Some IndyCar drivers have never been happier to see a few right-hand turns.
After a series of difficult and crash-filled oval events, Sunday's race on the road course at Watkins Glen International could not come at a better time, especially for the series newcomers.
"Finally, a road course," said IndyCar rookie Enrique Bernoldi, who grew up racing on road and street circuits in Europe. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy to be turning left and right this weekend."
Bernoldi is one of nine drivers making the transition from the defunct Champ Car World Series in the wake of this year's unification of the two American open-wheel series. Champ Car _ formerly CART _ had weaned itself completely off of oval races in recent years.
But eight of the first nine IndyCar races this season have been on ovals. That, and adapting to all new cars and engines, has made it tough on the drivers and teams making the transition.
"I've struggled with the last few ovals and coming to a familiar racing environment will, hopefully, help me get back on track," said Bernoldi, now driving for Conquest Racing. "Obviously, the track will be new to me, but my road racing experience, as well as the team's experience on this type of track, will serve us well this weekend."
The transition drivers showed well on the street circuit at St. Petersburg, Fla., in April. Graham Rahal, driving for seven-time CART-Champ Car series champion Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, surprised everyone with a victory in what was the 19-year-old's IndyCar debut and the second race of the season.
E.J. Viso finished fourth in that race, with Bernoldi fifth, Oriol Servia seventh, Will Power eighth and Justin Wilson, Rahal's teammate, ninth.
"My experience has been racing on road courses, and we already know that, as a team, we run well on them," Viso said. "St. Petersburg, if it wasn't for some cautions, I think we could have challenged for the win. So, yeah, there is a lot of optimism going into this race."
This will be the first of five road or street courses in the next seven races, giving the newcomers a chance to make up some lost ground in the standings.
"I'm looking forward to getting back to some road courses for the team and myself because I think that's the type of place where we can capitalize on our experience and go out there and do our best," said Rahal, son of longtime open-wheel star Bobby Rahal and the youngest driver ever to win an IndyCar event.
Keith Wiggins, owner of HVM racing, which fields cars for Viso, echoed the youngster.
"Watkins Glen gives us that opportunity to make a midseason run at the top-10 in the championship," Wiggins said. "We have goals before this season ends. Winning is the ultimate goal, but being a top team that came into the IndyCar Series this season is an important one too. The guys on this team are working (as) hard as anyone."
Servia is ninth in the standings, just 26 points out of fifth place. He has more experience on ovals than any of the other transition drivers and has been the most consistent of the newcomers. But he cautions that veteran IndyCar drivers will still be difficult to beat, even on the more friendly road and street circuits.
"We will still be fighting against great teams with great drivers that have more experience with these cars and more experience on these circuits, so to think that we are just going to go out and win these races is not realistic," Servia said. "But I think that we will be at less of a disadvantage than we were on some of the ovals and have a chance to maybe have some good results."
Former IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, winner of two races this season, including the Indianapolis 500, goes into Sunday's race as the three-time defending champ. But the New Zealander, who also leads the series points, expects this year's race to be considerably tougher, thanks to 26 entries _ eight more than in 2007.
"The fact is, you can't afford to make a mistake out there with this many cars," said Dixon, who led both practice sessions on the 3.4-mile, 11-turn circuit. "Most of the new guys are experienced road racers and they come here with teams that have done this for a long time. That's going to make it a lot harder to repeat."