, and then packing up and going home. Not so with Newman Haas Lanigan, the premier team in Champ Car. This year there has been so much going on with this team that they should have done a reality show. But, which one? Survivor? Big Brother? The Amazing Race?
Big Brother: For starters, the team acquired a new name and co-owner before the start of the season with the addition as team co-owner of Mike Lanigan, who formerly was the ďMi-JackĒ of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing. Beyond causing the near implosion of Eric Bachelartís operation (rescued at the 11th hour by an unknown sponsor rumored to be one Kevin Kalkhoven), the rechristened team became Newman/Haas/Lanigan, or NHL. It was kind of easy to figure out from the outside looking in why this particular change happened. Both Carl Haas and Paul Newman are getting on in years, and not to be unkind, but their days as active team owners are limited. Michael Lanigan is a successful businessman who has probably made enough money that he has no financial worries. He has experience in running race teams and more recently has been successfully promoting the Cleveland race. In terms of impact to Champ Car, it is a big positive to ensure the future success of its strongest team and to ensure the commitment to the series of one of its most prominent guys with money (GWMís). The only downside is that Conquest got hosed in the short term. But, they are well positioned to be the next team to be taken over by a European GWM. Watch out, you heard it here first.
Survivor: The second piece in this NHL jigsaw puzzle is the rumored departure of perennial winner Sebastien Bourdais to Formula One and Team Toro Rosso. On Friday, Bourdais was asked about this, and said he didnít know what Toro Roso was going to decide. For the first time in the years Iíve been covering him, I think he lied. Like a rug. Sebastien lies neither often nor well, which is how I could tell so easily. Having survived all the tumultuous years since the CART bankruptcy, Sebastien will return home to Europe as soon as Elkhart Lake is over in two weeks. And, why shouldnít he? He can fly into the rest of the races in Europe, Australia, Mexico and Arizona. Heís at a point in his life where it would be better for him to have the support of family and friends closer to his French home, so you can take this one to the bank and cash it. I donít know when it will be announced, but heís out of here, heís going to Formula One, no matter what he might say this weekend. Itís a shame F1 has been so dense that they didnít realize theyíd passed up one of the most phenomenal drivers in racing history. Oh well, they donít have a monopoly on stupidity.
The Amazing Race: The most amazing of all races is taking place in Champ Car, and itís not happening on the track. Of course, I refer to the competition for Bourdaisí Newman Haas Lanigan seat that isnít even technically vacant yet. And, if Graham Rahal has his way, the race will be repeated again next year if he vacates his drive after just two years. Everyone and their brother is interested in going to NHL. So, how do they stack up? I would put my money on Bobby D, who comes talented, sponsored, and successful. I would seed Doornbos first, closely followed by Justin Wilson, who has certainly earned the best possible seat in the series. If he can keep CDW, he could also arrive with a sponsor. After these two, itís just about everyone in the paddock, a giant free for all, with the possible exceptions of Paul Tracy (too old) and Alex Figge (Dad owns team). Our dark horse candidate is Switzerlandís Neel Jani who is young, sponsored, and incredibly talented. This race promises to be the most competitive one of the year, and we canít wait to see how it turns out. Stay tuned.
One thing that seems more Shakespearean, i.e., Much Ado About Nothing, than reality show is this weekís announcement that NHL is ďmergingĒ with NASCARís Robert Yates Racing. If you look at any of the NAS-Cup Forums, youíll hear dumb stuff like Sebastien is headed for NASCAR, but heís not good enough for Cup, so heíll have to go Busch. Uh, no, I donít think so. Sebastien is going to Formula One. Or, stuff like, this is a signal that Champ Car is in trouble. Uh, no, I donít think NHL is going to give up being the big fish in the small Champ Car pond. Not going to happen, and CCWS, while doing some dumb stuff on their own, is in no more trouble than what we have previously reported. What is very likely going on is that NHL is going to work with Yates in certain areas, such as engineering, where NHL clearly has strong expertise. They will be partners after a fashion, but I donít see Yates becoming a powerhouse in NASCAR again because of it, nor do I see a big driver shuffle between the two series.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Saturdayís qualifying brought few surprises. Jonathan Bomarito retained the pole position for Atlantic. Justin Wilson snatched the Champ Car pole back from Sebastien Bourdais. Sunday promises to be a rather challenging day for those of us covering the event. Photographerís meeting will be at 7:30 A.M., and the Champ Car race doesnít start until 3 P.M.
Time for this girl to get some sleep. Meanwhile, Iím off to the races again.
Copyright © 2007 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.