Justin Wilson is not making any wild predictions of success ahead of his first season with the crack Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing outfit, claiming that he expects the Champ Car World Series to be 'tougher than ever'.

Despite predictions of doom and gloom for the series, and few drivers yet to be confirmed as the first group test of the off-season looms this weekend, Wilson insists that the competition will be tighter than ever once racing starts at Long Beach April. The Briton has stepped into what many regard as the prime seat for 2008, replacing out-going champion Sebastien Bourdais at NHLR, but he refuses to believe that it will be easy to go one better than the runner-up spot he has achieved for the past two seasons.

"I think it's a little early to tell right now, but I'm expecting it to be tougher than ever as more people are working at the Panoz," he said as CCWS heads into its second series with the spec DP01 chassis, "Everybody who competes will have the same equipment, and that's what makes it exciting. But the longer everything stays the same, the more people work it out and the playing field gets levelled again.

"I think if Robert Doornbos is back in the championship, he's going to be very quick, as will Will Power. I think the main competition will come from those two, but I'm sure there are going to be a few others there as well. It's great to see Oriol Servia finally get a full-time drive, and I'm sure he's going to be right up there, giving us a hard time. He was quick the last couple of races with PKV, so I think it's going to be one of the most competitive seasons in Champ Car for many years."

He may not have included his new team-mate in the list of expected opposition, but there is no doubt that Wilson holds sophomore Graham Rahal in high regard.

"It's great to be partnering Graham, who is still a very young driver doing remarkably well," he said, "I think he's got a lot of potential for the future - and this year as well. I think we get on very well. Graham listens to what's going on in the environments around him, and I think that's good to see. I definitely appreciate having somebody of Graham's talent and maturity for such a young age. I think that's key to being fast in a race car, and I'm looking forward to working with Graham throughout the rest of the year. I definitely see him as being one of the contenders for race victories throughout this year. There's definitely a bright future ahead of him."

Wilson was among those to have triumphed with the new Panoz in 2007 - although he had to wait until Assen in September to do so - and admits that he liked the car.

"I liked the fact that it was quick - it was a great fun car to drive," he reflected, "It was fast and it handled pretty good, even on its off days. The thing I didn't like about it was that handled pretty good on its off days. It was very hard to tell the difference between a good car and a great car, and that was always a challenge from the driver's point of view.

"You'd come back in tell the engineer 'the car is great', and he'd look at you a bit confused and say 'okay, where do we get the other 1.5secs from?'. And you'd sit there a bit confused for a minute and say' okay, so it's not so good, we need to change a few things'. So it really challenged you as a driver. I say it's a bad thing, but it's a good thing as well. As a driver you're always looking for a challenge and that is what this car does."

Despite that 'challenge', however, the Briton harked back to his earlier claim that greater experience of the DP01 could potentially close the field up in 2008.

"I think it's more a case of the set-up of the car," he reasoned, "The springs, the roll bars, the damper curves, the ride heights, the downforce levels - all those things are quite critical. Often, if you do them in the wrong order, you get a very different end result.

"So the benefit of not changing the car too much is that people can go back through the year and say 'okay, at Elkhart Lake, we did things in this order and it didn't work out. And, in San Jose, we did it in this order and it did work out, so let's do it in this order the whole season. That way they get a base set-up for the 2008 season much quicker and more efficiently. That's why people can catch up and work things out, as well as using the set-ups that worked from the year before, and discarding the routes they took, the paths they took that didn't work. Everyone is slowly working towards the same result, the same answer."

Although he and NHLR have that year of experience under their belts, Wilson insists that he will still face a learning curve when the Sebring test opens at the weekend.

"To start with, the first thing is getting used to the team, getting used to the car and the environment," he pointed out, "The first test is going to be about getting familiar with my environment and learning how to extract the most out of it. There is going to be a steep learning curve at this first test but, hopefully, we'll learn a few things and move on from that in the next few months, find what suits my style and which bits are going to help us work best on the race weekend to go out there and win races."


Loading Comments...