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Surreal helmet suits Servia fine

By BRUCE LOWITT and Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Do not let the ants crawling up Oriol Servia's chin bother you. It's just a tribute on his helmet to surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Both were born in Spain's Catalonia region.

And, yes, limp clocks, another of Dali's signatures, drip between the helmet's stripes.

"I'm not big on art but I love his work. He's so different," said Servia, who toured the downtown Salvador Dali Museum Thursday. "When I saw the museum was here I felt I had to do something with the helmet for the race." He mentioned it to a friend who designed Servia's first helmet. He came up with this one.

"Dali was always very popular at home," Servia said. "He was famous when I was a kid. I liked his thinking. You can look at a painting -- there's so much detail in it -- and stare at it for hours and keep finding new things you never saw. ... People either hate his stuff or love it. I love it."

Dali was severely burned in a fire at his house in 1984 and died five years later.

"I remember that," said Servia, 15 in 1989. "Then I read a couple of biographies of him and saw that he was a very special character. He wasn't only a crazy guy; he really worked hard."

SO WHAT ELSE IS NEW?: Alex Tagliani was driving for Player's/Forsythe Racing in 2002. Now he's under contract with Rocketsports Racing, of which Player's is an associated sponsor. He's the sole driver for Paul Gentilozzi, owner of Rocketsports, one of five new CART teams.

"I've been eager to start the season before, but this is different," Tagliani said. "We're on a new track and I'm the first driver for a brand new team that's not like any other team out there. I have the opportunity to be more involved in this team. ... It may be difficult and a lot of hard work in the beginning, but I'm excited about the challenge and the reward.

"I know we'll win."

THERE'S A DOWNSIDE?: Bruno Junqueira would like you to know that being a world-class race driver isn't exactly a bed of roses.

Yes, Newman/Haas' lead driver said, he travels the world driving great cars, "and there's a lot of money, a lot of girls. That's just a small part of the whole thing."

With all that traveling, said the Brazilian native who now calls Miami home, "there's different beds in different hotels every day. We do a lot of PR. We do a lot of things.

"I'm not complaining. I love what I do. I love racing, but it's not as easy as everybody thinks."

Not like playing pro football, for instance, Junqueira said, running a play that takes maybe 15-20 seconds, then being able to relax half a minute until the next play. "Driving, you have to concentrate every second. This morning I drove 31/2 hours, Miami to here. Anybody can do that."

But not at 200 mph.

RELAX, KID: Sebastien Bourdais is Newman/Haas' No. 2 driver.

He said he feels none of the pressure Junqueira might be experiencing.

"I'm the rookie," he said. "I don't have any particular reasons to be worried. Bruno is there to win the title. I just have to learn to get some good results and if I work a lot and do my job well, we'll have some good results."

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