Servia helping rookie team improve


LEXINGTON, Ohio, AP

Oriol Servia felt as if he had been blind-sided. After a solid rookie year in CART, where he scored points in 11 of 20 races and wound up 15th in the standings, the Spaniard suddenly found himself without a ride or a good prospect for one. Cal Wells closed the doors of his PPI Motorsports CART operation to concentrate on NASCAR, and Servia lost his sponsor. “I ended last season and everybody was saying good things about me, and it was looking pretty good,” Servia said. Then everything fell apart. Servia said there were other teams that could have given him a chance to contend for the championship. But because sponsorship is so tough to get, the top rides didn’t materialize and Servia was unable to bring a backer with him to a team. So, the driver from Catalonia looked overseas. He got a test drive with the Prost team in Formula One. “When I did the first test with them, I knew I was not going to be the driver because they also needed a lot of money that I didn’t have,” Servia said. “Then I did a second test and it showed that they really appreciated the first one and they really liked my work.” But he didn’t get a job in F1. Then an offer came, and Servia went to work for fledgling Sigma Motorsports and remained in CART. “We joined forces and made the best of the situation and the opportunity,” he said. The on-track results this year have not been impressive _ Servia has just two top-10 finishes. But nobody at Sigma expected much more from the 27-year-old driver. Actually, the Chicago-based team has begun to develop faster than it had expected. “I thought it would take a couple of years to get to this point with the equipment and the personnel,” said Paul Cherry, the team’s managing director. “We got a better driver than we could have hoped. Oriol knows what he’s doing and has very good equipment. We just have to make better use of it.” Cherry said the biggest problem so far has been a series of poor qualifying efforts and race strategy. “Those two places are where this team shows it’s a first-year team,” he said. “Our No. 1 priority right now is to improve those two areas.” While the team has worked to move up in the standings, Servia has kept a low profile on the track. Deserved or not, he got the reputation during his rookie year for being a wild man behind the wheel. A crash with Paul Tracy in Australia that cost Servia US$20,000 in fines and four championship points was the biggest indictment of his driving style. “We’ve seen none of that,” Cherry said. “He’s not put a foot wrong this year. There were crashes in Detroit and Toronto, but neither of those was his fault.” Servia, a disappointing 25th in the points heading into Sunday’s race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, believes he’s a better driver than he was last year at this time. “Not the style, but I learned things for different situations,” he said. “Like when you go out on cold tires, when you are at the start with a lot of turbulence on the ovals. I also learned a lot about fuel mileage. Last year, that for sure was one of my weakest points, but now I’m getting better and better with each race.” Cherry said the team and Servia hope to grow into a contender together. “I would say right now we’re probably running 50-50,” Cherry said. “Oriol’s half as good as he could be and we’re half as good as we could be. Once we get it together, we’re all going to be very good.”