Steep Learning Curve For Newcomers

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - If the banking at Homestead-Miami Speedway is higher than when Oriol Servia and Bruno Junqueira first tested the 1.5-mile oval, the learning curve is even steeper for former Champ Car drivers transitioning to the IndyCar Series.

Servia raced in the original Indy Lights Series while Junqueira tested a Champ Car for Target Chip Ganassi back when Homestead was a flat 1.5-mile oval.

Now that the track is variably banked, even that experience won't help the pair as they prepare for Saturday evening's Gainsco Auto Insurance Indy 300, the first race in the unified IndyCar Series season.

"Monday was my first experience here with the banking, and it was good," Servia said after the two-day session, that ended Tuesday. 'Now, this reminds me more of the superspeedways like Fontana and Michigan that I have done. It was fun."

Servia is part of the two-car KV Technology Racing, joined by Will Power. Junqueira is part of Dale Coyne Racing's two car effort, joined by Mario Moraes.

"It's a different place now," Junqueira said. "But, I know this place very well. I live here in Miami, and I usually ride my bike from home to here and back. I hope I can be reasonable competitive."

At least Servia and Junqueira have been around the Homestead oval before. For the seven other drivers who are with teams transitioning from Champ Car to the IndyCar Series, it's the first experience on an oval for many of them.

"It's going to be hard to get up to speed here by the race," Power said. "But, it's a learning year for us. I'm taking in as much as I can and trying to learn what makes these cars go fast."

Also testing were Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing with Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson; Conquest Racing with Franck Perera and Enrique Bernoldi and HVM Racing's Ernesto Visa. It was Newman/Haas/Lanigan'/s first test with IRL equipment, as the team was not ready for last week's two-day test on the Sebring road circuit.

"We've finally got the car up to speed and getting it comfortable," said the 6-3 1/2 Wilson. "Obviously, fitting into these cars is not a straightforward thing."

Running on ovals is a new experience for Bernoldi.

"I think here on the grid, I’m the guy who has more Formula One start and spent more time in Formula One," said Bernoldi, a Venezuelan with 28 Grand Prix starts. "I have a good CV, but from what we will race, people like Tony, Wheldon, Helio, they’re more experienced than me in this ground here. So I have to learn from them. I’m not the expert here now."

Another obstacle facing the former Champ Car teams is the short time frame to make the transition.

"We just received the last parts today," Viso said. "I was only able to make a shakedown Monday. Right now, it doesn't matter about the time. We're just looking to see if everything's fine with the car. So far, we haven't found any problems."

Also at the test was Roth Racing, which saw limited time in the earlier IndyCar Series test here. Marty Roth and rookie Jay Howard were 1-2 on the charts both days.

Howard led Tuesday's final session with a lap of 25.3160, 211.171 mph, followed by Roth, 210.896 mph.

Servia led the transitioning teams with a lap of 210.175 mph, followed by Rahal, 209.713 mph; Power, 209.261 mph; Wilson, 209.040 mph; and Bernoldi, 208.576 mph.

For comparison, three-time Miami winner Dan Wheldon led the recent two-day test for veteran IndyCar Series teams with a lap of 25.0619, 213.312 mph, followed by Scott Dixon, 213.277 mph, and Danica Patrick, 213.182 mph.

Practice for the Gainsco Auto Insurance Indy 300 begins Friday at 11:30 a.m. Qualify is set for 6:45 p.m. Saturday's SpeedJam schedule includes the Miami 100 Indy Lights race at 12:30 p.m., and the Gainsco Grand Prix of Miami Grand-Am Rolex Series race at 3 p.m. The IndyCar Series season gets underway with the green flag at 8 p.m. The race will be televised live on ESPN2.

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