A debut is a nervous time for any racer.
And today was no different for German Andreas Wirth as he went out for his first Champ Car practice session at the Gold Coast.
The twisting concrete lined walls at Surfers Paradise make for a daunting challenge, especially when the track is still dirty and you have a 750hp engine strapped to the back of you.
Andreas was up for the challenge.
The driver – who finished third in the Champ Car Atlantic championship – was about to turn his first laps in Champ Car competition. He had done some Champ Car test laps previously, but there is nothing like a race weekend to magnify the focus.
A confident Wirth strode to his car, belted in and went out for a sighting lap.
Everything was going to plan.
He came back in to the pits, the team changed the tyres, checked what they needed to check and sent the German back out.
But then, about a minute later, the red flag was thrown. The track commentary said something about a red and white car in the wall. At first it was thought to be Oriol Servia but the frantic activity in the Dale Coyne pits suggested differently.
On only his second lap, Wirth had damaged the car.
As it turned out, the damage was light. A broken front wing was all, and team could even repair that wing by the pit lane.
“[The first laps were] Tough, very tough. On the second lap I hit the wall a little. The tyres here are different to the ones I tested on. These are much harder and it took a while for me to get used to them,” Wirth said after his first session.
Wirth was out on brand new black sidewall tyres, in other words he was driving on the tyres when they were their hardest.
With such little damage, the session was not stopped for long, although Wirth stayed in the pits for a while.
Around 10:30 local time, Andreas went out for another go.
His laps got quicker as he got used to the car and the tyres. When he came back into the pits 15 minutes later, he had set the eighth fastest time.
The team seemed pleased with his progress.
As the engineers studied the car and made some essential changes, Wirth asked for a drink, also essential on this hot and sunny Queensland morning.
He stayed in the pits, chatted to his race engineer and left for the track to gain more valuable experience. Again, this time, there were no problems.
While Wirth was in the pits, the red flag was thrown again. At least this time he was stopped with his team swarming the car. It could not be him.
Rather it was long-time veteran driver Paul Tracy who hit the wall hard at the VB Chicane. This showed the difficulty of the track. Wirth is a rookie but Tracy has been here many times before.
It proves anyone can be caught out.
During this period, the team checked and double checked the car and put a brand new set of tyres on. It was clear that Andreas had flat-spotted the other set earlier, when he damaged the nose.
With a new set of tyres, Andreas went to take on the final eleven minutes of qualifying.
During this time, both Championship contender, AJ Allmendinger and Nelson Phillipe experienced off course excursions. Wirth was indeed in good company.
The end of the session was better than the beginning, as Wirth continued to gain valuable track time.
“The last third was better. I used a set of new tyres and got used to them. It was freaky though with too many yellow flags,” commented Wirth after the session.
Indeed the end of the session was filled with mistakes, making it hard for Wirth to get a clear run. When the checkered flag dropped, Wirth had made good progress and was not too far behind his teammate, Belgium’s Jan Heylen.
“Still a little slower than we would like but we will get there,” said Wirth after the session.
It is true too, progress was made and Wirth will only get faster as he gains experience.
As he got out of the car, the team seemed satisfied with his progress. He, team boss Dale Coyne and Heylen chatted before Wirth found out that he was in the big league.
Fans were present with their cameras and their pens for autographs. One could see that this was exciting for the German as he obliged and posed for photos, signed autographs and talked to a journalist.
Then Wirth was off, through the garage to do whatever he was going to do.
The first practice session was over. Andreas Wirth can now say that he is a Champ Car driver.
Interview and article by Sam Tickell on 20/10/2006