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How Minardi became a race winner outside F1

Minardi failed to take a race victory in Formula 1 during its long association with the series but as it ventured outside the premier racing class, it found greater success.

Doornbos ChampCar
To news overview © HVM Racing

In late 2005, the Minardi Formula 1 team disappeared from Formula 1. Red Bull purchased the team and renamed it Toro Rosso as it commenced a two-team operation.

Currently it runs as AlphaTauri but will undergo another name change ahead of the 2024 campaign.

While its long-standing presence in F1 was extinguished, Minardi's name didn't disappear from the wider motorsport scene. Paul Stoddart continued to run the programme with the same passion and enthusiasm in the ChampCar Series in 2007.

The ChampCar Series began a new chapter with the all-new Panoz DP01 chassis, a somewhat plump but traditional racer.

Stoddart got in touch with ChampCar owner Kevin Kalkhoven and HVM Racing owner Keith Wiggins during the race at Surfers Paradise in 2006. In late November of that year, Stoddart took a majority stake in HVM Racing, and renamed the team Minardi Team USA for 2007.

“They wanted to use our two-seater F1 programme, which worked really well,” Stoddart exclusively told RacingNews365. “And the rest, as they say, was history.

“I mean, we went in with some former Minardi personnel and some HVM personnel. We had a pretty good, talented team.”

			© HVM Racing
	© HVM Racing

Reaching the top step

Driving for the team during the 2007 season was Dutchman Robert Doornbos, who had a short stint with Minardi in 2005 before three outings with Red Bull the year after.

But Doornbos was not necessarily Stoddart's first choice two years after they teamed up in F1.

“Doornbos came by way of sponsorship,” he asserted. “Don’t get me wrong, Robert did a good enough job but he was there strictly because of that sponsorship.”

After 340 Formula 1 Grands Prix (the 10th most for a Constructor), Minardi failed to reach the top step of the podium.

However a victory came its way in ChampCar when Doornbos secured two victories en route to third place in the Drivers' Championship.

“With Robert, at least working with a really good engineer, he was able to take advantage in the fact that the races we won, Robert had a first lap incident that put us off strategy,” Stoddart outlined. “But by putting us off strategy, it won us the race.

“Now that's not to take anything away from Robert, because it's one thing to say ‘if we get another caution, you don't have to stop’.

“But you still got to deliver and keep it on the black stuff. And when we told Robert to do something, he did it. So I can't complain about that. We were runners-up in the championship but as a team. It felt good to be lifting first place and being up on that podium.”

			© HVM Racing
	© HVM Racing

Real Minardi victories

Despite working with HVM, did it feel like a true Minardi victory then?

“Yes indeed. As I said, a lot of the workforce came off Minardi and with the Minardi Team USA name, people actually cheered for the Minardi name,” said Stoddart. “It was a good feeling.

“We were the runner-up in the Teams' Championship and it felt really good to hold up that trophy for victory, as well as those for second and third places. I think we ended up on the podium six times.

“It was so much more relaxed than F1. You didn't have all the dramas of getting people into the pits, you didn't have all the dramas of protocols. It was still very serious racing.

“But it just didn't have the difficulty that is sometimes associated with F1. And the politics, the team meetings are much more relaxed. People generally voted for things to improve the series and the sport rather than for their own personal interests.”

ChampCar ceased to exist after the 2007 season and the class merged with the IRL, creating a single IndyCar class.

Stoddart had little interest in keeping his entry alive in the series.

“My interest was in proper racing on street circus. Ovals, despite all the hype around the Indy 500, which is certainly a spectacular race... but for me, and I'm not being funny, at 50 years old, I could have got in the car and won the Indy 500.

“It was all one strategy - just being able to have balls, keep your foot down and stay out of the walls. That's not F1. F1 is pure racing. ChampCar was pure racing.”

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