Last week, following Graham Rahal’s (above) inspired victory in his first IRL race in the streets of St Petersburg, team owner Carl Haas (below) was in the best spirits he’s been in for months. Like all the former Champ Car teams, Newman/Haas/Lanigan has been up to its elbows in a serious thrash over the past two months re-building old Dallara-Hondas or building new cars from parts. So it was particularly sweet for Champ Car’s most successful team to win in St Pete with its talented, teen-aged driver.
“Graham did a tremendous job and Justin (Wilson) (below) was very quick,” Haas said. “Justin had a real chance to win the thing, but he caught-out by the yellows and the pit strategy. It’s too bad because he was very quick.
“It was great for the team because everyone has really worked their tails off,” Haas added. “But there’s a lot to do. We’ve got two more cars to build before Indy next month and it’s going to be tough on the ovals. The top guys have got five or six years of running on us. It’s good to know we can run strong with these cars on a street circuit, but the ovals are completely different. We don’t have any data or information to work from.”
Haas said everyone in his team is delighted to be part of the IRL’s unified Indycar series. “It’s been very, very difficult for the teams from Champ Car to make the change in such a short period of time,” Haas acknowledged. “But people are really loving the fact that it’s just one series and we’re all racing together again. I think it’s going to be a lot better for Indycar racing. There was so much confusion. Nobody knew who was what and the whole thing lost all its identity. This unification had to happen and it’s going to be a good thing for the sport.”
But Haas has his reservations about next weekend’s Long Beach GP where the former Champ Car teams will give their Panoz-Cosworths one last hurrah while the IRL regulars are racing at Motegi in Japan. “I hope Long Beach works out,” Haas remarked. “It’s a terrible way to have to do it and I’m not sure how the people – the fans – are going to feel about it.”
We were assured last week that twenty cars will be on the grid at Long Beach, including former winner Jimmy Vasser. But four-time Long Beach winner Paul Tracy apparently will not be in the field as he struggles to resolve his contract dispute with Jerry Forsythe.
“As far as I know, I’m not driving,” Tracy said. “I’ve told the team that I’m more than happy to do Long Beach, but they don’t want to acknowledge there’s a termination clause in the contract. Nobody has told me anything.”
As Carl Haas says, it will be interesting to see how the fans react to Champ Car’s swansong in the streets of Long Beach next weekend.