Indy newbies from Champ Car get schooled at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Ernesto Viso hit the wall -- then collected race leader Tony Kanaan on Lap 193 of 200. AP Photo/Paul Kizzle

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Welcome to hair-raising, high-speed ovals, boys. Get out of the way and we'll show you how it's done.

That was the obvious message the lndyCar Series veterans had for their new competitors from Champ Car in the first race of open-wheel unification.

The new guys were schooled from start to finish in the Gainsco Auto Insurance 300 Saturday night. They never had a chance.

Don't blame the Champ Car drivers for their lack of success in this one. You might as well have asked them to land a 757 on South Beach.

IndyCar veteran Tony Kanaan will blame one of them -- rookie Ernesto Viso. He spun in front of leader Kanaan with eight laps remaining, a split second before Kanaan was going to put him another lap down.

Kanaan had nowhere to go, slamming his right front wheel into Viso's car. That handed the victory to Scott Dixon.

Before Viso's unfortunate moment, the Champ Car newbies made it through the event without causing a single accident.

The one other wreck was caused by IndyCar driver Milka Duno. No surprise there. She collected Ryan Briscoe when she spun in front of him.

But the Champ Car Eight were OK with Briscoe.

"I was pretty impressed with those guys," Briscoe said. "It's all new to them, but they held their line and made it easy to get by them."

Not much of a compliment, but you get the point.
Instant gratification isn't coming for the Champ Car teams from the merger so many people have longed to see for more than a decade.

This is a work in progress in many ways, not just for the new drivers. A respectable crowd estimated at 40,000 came to see the opener of the new era.

The 25-car field had eight drivers competing for teams that were part of Champ Car last season. Not a one finished on the lead lap. For the record, only four drivers completed all 200 laps.

The top finisher of the Champ Car bunch was Oriol Servia in 12th, five laps down.

"It wasn't that much fun, but it's part of the business," Servia said. "We'll get better."

Servia was one of only four Champ Car team converts who had raced in a previous Champ Car event before Saturday.

The other four -- Franck Perera, Enrique Bernoldi, Mario Maraes and Viso -- had zero experience on an oval track, much less a high-speed superspeedway like the 1.5-mile track in Homestead.

Six Champ Car drivers were rightfully classified as IndyCar rookies, including 2007 Champ Car racers Justin Wilson and Will Power.

Those two drivers got in each other's way 50 laps into the race while running near the back, ending the night for Power.

"I hit Wilson's back tire and bent my suspension,"
Power said. "It's really disappointing. I was enjoying it out there. We were taking our time and learning."

Only veteran Champ Car drivers Servia and Bruno Junqueira, who have significant oval experience, didn't get the rookie tag. But they sure looked like rookies against the IndyCar gang.

"I was getting in the way so I thought it was better to stop," Junqueira said. "The car just isn't ready yet."

And that's the main problem. These teams were asked to do the impossible, prepare all new equipment into race trim in just a few weeks.

It can't be done. Put Dixon in one of those cars and he also would have finished near the back.

"I don't know," said a disgusted Jimmy Vasser, a former driver and co-owner of the KV Racing Champ Car team. "We're really behind on the ovals. It's a long night."

Not enough time, not enough cars.

Graham Rahal, an IndyCar rookie and an oval-track greenhorn, didn't race Saturday because he wrecked his car in practice and didn't have a backup.

The 19-year-old Rahal, the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, was a Champ Car rookie last season. Maybe Graham was the lucky one. He got to watch from the spotter's stand.

He'll be back next weekend for the street race at St.
Petersburg. No doubt the Champ Car teams will look better in that one, a discipline they know well.

And they'll improve on ovals as the season progresses.
The teams will learn how to set up the cars while getting all the parts they need. The drivers will get accustomed to the dicey game of side-by-side racing at 210 mph.

By the Indy 500 in May, things may look a lot different.

"I think all the Champ Car teams will benefit immensely from having a month to get acclimated at Indianapolis," IndyCar Series president Brian Barnhart said. "It's going to be interesting to watch their progress."

The Champ Car boys took their lumps Saturday, but don't lose sight of the big picture. This reunion is good for everyone.

"I think every one of those [Champ Car] guys should be proud,'' said Dan Wheldon, who finished third. "They had a tough night, but you can see how much talent they have. They will be right up there with us soon."

The Champ Car teams can't see it yet, but their day will come.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.