Servia OK with role as backup driver -- for now

Incentive? Oriol Servia -- the driver filling in for ailing Paul Tracy -- has plenty heading into Sunday's Grand Prix of Houston. A win lands him a full-time ride with Forsythe Racing, Terry Blount writes.

Updated: April 22, 2007, 3:04 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

HOUSTON, Texas -- Oriol Servia has a saying about his predicament.

"I'm the best driver with the smallest bank account," he said.

It's an awkward place for a talented racer, but not an unusual one.

Oriol Servia
Robert Laberge/Getty ImagesOriol Servia, front, finished second at Long Beach as Paul Tracy's backup driver.

Servia has a job if he wins the Grand Prix of Houston Sunday. If he doesn't ... well, maybe so, maybe not.

Servia is subbing for injured Paul Tracy in the Forsythe Racing Champ Car. The Spaniard was outstanding in his 2007 debut last week, finishing second at Long Beach.

The next Champ Car event after Houston isn't until June 10 at Portland. By that time, Tracy may return from the compression fracture in his back, which happened in an accident at Long Beach.

So Servia's status with the team is uncertain. However, team owner Gerald Forsythe said he would run a second car for Servia if he wins this weekend's race in Houston.

Now that's job pressure.

"I really don't look at it that way," said Servia, who starts fifth Sunday. "I'm just thankful to have a chance with a really good team. I'm going to have fun and give it all I've got."

Servia, 32, is a proven veteran. He has 113 Champ Car starts with 59 top-10s, including one victory and 20 podium finishes.

But racing skills alone sometimes aren't enough to get ride at this level of competition. It's about money.

If a driver can bring sponsorship money to the table, he has a better chance of filling a seat with a team. And we aren't talking about a few dollars. The asking price is $2 million-plus.

"It's just so frustrating," Servia said. "In anything else, if you do your job well, you're rewarded. If you don't, you're fired. But sometimes it doesn't happen that way here."

Servia, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, doesn't have money to improve his chances of finding a ride. Servia has to do it the same way people in other pro sports do it -- on ability.

It took an injury to one of Champ Car's biggest stars for Servia to get an opportunity this season.

Forsythe, one of the co-owners of the series, ran two cars for nine consecutive seasons until opting to race one car this year.

The series moved to the new Panoz chassis and spec engines from Cosworth to reduce costs, but the first-year expenses are way up for new cars and new parts.

So Forsythe and Neil Micklewright (the team's vice president of operations) have reservations about running two cars this year.

"We're talking about an awful lot of money to do it competitively," Micklewright said. "We decided at the end of last season that we would only race one car unless the budget was there."

"Anything can happen. I've done enough that I should have job security, but I don't. I just don't know anymore."
-- Oriol Servia

Micklewright said they tried to put together a sponsorship package over the winter so Servia could run a second car, but it didn't work out.

"We've been running without any sponsorship, other than Jerry's own company [Indeck] for a long time now," Micklewright said. "At some point, you can't just keep throwing money at it."

Which explains why teams look at other options, including drivers that have cash or sponsorship ties.

"I think the problem is magnified this year because of the new equipment," Servia said. "It's a transition year and teams need money."

Servia thought things would work out this year with PKV Racing. He had eight top-10s, including four top-fives, in his first season with the team last year.

"I thought we built something that was headed in the right direction," Servia said. "And I really think they wanted me there. But in the end, they needed money and I didn't have it."

PKV Racing has two rookie drivers this season -- Neel Jani of Switzerland and Tristan Gommendy of France.

When the driver version of musical chairs stopped, Servia didn't have a seat.

"I feel like I'm at the top of my game," Servia said. "I've dedicated my life to this. I love it. So not having a ride was hard to accept."

If things don't work out with a Champ Car ride, Servia hopes someone will give him a chance to race in the Indianapolis 500 next month.

"It's something I've always wanted to do," he said. "But they have the same problems over there that we have here."

For now, Servia will try to earn a full-time seat by winning Sunday. What happens if he finishes second or third? Will he get a ride?

"Anything can happen," Servia said. "I've done enough that I should have job security, but I don't. I just don't know anymore."

That's how it is for the best driver with the smallest bank account.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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