Updated: Sep 1, 2020
The tenth installment of my series looking at each driver who contested the 2001 Rockingham 500.
My next series of features will be looking at each driver who competed in my first ever major international motorsport race, the 2001 Rockingham 500, the first time the American CART Championship had raced in the UK since 1979.
Having been confirmed the previous July, the race was held in front of 38,000 people who witnessed, at the time, the fastest ever laps on a British circuit, with hitting speeds of over 215 mph. It was also the first full length oval race in the UK since before the war, when cars roared round Brooklands.
I was seven when I watched the action at a very cold Rockingham, I remember my parents either side of me keeping me warm. However, I also remember the excitement of watching a major motorsport event trackside for the first time, having been to the official opening that May. The speed the cars hit was mind blowing and something I can still recall now.
Michael Andretti finished fifth ahead of his teammate Paul Tracy in sixth, with 1996 CART Champion Jimmy Vasser in seventh. The fourth Brazilian in the field Tony Kanaan was eighth ahead of home favourite Dario Franchitti.
Behind Franchitti was Spaniard Oriol Servia, who rounded out the top ten for Sigma Autosport.
Oriol was born on the 13th July 1974 in Pals, Spain, a medieval town in the north of the country and began his love with motorsport at an early age, racing at karts local to his hometown before making the jump to cars at the age of 19 in Spanish Touring Cars.
It was his first season, and only, in tin tops as he switched to single seaters where he contested in various championships around Europe. Oriol competed in the 1993 French Formula Renault championship, winning twice, beginning his time exclusively racing in France until 1997, 1994 seeing him graduate to the Championnat de France Formula Renault Championship.
Oriol ended his first season in the series twelfth as future F1, Endurance and WRC star Stephane Sarrazin won the title. He remained in the series for 1995 alongside Franck Montagny as one of his many teammates, in which his results improved, ending the year sixth.
Having finished sixth, Oriol progressed to the French Formula 3 Championship, partnering Sarrazin at Winfield. Despite moving up the motorsport ladder, Oriol’s results continued to improve, ending the year fifth, ahead of his past champion teammate Sarrazin.
Oriol remained with the team for 1997 alongside Franck Montagny, once again after their previous time as teammates, and although the team were not as competitive as in 1996, Oriol did win his first single seater race since 1993, ending the year eighth in the standings. 1997 also saw Oriol contest in selected rounds in Britain as well as the Macau GP, before switching F3 for Indy Lights in 1998 in what ended out being an inspired move.
Oriol signed with Dorricott Racing for his first season in America alongside Bud Kaeding, although the American only contests four races that season. Oriol ended seventh as Cristiano da Matta took the title with Tasman Motorsports, and remained with Dorricott Racing for 1999, now alongside Dane Philipp Peter. 1999 was arguably Oriol’s best season behind the wheel as he won the Indy Lights championship, despite not winning a race all season, such was his consistency throughout the year.
He beat nearest rival Casey Mears, who went onto have a successful NASCAR career, by fourteen points. It was a fantastic season for Oriol whose impressive consistency and championship win caught the eye of CART teams, signing for PPI Motorsports alongside 1998 Indy Lights champion da Matta.
2000 was a strong year for CART as each team had strong driver line ups, and although Oriol finished fifteenth, he was the second highest rookie in the field, achieving a single podium at Detroit finishing his debut season with 60 points. It was his only season with PPI Motorsports as he switched teams for 2001 joining Sigma Autosport, after PPI Motorsport shut down their single seater division.
He was the team’s sole driver and struggled against the better funded power houses, ending the year nineteenth with 42 points. It was a trying year for Oriol who achieved two top five finishes before switching teams once more in 2002, this time to PWR Championship Racing, although he only contested the first three rounds before withdrawing from the fourth. Sadly, the team struggled for backing before withdrawing from the remaining races of the season. It left Oriol and teammate Scott Dixon without a drive, however Oriol was able to join Patrick Racing later in the year, while Dixon joined Chip Ganassi.
A fourth at Rockingham was Oriol’s best result of the season, a race won by home favourite Dario Franchitti, and remained with Patrick Racing in 2003, again as the team’s only driver. The Champ Car series did still come over to the UK, however to Brands Hatch in May, rather than to Rockingham, contesting the race on the Indy Circuit, which was a bit odd.
Nevertheless it was a good race for Oriol who ended fourth, in front of a crowd of 40,000 people, with the weekend also playing host to the British Touring Car Championship.
The race won by Frenchman Sebastian Bourdais, his first win in Champ Cars.
Oriol ended the year seventh with 108 points and although he switched teams to Dale Coyne Racing for 2004, seeing him earn almost double the points, 2004 saw him finish tenth in the standings.
2005 saw Oriol contest the start of the season for a Dale Coyne Racing, however after only two races, he switched to Newman/ Haas Racing for the remainder of the season, replacing Bruno Junqueira alongside eventual Champion Sebastian Bourdais. Junqueira had to miss the majority of the season through injury which he sustained during that year’s Indy 500.
Although he was new to the team, Oriol had a superb season, finished second only behind his teammate Bourdais, in which he won once and only failed to finish off the podium four times all year. Oriol ended the year on 288 points, 80 points behind Bourdais.
Despite Oriol’s strong results throughout his time with Newman/ Haas, Junqueira returned to the team for 2006, having recovered from the injuries he sustained, leaving Oriol to join PKV Racing, the team co-founded by Jimmy Vasser. He joined rookie Katherine Legge at the relatively young team, having only been founded in 2003.
Oriol finished on the podium once finishing the season eleventh in the standings before moving to Forsythe Championship Racing in 2007, in what proved to be Champ Car’s final season before being purchased by IndyCar, ensuring the spilt at the top of American single seater motorsport came to an end after 12 years.
By the end of 2007 Oriol had returned to PKV Racing and concluded his time in Champ Cars by finishing sixth with three podiums, remaining with the now renamed KV Racing Technology for 2008, as the team switched to IndyCars.
It ensured that after a six-year gap, Oriol returned to the Indy 500, having made his debut at the race in 2002, although his first attempt ended in disqualification. His first finish at the race saw him finish eleventh, ending the year an impressive ninth in the standings.
Despite it being a successful first season in IndyCar 2008 was Oriol’s final full season in the championship for three years, making a single appearance at the 2009 Indy 500, in which he finished 26th after retiring. It was his last appearance behind the wheel until 2011, as he served as an Advisor for Tony Kanaan during the Brazilian’s time at Andretti Green Racing.
Due to the financial crash of 2008, budgets were tight up and down the gird which resulted in Oriol missing out on the 2010 season, although he did return to full time driving in 2011, returning to Newman/ Haas Racing, although the former heavyweights of CART were now struggling financially. It was Oriol’s sponsors, Telemundo and CDW which ensured he could go racing and he had his best season since 2005, finishing on the podium three times. In addition to this he only failed to finish outside the top ten sixth times as he ended the year a superb fourth.
It was the final season that the championship used the IR-05 chassis before switching to the DW-12 chassis, which is still used today, aimed at improving the quality of racing and safety of IndyCar.
Sadly, Newman/ Haas were not able to return in 2012, and although the team had bought two DW-12 chassis, they did not have the backing to run them, resulting in the team closing for good. It meant that Oriol was on the move once more and joined Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, who merged for one season with Panther Racing.
He contested with the team for his final full season ending the year 13th, and since then he has remained active on a part time basis. 2012 was however, Oriol’s best season to date at the Indy 500 as he finished 4th after qualifying 27th, a remarkable rise up the order. He has continued to race at Indy each year since, although he has not been able to finish in the top ten since.
Away from his American motorsport links, Oriol has always raced in the Formula E championship, contesting in the opening four rounds of the 2014-15 season for Dragon Racing. Oriol fared well, finishing each race in the top ten before stepping away from full time driving duties to take over as Managing Director of the team, a position he remains in.
It is amazing to see how well Oriol has done for himself and how he could have had so much more had he found himself in the right cars at the right times of his career, rather than being with teams which were only just starting out instead of being with teams which had the experience to enable him to fight at the very front. His two stints at Newman/ Haas were proof of his speed, and his annual appearance at the Indy 500.
It will be a shame not to see him at the race this year, however I am sure we will see more of Oriol in the coming years.
Pictures: www.motor.es, www.motorsportimages.com, www.indycals.net