Servia making most of relief opportunity

Originally Published: August 11, 2005
Associated Press

Oriol Servia
Oriol Servia isn't worrying about where or what he'll drive in 2006. He's having too much fun right now.

The 35-year-old driver from Spain began the Champ Car World Series season with unheralded Coyne Racing, the team he drove for in 2004, carrying a slow car to finishes of 11th and ninth in the first two races of 2005.

Getting the most out of whatever he drives is typical of the short, stocky driver, who has changed teams five times in six seasons without finding a ride to fit his obvious talent.

Then Bruno Junqueira broke his back in a hard crash during the May 29 Indianapolis 500. That left one of the most coveted seats in Champ Car racing open at Newman/Haas Racing, winner of two of the last three season championships.

It was a devastating blow for the team, which believed Junqueira, who had finished third and first in the first two races of the season, was ready to battle teammate Sebastien Bourdais, the reigning champion, for the 2005 title.

Into that situation stepped Servia, whose best finish in the season points until now has been seventh in 2003, when he raced for the now-defunct Patrick Racing team.

"It's a winning team, a winning car and I believe I'm a winning driver," said Servia, who heads into this weekend's race on the temporary street circuit in downtown Denver fourth in the standings, trailing series leader Bourdais by 81 points but only 20 behind runner-up Paul Tracy.

"It's not that I was unhappy [at Coyne]," he said. "The car was very reliable with very little money. I'm just happier now."

He has yet to win a race, but Servia's move to Newman/Haas has been relatively seamless.

In the six races since he stepped into the team's No. 2 Lola, Servia has five top-three finishes, including a pair of seconds.

Carl Haas, who co-owns the elite team with actor-racer Paul Newman, said hiring Servia was not a snap decision.

"We looked at a number of people and he just stood out," Haas said. "He has fit right in and has done a very good job for the team. It's not a one-way street. He's honestly brought some things to the team, too."

It's a heady situation for Servia, but people won't allow him to forget it's a temporary situation, with Junqueira making a good recovery that could possibly get him back in the car before the end of the season, or next year for sure.

"My approach is it's a gift, an opportunity that came only because of circumstances," he said. "I'm just going to enjoy it as much as I can.

"Bruno is my friend and I talk to him as much as I can," Servia added. "I want him to get better as soon as possible and get back to racing. I know I'll have to begin worrying about what I do next year pretty soon. I really just started thinking about that. Maybe I should be calling some people now, but I'm just enjoying this so much that it's hard to think about that."

Servia views the situation as a learning experience, working closely with Bourdais, a 26-year-old Frenchman.

"I believe he's the fastest man on the planet," Servia said. "We know each other since 1993 when we were both racing in Europe. I'm older and we never ran together, but I've always gotten along with Sebastien.

"We both know that the team works when teammates work together."

His new car was set up very different from the one he drove for Coyne last year and at the beginning of 2005, but Servia told the team to make no changes for him.

"It's set up like Sebastien's car and he is very fast," Servia said. "I told them when I get within two tenths [of a second] of Sebastien, then I'll change it. It's hard to beat him. He's been in the car for two years. But I'm getting there."

Another part of Servia's success is the team itself, one of the best in the business since being formed in 1983.

"They have the money, the people, the technology and the sponsors," Servia said. "It's Newman/Haas. But the spirit is something that has surprised me. You really feel the passion. They are real racers, from Carl and Paul all the way to the guys who drive the trucks."

The week before the new street race in San Jose on July 31, where Servia finished third, Newman invited the driver to join him in testing a sprint car on a California dirt track.

"It was a blast," he said. "I had never driven a sprint car or a dirt track before. And what other team owner would do that -- let you drive something like a sprint car for fun."

Servia isn't surprised by his success since joining Newman/Haas. He's actually more disappointed that he hasn't won a race with his new team -- yet.

"I always felt people valued what I was doing and it's interesting to me how many people want me to win."

Win or not, though, Servia is happy.

"Of course, I would like to have my future settled sooner than later," he said. "But I know if I deliver, I'm going to have a third car here or a car somewhere else. If not, I'm having a great time."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press