Time to talk about open wheel racing

Since every other Motorsports writer in the country is beating the Nextel Cup Chase to the Championship to death, I'm going to buck the trend and let you in on some interesting developments in top-level open wheel racing instead.

The Champ Car series has announced its new chassis/engine package for 2007, and Panoz (through its subsidiary Elan Motorsports Technologies) will be the exclusive supplier of the lighter, shorter, narrower package. The Panoz DP01 chassis will be built in America and powered by an upgraded and more powerful version of the current turbocharged Cosworth V8 (estimated at 825 hp in "push to pass" mode). The smaller chassis is expected to perform better on street circuits, which comprise an increasing number of Champ Car's venues. In addition, smaller wings and bigger tunnels have been incorporated into the design to reduce aerodynamic turbulence. This should make passing easier, which will be a plus for the fans. And the added power, along with lighter weight, will enhance the speed and acceleration of the cars.

The cars will also have onboard starters, which should reduce the number of yellow flags required to remove stalled cars from the track. But the best part of all is that the new chassis will be extremely economical by formula car standards. The estimated price for a bare-bones chassis is estimated to be around $200,000, with a complete rolling chassis going out the door for about $300,000. Panoz is also one of the rival Indy Racing League's suppliers, and has just extended its contract with that organization. The IRL chassis goes for around $300,000 less engine and electronics. By comparison, a new Champ Car chassis ten years ago went for around $500,000 as a roller.

In addition to the reduction in chassis price, parts costs will also be reduced by about 50 percent, and the chassis has been designed to allow the use of carbon fiber brakes, which have proven more effective and durable than the current materials in other series. With the cost reductions and chassis improvements, Champ Car hopes to attract more teams and drivers, with the goal of increasing fields to 24 cars from the current 18-10 entries.

Meanwhile, in the opposing Indy Racing League camp, a few of its stars are taking a vacation from driving race cars by . . . driving race cars. Tomas Scheckter and Tomas Enge recently took part in the new A1Grand Prix series which features spec Lola chassis powered by 520hp Zytek engines, with teams representing individual countries.

Scott Dixon hopes to get a release from boss Chip Ganassi to do selected races for Team New Zealand, notably Laguna Seca, Monterrey Mexico, and Australia. And IRL regular Bryan Herta is slated to run at Laguna Seca for Team America, where fellow IRL competitor Scott Sharp functions as Director of Race Operations. An interesting aspect of the A1GP series is that drivers score points for their country rather than for themselves, so a team may see a variety of drivers in its cars over the course of a season.

If you've ever wanted to try your hand at road course racing, here's your chance. The Reno Region of the Sports Car Club of America will hold its "Last Chance Club Trials" at Reno-Fernley Raceway on Saturday, Nov. 12. The event is open to any state-licensed driver 18 years of age or older.

SCCA membership is required, but temporary memberships are available. The Club plans to use the 2.2 mile course configuration, and it's possible that some of the newly-paved "technical" course may be added.

Instruction in high speed driving will be provided for first-time participants. Almost any type of car is allowed (subject to technical inspection), but topless cars must have an approved roll bar. Helmets are also required, and loaner helmets are available.

The entry fee is $125 ($150 after October 17, so hurry). Drivers will be grouped with others of similar experience in similar cars, and each driver will get four 20-minute sessions on track.

Lunch is included, but each driver has to work the course for four sessions in order to get his or her four sessions at the wheel. For further information, or to enter, go to [ www.renoscca.com or call Dave Deborde at (775) 267-4845.


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