Ahead of the 2011 season, Oriol Servia had all but retired. After leading the transition drivers from Champ Car in 2008 (he finished the year ninth in the standings, the best of that group), sponsorship issues left him on the outside looking in. KV Racing Technology, his team for that 2008 season, lost the funding to provide him a seat and he spent much of the next two seasons on the sidelines.
“It was kind of a forced retirement!” quipped the Spaniard. “You know, I never intended to stop. In 2008, I had a great season, finishing the best of the guys (coming from) Champ Car, so it was a good year. And then, in ’09, again lack of money, I only did five races, (with Rahal Letterman Lanigan and Newman/Haas/Lanigan) and in 2010, I did no races at all. So it was tough.”
Finally, heading into 2011, a lifeline. Newman/Haas racing, in what ended up being a resurgent year for the legendary squad, signed him ahead of the season opener, and the combination raced their way to fourth place overall, ahead of such names as Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves (of Team Penske) as well as all four Andretti Autosport drivers (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, and Mike Conway).
“When I got the opportunity last year to get back in the car again, I definitely didn’t want it to go to waste,” Servia explained. “So, I did the best I could and the team did too, with the limited resources, and it ended up being a great season.”
However, it wouldn’t last. Newman/Haas’ announcement of their withdrawal from the sport came as a surprise to many. Servia certainly understood it was possible, but held out hope that it wouldn’t reach that point. “I knew there was a chance that would happen,” he said. “But, I couldn’t get myself to really believe it A) because of the great season we just had and B) because of the history of the team. Even at times when they didn’t have the sponsorship, they still continued. But, I did know that there was a chance (they would close). It was very clear. The last three days before they shut down, I was at the shop and I was having dinner with the owners, and they were waiting for something that just didn’t happen.”
It was a sad story, but no ill will exists. “They were not ready to spend their own money again, like in the past,” Servia discussed. “I think that is the right thing to do, to at least shut down (at a point), that allowed us to find jobs somewhere else. It was sad, but again, it was a great time with the team; it was a great year.”
Fortunately for Servia, he landed on his feet relatively quickly, signing on with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing. What’s interesting is that Servia, a veteran of the sport who has driven for several top-notch teams, believes that Dreyer and Reinbold could be one of the best outfits he has been a part of. “I’m confident because I’m in a good place. Dreyer and Reinbold, I was very impressed,” he pointed out. “I think it’s the best IndyCar shop I’ve ever been in, with the kind of equipment they have, the personnel, the shop is really well detailed. So, I feel good about the team I’m with.”
However, that’s not to say there won’t be challenges along the way. The trials and tribulations of Lotus, whose engines they will use this season, have been well documented. But, he understands what the situation is and isn’t going to point fingers. “The engine, that’s not something we can do much about as a team,” Servia went on. “And we knew what we were getting into from the start. We knew we were going to play catch up, so that’s where we are.”
He acknowledges that the package has a lot of promise, but they may not be able to realize it all immediately. “The engine ran well the day I drove and showed potential,” he said. “But, right now, it’s only potential. We’re not at all where the others are now. So, we’re going to have to keep working hard and hopefully it’s only going to be a couple of races that we’re a maybe little behind and we can catch up soon.”
Servia also prefaced himself by admitting that, while testing is underway, he and Dreyer and Reinbold have only run one full day with the chassis and engine. “Unfortunately, we only had one day the test, so we only got to do so much with the setup, and there’s a lot more to do.”
But, despite the early setbacks, he remains optimistic of the overall outlook. In fact, he indicated that being a “little guy” could have its perks. “We know (Chevrolet and Honda) have much bigger resources and bigger pockets. There are always smaller manufacturers against the big ones and (it's possible to find) a way to be a bit more nimble and kind of outsmart a little bit the big boys,” he said confidently. “Sometimes, when you’re a smaller company, you can do things quicker than bigger companies, and that’s what we’re hoping will be the case again.”
The “little guy” theme continues with the knowledge that, at the moment, Dreyer and Reinbold is a one-car effort. But, Servia does not find a need to worry. In fact, in some ways, he thinks the single-car effort could be the better option. “They don’t want to do anything that handicaps or challenges the effort, learning the car, and getting the best we can out of my entry. And, I appreciate that,” he said of Dreyer and Reinbold. “I always think its better to have teammates and have more than one car, or two, three, or four cars, as long as it doesn’t hurt the operation. So, we’re just going one step at a time. It can be hard to focus all the resources and make (multiple cars) happen.”
In general, the expectations are tempered as the year begins and Servia’s main focus is on making the new chassis/engine combination as strong as possible. But, at least in the back of his mind, there are goals he hopes to accomplish. “I want to improve from what I did last year. I finished fourth and, with a little bit better performance in some races, I thought the championship was right there, and we started on the front row at Indy and finished sixth. I want to win (th Indianapolis 500). Is it achievable this year? I don’t know. But, especially the 500, as a race being that long and that complicated with how things go, you never know. Often, actually, the fastest car is not the car that wins. I want to focus on Indy as much as I can and do the best job and make it happen.”
He finished up, “As far as our exact, concrete goals: I don’t know. But, I want to win Indy. If that’s not possible, then we’ll try again another year. But, hopefully, we can do well there.”