SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After two days of action, one thing is certain: The
inaugural Taylor Woodrow Grand Prix of San Jose is a work in progress.
Although the activity on Saturday morning wasn't nearly as frantic as
that from 24 hours earlier, the rough edges were still being shaved
off the new 1.448-mile San Jose street course. The lap opening
chicane was transformed into a faster (and safer) left-right sweeper,
and the straightaway leading into the hairpin was altered to include
a rudimentary new chicane. The changes added about two seconds to the
overall lap time and left the Champ Car drivers breathing somewhat
easier about hazardous work conditions.
As a group, the drivers learned about the revised circuit in an
unusual way. Just before the morning practice session was about to
start, the field of 18 jumped onto a trio of pit carts and made a
slow drive down to the new chicane, which slowed the cars to third
gear (or about 100 mph) in an effort to make up for the total lack of
runoff area at the hairpin.
"I wish we didn't have to resort to artificial corners, but they
needed to get something sorted out at the hairpin," commented
Sebastien Bourdais, who later took his third pole of the season
Saturday afternoon with a 54.243-second (96.101 mph) lap. "We
couldn't afford to arrive there at 175 mph because it you had a brake
failure you would kill yourself and the crowd in the grandstand. You
always have to anticipate the worst."
The good news is that there appears to be even greater scope for
modification in 2006. Champ Car officials are confident that the
success of the first-year event, which has attracted more than 91,000
spectators over the last two days to downtown San Jose, will convince
city officials that with a little cooperation and advanced planning,
things can be made even bigger and better.
"I hope it's going to be such a great event for the city that they're
going to let us use three or four more streets and have a bigger
track," remarked Oriol Servia, who completed a front row sweep for
Newman/Haas Racing by qualifying a career-best second. "Then it would
be awesome, honestly."
In every way, the San Jose weekend has really kept the Champ Car
teams on their toes, because the track has quite literally changed
with every session. So have the rules. For qualifying, drivers were
allowed unlimited laps rather than the usual limit of 15. And the
race will be run to a time limit rather than to a scheduled distance.
Several Champ Car races have been flagged at the one-hour, 45-minute
mark this season because of television demands, but the competitors
have never started the race not having a target number of laps to
"This is a first and it's very unique," Bourdais said. "It's
something that the engineers aren't used to and it's extremely
difficult to predict what will happen because you can't control how
many laps of yellow there will be. Normally, you are at least
assuming a distance. But here you have to turn the problem around and
start thinking in terms of gallons of fuel used per minute. And if
there is something like 22 laps of yellow, it could be a one-stop race."
The one or two pit stops are certain to be critical to the final
result, because there is absolutely nowhere to pass on the narrow San
"The only passing possibility you had was at the hairpin, and they've
taken that away now," said Paul Tracy, who was disappointed to
qualify third. "It put qualifying at a premium. We're just going to
have to play the game tomorrow and hopefully have better pit stops."
There's also a high likelihood that the punishing track will force
some drivers into mistakes.
"The bumps and everything make the track
really demanding on your shoulders," Tracy said. "It's like being in
a paint shaker. It's very fatiguing, not from a physical standpoint
like Edmonton where it's hard to turn the steering wheel, because the
loads are high. It's just shaking you and banging you around all the
Race and series officials cheerfully admit that the inaugural San
Jose race hasn't been a model of perfection. Even though the bridge
over the back straight was completed and in use Saturday, with 50,962
fans on hand, the lines to cross the track were still unacceptably
long. Additional track crossing options are an absolute must for next
year -- for example, the upcoming Grand Prix of Denver will feature
But give credit where credit is due. Changes have been made on the fly as
needed thanks to a can-do attitude and some judicious flexibility --
something Formula One racing could learn from after its recent debacle
"I think that was a real shame what happened in Formula One," Bourdais said. "They didn't do what was necessary to make it happen.
Whoever is responsible, it doesn't matter. You have the duty to the
fans. We had 50,000 people today, and we're going to have probably
even more tomorrow. We just have to put on a show."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.