Oriol Servia and Newman/Haas appear 'perfect mix'
Oriol Servia was in a winning race car before he was even born.
His father was a two-time Spanish Rally winner and his mother sometimes navigated, including when she was pregnant with Oriol.
''She was very good, I'm told,'' Servia said. ''Then one race she kept getting dizzy, and it was the first time. They were like what's going on, you're usually so good. They won the race, then Monday they found out she was pregnant. I won my first race very early.''
The 36-year-old Servia has been racing since, though the wins haven't come as easily and he's now trying to take the most of what he knows could be his last full-time shot as an open-wheel driver.
Before landing his job with Newman/Haas Racing this season, Servia had been out of the IndyCar Series since 2009, when he had only five races. He was facing the prospect he might have to quit driving and put his mechanical engineering degree to use.
''I was running out of money, the money I had saved for a few years,'' he said. ''So I was like pretty soon I'm going to have make a decision either to go and race in another series, or go work.''
Newman/Haas, the first team to win four consecutive open-wheel championships, was coming off the most miserable season in a storied history that began with Mario Andretti as its driver nearly three decades ago. There were no wins and only one top-five finish.
''We were told by our owners that we need to get this thing back to where it used to be,'' team general manager Brian Lisles said.
Together again, Servia and Newman/Haas are helping each other accomplish their goals.
''It is a perfect mix,'' said Servia, who had filled in for the team in the past. ''It is the combination of the team not doing well last year and me not having a ride.''
Servia started on the front row last month at the Indianapolis 500 and was the only driver to finish in the top 10 in each of the first five IndyCar races this season before the doubleheader in Texas last weekend.
Newman/Haas heads into Sunday's race in Milwaukee with Servia fourth in the points, trailing only Team Penske driver Will Power and Chip Ganassi teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.
While Servia figures he will be able to stay involved in racing after he is done driving, he wasn't ready to get out of the cockpit yet.
''It's just the natural circle in a way,'' he said. ''But I thought that moment was going to arrive the day you have a teammate that beats you consistently, that you just say, 'Yeah, I'm just getting old, I'm just not as fast as I used to be, it's time.' That had not happened. I'm not done.''
When Bruno Junqueira broke his back in an accident during the 2005 Indianapolis 500 for Newman/Haas, Servia replaced him the final 11 Champ Car races and had 10 top-10 finishes. He was the season runner-up when teammate Sebastien Bourdais won the second of his four consecutive season titles for Newman/Haas. Junqueira got the seat back when he was healthy the following season.
Servia and Power were teammates with KV Racing Technology in 2008. Servia was ninth in his first IndyCar season with six top-10 finishes, while Power was 12th with five top-10s. In the Champ Car finale at Long Beach, Power won and Servia was fifth.
Even after three top-10 finishes in four races for Newman/Haas in 2009, a lack of sponsorship kept him from racing last year.
''I kept having hope, before the season, before Indy, and through the season, that something was going to come up, because I had a lot of meetings with companies and things were looking good,'' Servia said. ''It allowed me to have my hopes up. ... At the same time it was not happening.''
The 2010 season wasn't much better for Newman/Haas. Hideki Mutoh, the team's only driver to run a full season, finished no better than 12th in any race. The team managed to get only six races together for Graham Rahal, now on a Ganassi-backed team.
''When we looked at what we were going to do for this year, it was pretty obvious early on that Oriol was somebody we needed to go after to drive for us this year,'' Lisles said. ''He hasn't had the smoothest career, so on the other hand, to a degree, I think that's kept him fresh because he still has a lot to prove. ... He's probably a little bit more determined than ever because he's realistic. He's been in the world of tough knocks and knows he needs to make this work for himself.''
Servia has 85 top-10 finishes in his 154 career starts since 2000, with his only major open-wheel victory coming at a Champ Car race in 2005.
Newman/Haas, formed by Paul Newman and Carl Haas, has 107 open-wheel wins, second only to Team Penske with 159. Except for rookie drivers Rahal and Justin Wilson both winning in 2008, the team's first in IndyCar, all Newman/Haas victories came in Champ Car. It is the only team to win season titles with five different drivers (Bourdais, Cristiano da Matta, Nigel Mansell, Mario Andretti and Michael Andretti).
Milwaukee is the track closest to its headquarters in Lincolnshire, Ill., and no team has won more races there than Newman/Haas. It is also where Servia made his debut for the team in 2005 after Junqueira broke his back.
''We have a lot of experience, he has a lot of experience,'' Lisles said, ''and that's helped us a lot to kind of get things back on track.''