Justin Wilson made a successful return to the Texas Motor Speedway as his Newman/Haas/Lanigan team used their final test of the 2008 season to work on their lack of oval racing experience.
The Englishman was an early retiree from the Bombardier Learjet 550k in June, but both he and team-mate Graham Rahal showed the benefit of a few months’ experience by lapping the 1.5-mile track faster in the test than they had managed in their qualifying runs for the race.
Wilson said: “It was a very good test. We learned a lot of things and worked on the 1.5-mile oval setup. The setup we came here with was a big improvement straight away and shows the progress we’ve made during the season.
“We also made improvements during the day as well. So we’re going in the right direction and everyone can be very proud of how far we’ve come this season.”
Newman/Haas/Lanigan, like all the former Champ Car teams that merged with the IRL, struggled to compete on the unfamiliar oval circuits in their newly acquired machinery. However both its drivers succeeded in winning one non-oval race.
The test went ahead despite the recent death of team co-owner Paul Newman from cancer. The Hollywood legend and philanthropist was no absentee owner, being a familiar face at tests as well as races. Wilson said his presence was greatly missed at Texas.
“It was the first test since Paul passed away so it was difficult,” he said. “He was one of a kind and obviously we’re all missing him badly and thinking of his family. Paul affected so many people in a positive way, not just in the motor racing world, but in every area that he participated in during his life. I’m fortunate to have known him.
“Paul always followed our progress during tests and came to many of them over the years. He was a great guy to be with around the track. At Texas, everyone kept working away and doing what they do best under difficult times.
“We just want to go out there and do the best for Paul. I think he’d be happy about our progress.”