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San Jose Track Set for Tweaks

The 1.448-mile street circuit that plays host to this weekend's inaugural San Jose Champ Car race elicited a number of safety concerns following the pair of delayed practice sessions on Friday afternoon

Construction issues - including a crane operator going missing on Thursday night, an eleventh-hour repositioning of bleachers and the disappearance of more than 60 support poles for debris fencing - forced series and race officials to revise the day's schedule and cancel provisional qualifying.

But the circuit itself is also providing cause for concern. In particular, the very fast chicane on the start-finish straight has already been modified once and was expected to be reprofiled again overnight.

Originally designed as no more than a jink to the left and right in front of the Hilton hotel, it was tightened up in an attempt to reduce top speeds on the approach to the subsequent ultra-tight Turn Three hairpin, which has a distinct lack of run-off room.

The tweaks barely slowed the cars but made the chicane a much more difficult proposition, with only a handful of drivers able to take it absolutely flat-out and having to use the full expanse of available road to do so. That presented a problem because the pit exit merged with the racetrack proper at the very point where the drivers were changing direction between two walls at 150mph, potentially putting them on a collision course with cars accelerating out of the pits at half that speed.

Champ Car officials planned to restore the chicane to its original, shallower shape on Friday night as well as moving one of the bleachers in Turn Three to accommodate a larger run-off area at a point where the cars are slowing from 170mph to virtually walking pace.

"They tried to slow down the chicane, [but] the fact is, it's still flat and it's a bit more dangerous than it was, so they're going to come back on it," explained Friday pace-setter Sebastien Bourdais. "It's 155mph or something like that, with that small opening - we might as well just make it bigger and safer."

The other major talking points as regards the circuit were a very narrow section between Turns Four to Six and an extremely bumpy surface. The dauntingly quick chicane actually crosses a set of light rail tracks, pitching the cars into the air - although Bourdais claimed there were bigger headaches than that elsewhere on the circuit.

Asked which were the toughest parts of the track to get a handle on, Bourdais replied: "Everywhere. There's no rest. It's bumpy, extremely bumpy; very easy to lock wheels in the braking. Actually, the railroads are not that big a deal - the car jumps up and down, but you're pretty much going straight. The manhole covers after Turn Seven and before Turn Eight are a much bigger issue than the railroads."

Bourdais took a sanguine view of the bumps and surface irregularities, however, regarding them as all part of the challenge of street racing.

"It's just a typical street course where, you know, you have to adapt the set-up to make the car work better," he said. "There's no need to complain about the surface - that's street racing. That's what it's all about. The guy who [will do] best out of this weekend is going to be the guy who stops complaining and starts working on the car and puts the thing on top."

While the organisation may have undergone a few hitches, attendance at San Jose has been impressive, with a Friday crowd of 40,434 according to official figures.

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