Round #1 – 2007 Champ Car World Series season – PKV Racing’s rookie drivers, Neel Jani and Tristan Gommendy, will start ninth and 11th respectively in their first Champ Car race, tomorrow’s inaugural Vegas Grand Prix on the new 2.440-mile, 12-turn downtown temporary street circuit in Las Vegas, Nevada. .
Jani, who pilots the #21 Red Bull Gulfsteam PKV Racing Cosworth/ DP01/ Bridgestone machine, qualified with a fast lap of 79.360 seconds (110.685 mph) in today’s final qualifying and will start on the inside of Row #5. Gommendy, behind the wheel of the #22 Pay By Touch MegaSpirea PKV Racing Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone entry, posted a fast time of 79.784 seconds (110.097) placing him on the inside of Row #6.
Jani spent most of yesterday fifth on the speed charts, but provisionally qualified ninth with a fast lap of 81.618 seconds (107.623 mph). During today’s morning practice he returned to yesterday’s practice form by turning, to that point, the sixth fastest time of the weekend posting a quick lap of 80.926 seconds (108.544 mph). However, during the 15-minute afternoon practice/warm-up Jani developed a water leak sidelining the car for the entire session as the Red Bull Gulfstream PKV Racing crew affected repairs.
Working quickly and efficiently the team made the repairs in time for Jani to participate in qualifying. He ran three stints, with the first on black primary tires, serving as a three lap reconnaissance run to test the repairs. The second segment was intended to be longer, but ran afoul of a yellow flag after three laps with Jani sitting in eighth place having run a time of 79.978 seconds (109.830). With eight minutes to go the track went green again. Jani went out immediately and turned five circuits with his best qualifying lap occurring on the 10th out of his total of 11.
Commenting on today’s results Jani said, "Practice this morning was good. We thought we were back. Qualifying this afternoon we had a problem with a water leak during the warm-up. But, in the end we were 1.7 seconds behind. That is a little bit of a shock to the Red Bull Gulfstream PKV Racing Team because during preseason testing we were always competitive. Now the first race we are struggling. So, we are just going to have to figure out what the problem is and get ready to race tomorrow."
Jani will be making his first Champ Car start tomorrow in Las Vegas. While a rookie in the Champ Car World Series, the 23 year-old native of Rorschach, Switzerland, is a veteran of European racing having competed in go-karts, the Swiss Formula A Lista Junior Championship, where he earned his first formula car title, plus the Formula Renault 2000, Formula Renault V6, GP2 and A1 GP Championships.
Jani, who tested for the Swiss Formula One Sauber Petronas Team in 2003 and 2004, became a member of the Red Bull driver development program in 2005. With Red Bull backing, he spent the 2006 season as a test driver for the Scuderia Toro Rosso Formula One team and competed in four GP2 races plus four A1 GP events taking the win and finishing fourth in Malaysia. Jani, who signed with PKV Racing in January, has been very competitive during preseason testing with the new DP01 chassis, finishing in the top-three at each of the three open tests.
Gommendy was eighth on the grid following provisional qualifying with a quick time of 81.565 seconds (107.693 mph). Driving a Champ Car for just the fourth day, having run two days of testing at Laguna Seca in March and two days here in Las Vegas, he continues to show improvement each time he takes to the track. In this morning’s practice Gommendy had another strong session notching the ninth quickest lap with a time of 81.047 seconds (108.382 mph), which placed him ninth on the combined practice report.
In the 15-minute afternoon warm-up, Gommendy ran a time of 80.843 seconds (108.655 mph) placing him 12th on both the individual and combined practice report. Gommendy made two qualifying runs. He ran five laps during the first stint and four during the second, which was cut short due to a problem at the end of the segment. Gommendy’s fastest qualifying lap came on the third lap of the first stint.
Speaking about today’s qualifying effort Gommendy said, "This was the first time I ran the red (alternate) tire and it is true what everyone has been telling me that they have a lot more grip. So, with first set of red tires I didn’t get everything out of the tire. The second set we didn’t get the most out of the tire because we had a problem at the end of the run.
I think if we had completed the second stint we would have been between 79.0 and 79.3, which would have put us in the top-five. It is the first race of the season and I am personally happy. I know everyone will see the 11th place starting position, but my engineer and I know that we did a good job and we can fight in the race."
Gommendy, who only signed with PKV Racing in March, is a Champ Car rookie, but a veteran of European open wheel racing. The 27-year-old Frenchman spent the 2006 season driving nine events for iSport International in GP2 and four for Pons Racing in the World Series by Renault, earning one pole and one podium. He competed in the Formula 3 France series capturing the championship in 2002 with five wins, 10 poles and 10 podiums in 14 races, and various F3 events around the world (won the Formula 3 Macau GP in 2002). In addition, Gommendy has competed in Formula Renault V6 Eurocup and the Formula Nissan World Series.
The Vegas Grand Prix, Round #1 of the 2007 Champ Car World Series season, will be held tomorrow, Sunday, April 8, on the streets of downtown Las Vegas, Nevada. The race will be broadcast live on NBC at 4:00 p.m. ET.
- Kevin Diamond-
08.04.2007 / MaP