Rocketsports Long Beach pre-race

16.04.2008: Rocketsports Long Beach pre-race

Pizzonia and Annala ready to take on the Long Beach challenge as Rocketsports gears up to run its DP01 Champ Cars for the final time

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is always one that teams anticipate, for it is a great venue, great city, and always a wonderful event. However, what is usually the Champ Car season opener will be a bit different this year. With the announcement of the unification between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League in late-February, this will be the final Champ Car race and an event to remember for all. Rocketsports is ready to say "good-bye" to Champ Car as best as they can with a two-car effort showcasing the talents of drivers Antonio Pizzonia and Juho Annala.

The event will mark the debut for Juho Annala in the Champ Car World Series and open-wheel racing in the United States. The team and Annala successfully completed a two-day test, April 10-11, at MSR Houston just outside of Houston, Texas to prepare for the upcoming race. Annala completed 165 laps at 2.38 miles per lap for a total of 392 miles of trouble free running.

The team spent the first morning allowing the young driver to familiarize himself with the track and check that all of the car systems were ready for the test. The team then worked closely with Annala to find a chassis setup to suit the car to his driving style. They moved him through a progression of changes to feel different suspension and aerodynamic configurations and allowed him to direct setup development to simulate what he will be going through during the Long Beach race weekend.

"I am very happy with how the test went," said the Finnish driver. "We did quite a large program and accomplished as much as we could during the two days we had out there. It was the best thing that we could do before the big event, especially since it was the first time for me to drive a Champ Car.

I learned so many things about this car and so many new things about race cars in general. I think that we are in good shape as we head to Long Beach. I am really looking forward to it! The #10 Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone Champ Car was so fast, it was the best car that I have driven so far. I feel comfortable after having two full days to run in it and work with the team and confident that we can have a good race weekend together."

Pizzonia, who has not had the opportunity to run the #9 Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone, will return to the 1.968-mile street course in downtown Long Beach, California with at least the familiarity of working with the Rocketsports team. He will be reunited with race engineer John Gentilozzi, along with a core group of crew members he worked with back in 2006.

"It is a shame that prior commitments caused me to miss out on testing this car with the team last week," said Pizzonia, who has been signed to compete in the Nextel Stock Car Brazil Series which had their season opener this past weekend. "I will get into Long Beach on Tuesday, and we will be busy getting ready to run on Friday. It will all happen quickly, but I am more then excited to get back into a Rocketsports Champ Car.

Although the car is different from when I drove in Champ Car in 2006, I expect nothing less then a good weekend. The Long Beach course is one that I am familiar with and really enjoy. I am just so excited to get to go back there and race again this year. It should be an exciting event, with a 20-car field, the competition is going to be tight and I anticipate a good challenge."

As previously stated, Annala will be making his Champ Car debut in the Long Beach event. So while his teammate will have a new race car to get familiar with, the 24-year-old will be getting acclimated with a new race track.

"I am really looking forward to competing on the streets of Long Beach", said Annala. "Obviously, this will be my first time competing not only here, but in a Champ Car, but I can’t wait for the experience. I was doing a lot of ‘homework’ in preparation for this event, and after watching several race tapes, I feel that I have a good idea of what to expect. And the expectations of pure enjoyment will definitely be on top of the list. This looks like a very challenging course, and with a full field, the racing is going to be very exciting. I am just happy to be a part of the field and hope for a good race."

The Grand Prix of Long Beach will kick off on Friday, April 18 with a morning practice and the first round of qualifying later that afternoon. Saturday will give the Rocketsports team another opportunity for practice time before the final round of qualifying. The race will take the green flag at 1:00 p.m. local time on Sunday, April 20 and can be seen on ESPN2 with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET.

FAST FACTS

- 2008 marks the sixth year of open-wheel competition for the Rocketsports Racing team. This will be the 74th start for the team in its Champ Car history, sixth in Long Beach.

- Rocketsports has entered a total of seven cars in the its Long Beach history. The team has finished every race in running status, completing 561 laps of 566 possible.

- The team has qualified in the top ten four times in seven attempts. The best start for Rocketsports was during the team’s first season with Alex Tagliani, who earned the third spot on the 2003 Long Beach grid. In terms of results for the team, it has earned five top-ten finishes. The team hopes the positive momentum from its best Long Beach finish last year, fifth with Tagliani, will lead to another top-five effort, or even a podium/win, this year.

- Rocketsports team owner Paul Gentilozzi has an extensive career as a champion driver in three different series with 39 combined Trans-Am and IMSA GTS victories. He has competed multiple times at the Long Beach circuit. In addition to earning 3 pole positions and starting on the front row a total of 5 times in 13 attempts, he earned his first career Trans-Am Series victory here in 1988 and has the distinction of winning four of his five races here in a different marque (Oldsmobile Cutlass in 1988, Chevrolet Corvette in 1998, Ford Mustang in 1999, and Jaguar XKR in 2002 and 2004). Gentilozzi made his 100th career start in Long Beach in 1996. As a winning driver in Long Beach, Gentilozzi will be able to use his previou s racing knowledge at this circuit to help his Champ Car drivers excel this weekend.

- Driver of the #9 Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone, Antonio Pizzonia, will make his second start in Long Beach, his fifth career Champ Car start this weekend.

- Pizzonia qualified 11th on the streets of Long Beach in 2006. He moved into the top five after 30 laps during the race, but an on-track conflict would ultimately spoil a good debut run. The Brazilian was able to salvage a top-ten result, finishing 10th overall.

- In 2006, Pizzonia made four starts (Long Beach, Montreal, Australia, Mexico City). His best start and finish happened during his first event (Long Beach: start 11th; finish: 10th, matched best finish in Australia). He has completed 264 laps out of 266 possible, finishing every race he started in running status.

- Pizzonia, who signed to compete in the 2008 Nextel Stock Car Brazil Series, completed his first event of the season April 13 at the Interlagos circuit in São Paulo, Brazil. He started 31st due to having some problems during qualifying, but made some great passes and raced hard to gain 16 positions and finish 15th overall.

- Juho Annala will make his Champ Car debut, and open-wheel racing debut in the U.S., driving the #10 Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone. He is only the third driver from Finland to compete in open-wheel racing in the United States. He follows fellow countrymen Mika Salo who competed in 2003 and J.J. Lehto who ran in 1998.

- In 2007, Annala competed in the International Formula Masters Series and participated in two FIA GT3 European Championship events. His racing resume is rich in competition over in Europe, with career highlights that include a stellar season in the 2006 Formula 3 British National Class which saw him finish third in the championship with impressive stats that include three wins, three poles, and 17 podiums in 22 races.

- Moving on up in a hurry: Annala tested a Champ Car Atlantic car in February then made the jump to Champ Car testing with the Rocketsports team last week in preparations for the Long Beach event.

RACE WEEKEND SCHEDULE

Provisional Qualifying: Friday, April 18, 2:00-3:00 p.m. PDT

Final Qualifying: Saturday, April 19, 2:00-3:00 p.m. PDT

Race: Sunday, April 20, 1:00 p.m. PDT

TV Broadcast: ESPN2, Sunday, April 20, 2:30 p.m. PDT

 

-Heather Haupt-

Permanent-URL: http://www.automobilsport.com/champcar-rocketsport-long-beach-toyota-grand-prix-antonio-pizzonia-juho-annala-houston---35873.html

16.04.2008 / MaP

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