“Speedy” Dan Clarke hoped to celebrate a victory in Belgium with a dish of waffles: instead he’s being forced to sit on the sidelines eating humble pie after Champ Car officials banned him from at least the next race.
The Minardi driver was already on probation following an error-strewn race in San Jose. Second place at the last race in Elkhart Lake provided some relief, but it all went wrong quickly during Friday morning’s practice session when Clarke was blamed for causing a four-car crash.
Champ Car Race Director Tony Cotman barred him from this weekend’s race and will decide in a week’s time whether or not to extend the ban to the following race in the Netherlands.
He said: “This morning’s incident was totally unacceptable and completely avoidable. Dan was already on probation after previous incidents in San Jose which helped lead me to my decision today.
“After the weekend is complete and I have a time to review the incident without the raw emotion of the moment, I will make a decision as to any further penalties against Clarke.”
Neither Clarke nor his team made any attempt to argue with the decision, although Minardi bosses did give public backing to their driver.
Co-owner Keith Wiggins said: “We support our driver, and yet respect Tony Cotman’s decision over the incident this morning. It does not change our long term goals together.”
And fellow co-owner Paul Stoddart added: “We totally support the Race Director’s decision following this morning’s incident. Having worked with Dan for nearly two seasons, however, the team has every faith that he will bounce back from today and become even stronger in the future.”
Clarke himself was contrite: “I’m sorry that today’s incident happened, but I fully accept Tony Cotman’s decision. It’s part of the learning process, but I want to apologise to the fans, the other drivers involved, and particularly to my team.
“I am determined to take the positives out of this, however, and to focus on doing the best possible job in the remaining four races of this year, as well as build on what I’ve learned this season with Minardi Team USA in 2008. I genuinely hope the other drivers involved in this morning’s incident go on to have a positive weekend here in Zolder.
One of those other drivers was fellow Brit Justin Wilson, whose day did not improve: “We definitely did not have a good start today here at Zolder. It is a shame; I did not have the chance to get to know the track this morning in the #9 CDW/RuSPORT car after the incident, which took me out on my first lap.
“That also caused my crew to have a lot of work to do, but they did a great job on being able to get me a car that I could run this afternoon. Then, just as we headed out for our first run this afternoon during provisional qualifying, a red flag came out. I knew it was just going to be one of those days.
“We did the best we could, but we just weren’t able to get it done today. We will try again tomorrow and hope for a better day on track.”
There is more optimism at Dale Coyne Racing, where Katherine Legge posted a 13th place in pre-qualifying that her team feel seriously underestimates her potential. Red flags and a mix-up over laps were blamed for keeping her out of the top 10.
“Our P13 today was not a true representation of what our speed really could be because I didn’t know that it was the last lap of qualifying and I was trying to cool and conserve my tyres when the checkered flag came out,” she said.
“We could easily have been a whole half-second faster, that would have put us in the top 10. This is my first time on this track and I’m very impressed with it. This is a great start for our team this weekend. The car is the best it’s been in a while. I think that we can easily get a starting spot in the top 10 tomorrow.”
Ryan Dalziel posted the twelth-fastest time in pre-qualifying, but all the talk in his Pacific Coast Motorsports team was of their new sponsor, Plain Jane Couture, and its risque logo – a female silhouette with underwear at half-mast.
Plain Jane Couture president Despina Levantis explained: “Alex [Figge] and Ryan are young international racing stars and a great fit for Plain Jane Couture. We are excited to be a part of the Pacific Coast Motorsports Champ Car racing team.”
Dalziel said: “I am thrilled to be driving the Plain Jane Couture car. I am sure a logo that looks that good is going to make both Alex and I faster all weekend!
Pulling his mind back to racing, he added: “We had a brake issue with the car in the morning, but the team worked hard over lunch and the brakes were much better this afternoon. This is a fast track, I think we are heading in the right direction and I am looking forward to a better result tomorrow.”