There is no doubt that the Pacific Coast Motorsports (PCM) Champ Car outfit have struggled to constantly be competitive in 2007. They are new and they have entered the series in its most competitive form in many years.
Coming into Australia, the team’s fortunes seem to be moving forward and that was apparent in the first practice session at Surfers Paradise on Friday.
The team had announced prior to the event that Mexican veteran, Mario Dominguez would join their squad – his experience necessary to catapult the team up the grid.
With that change, the team also showed their professionalism and a sleek image that Champ Car so desperately needs.
Even though the decision to hire Dominguez was a late one, the team sported new uniforms, proclaiming their new driver. In a racing series where some team equipment still sports sponsor and driver logos that have not been in use for years, this is a pleasant change.
Beyond that, the team had few expectations for this round.
Yes, they had hired a previous winner, but they are still learning the circuit in their debut and the race is unpredictable – with no repeat winners in its long history.
Of course, PCM are no strangers to motorsport, having competed in Grand Am, Champ Car Atlantic and the American Le Mans Series, but the Champ Car World Series is something different.
“This is so much harder, the competition is so much more intense. This has been the most competitive year in Champ Car for quite a few years, the competition is in a different league [to Grand Am],” said Team Manager, Michael Harvey.
Even so, the team still expect to be in the top 10 with their new driver.
The more observant in the pitlane will have spotted Tecate sponsorship on the cars.
Though this was a late deal – being concluded late last night but being negotiated for months – the team hurriedly but professionally applied their new decals in what is an exciting development for both Champ Car and PCM.
Some may think that this is a deal brought by Dominguez – but that is not the case.
This is so much harder, the competition is so much more intense. This has been the most competitive year in Champ Car for quite a few years, the competition is in a different league [to Grand Am]
“Tecate is actually with the team! The team has done a fantastic job. They have spent a long time getting them on board,” said an obviously delighted Dominguez.
The money came in regardless of their chosen driver and despite any problems apparent in the series.
But no matter what stickers you put on the car, no team is satisfied if the are uncompetitive.
On Friday, PCM were hoping for a competitive practice session.
Dominguez got off to an inauspicious start, stalling the car on his first get away – crew members rocked the car with the starter to get it refired.
The team on the pit wall remained unmoved.
Dominguez’s then went for a one lap run, while teammate Alex Figge stayed out for longer.
Throughout the session, the drivers came in and out making minor adjustments to the car. It appeared that Dominguez had issues with his HANS device and helmet padding but being the professional that he is, it didn’t affect him.
There were a couple of spins early in the session with Will Power and Oriol Servia doing the rounds. The latter brought out the red flag but the PCM team seemed unfazed.
In a hurried calm, they kept crunching the numbers, trying to figure out how to get those vital tenths out of the car.
Once the track was cleared of debris, the green flag fell.
Figge was desperate to get out there and improve his times. The flag marshal had barely finished the first wave as the #29 car set off in a frenzy of noise.
The team was also obliging to local television crews who wanted to do spots with the team. Like the pros that they are, the helped the TV crews a much as they could.
Perhaps other teams could learn a thing or two from these guys.
The PCM drivers continued to improve their times and as the checkered flag fell, Dominguez was up to sixth and Figge was improving but could only manage 16th on this challenging circuit.
“Its definitely on of the most difficult street courses that I have ever been on that’s for sure but it’s fun and I think once we make some changes, my teammate has been here 7 or 8 times so hopefully I can learn some stuff off of him and kind of go in that direction with the car a little bit and keep moving forward,” said Figge after the session.
Figge is realistic in his approach. He knows he as been at the rear too often. He is looking to learn a lot from an experienced driver like Dominguez.
But, the team are also realistic about his performance.
“Alex is not so familiar so I am not surprised that Alex is where he is at all but he will get better as the weekend goes,” said Team Manager Michael Harvey.
Fortunately, the cars came home in one piece which is definitely an advantage when you need to get a grip on setup.
Dominguez was upbeat after qualifying.
“It was good, we have made a lot of improvements on the car, we made it go faster made it better,” said Dominguez. “The car is pretty decent and I am happy with the progress we made in the first session and now I am going to sit down with the engineers and try to make it better.”
Dominguez was also celebrating being honoured with the inaugural and prestigious Official Driver of Mexico City. An award that he will keep for life.
“We are going to do a big campaign on public safety and driver safety so I was very proud to have been named that,” said Dominguez. “It’s the first time it has happened in history.”
The aim is to educate Mexican drivers to the new road rules and to cut down the carnage on Mexican Roads.
“The mayor of Mexico City, Mr Erard has given me all his support and hopefully I can repay that honour by putting consciousness in people’s minds to drive safely and follow the traffic rules,” said a proud Dominguez.
Its definitely on of the most difficult street courses that I have ever been on that’s for sure but it’s fun and I think once we make some changes, my teammate has been here 7 or 8 times so hopefully I can learn some stuff off of him and kind of go in that direction with the car a little bit and keep moving forward
But that is for later. This weekend is all about one thing – the race on Sunday.
And when Dominguez was asked if he could be the first double winner on the Gold Coast streets…
“Yeah, why not, I think I could! That would be incredible, it would be a dream come true.”
Something the Team Manager, Michael Harvey had a little giggle about.
Interview and article by Sam Tickell on 19 October 2007