Four Champ Car teams took to the track for the first day of testing at Sebring since the recent uncertainty over the series' future and, after all the recent political issues, it was a welcome sight to see the teams transporters lined up in the pits.

Fernandez Racing had veteran team owner Adrian Fernandez in its car and the Mexican set the pace in the early going.

"It's been three-and-a-half months since Australia and it feels great to be back," Fernandez admitted, "Actually, I feel better than I thought I'd feel. We're working on some key areas that were our weak points last year. It's nice to have all the issues of whether or not we were going to race behind us."

The Herdez Competition team gave former ASTJ race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay a chance to show his wares, but technical gremlins cut into the American's test schedule.

"We had some fuel pressure problems and then we had a switch that was bad, so they had to replace the whole wiring loom," Hunter-Reay explained, "But we ran the fastest time this morning, and the track is still not at it's best yet, so, overall, I'm pretty pleased with it so far. I've got another day for sure with the team on this test, which is great. Big thanks to Herdez for that."

Mika Salo was back in the Pollock/Kalkhoven Racing Lola and was on the pace. After only a few races at the end of last season, the Finn is in line for a full-time ride with the team in 2004.

"It was good, but I'm a little rusty after four months off," Salo said, alluding to the fact that the team delayed its planned season debut from a scheduled Laguna Seca outing that was to have preceded last week's court hearing, "The team has been working hard over the winter and we've got a lot of new bits to test out. We still have tomorrow to go."

Roberto Gonzalez ran two races for Dale Coyne last year and is scheduled to get in the PK Racing car tomorrow. The team is understood to be considering a second entry this season.

"I'm excited, it's been a long time," the Mexican said, "I feel very positive about this chance and we'll see how it goes tomorrow. To have the opportunity to get back in a Champ Car is great and I'll be ready."

The MiJack Conquest Racing team has been the subject of plenty of speculation during the off season, but team boss Eric Bachelart has cleared up some of the squad's plans and, for now, is the only Reynard team left.

"We'll have at least one car, maybe two or three," Bachelart said with a grin, "My sponsor, MiJack, is a very supportive partner of the team and there was never any pressure to move back to the IRL. We are a business, though, and, at some stage, you have to look at other alternatives in case the Champ Car series was not going to run. But this is really what we want to do. We feel very good about the series."

Rising French star Nelson Philippe again tested with the Conquest team, and the 17-year old Barber Dodge graduate was impressive.

"I'm only three-tenths off the best time so far," Philippe said with a smile, "It's a pretty big jump from Barber Dodge to these cars, but this car is like a big go-kart. I'm not intimidated by the speed and, right now, it's just a big go-kart with a lot of speed and a lot of power."

Day two from Sebring on Wednesday will bring several other drivers into the mix. Mario Dominguez will have his car on track for Herdez Competition, while Mario Haberfeld gets to jump back into his car from last year as he rejoins Conquest Racing.



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