CHAMPCAR/CART: Hunter-Reay serves notice at Road America

Ryan Hunter-Reay served notice this afternoon that he is ready for prime time, taking top slot in provisional qualifying for the Grand Prix of Road America, held on the seminal 4.048- mile permanent road course just outside the Village of Elkhart...

Ryan Hunter-Reay served notice this afternoon that he is ready for prime time, taking top slot in provisional qualifying for the Grand Prix of Road America, held on the seminal 4.048- mile permanent road course just outside the Village of Elkhart Lake, WI.

Despite running near the bottom of both practice sessions (14th overall) Hunter-Reay put up a lap of 103.909 seconds (140.246mph) in his #4 Herdez Competition Lola/Ford-Cosworth/Bridgestone challenger when it counted in qualifying, guaranteeing himself a front-row start in Sunday's eighth race in Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.

After testing on the scenic Wisconsin circuit, "it goes to show when we actually go get a good car, it's in the top" of the standings. Calling Road America the "best track in the United States, in North America by far," Hunter-Reay said the day had been a struggle for him and the Herdez Competition team. "We had a huge understeer" in the 15-minute pre- qualifying practice session. "We had to develop the car much further."

Patrick Carpentier was second in the #7 Indeck Lola with a lap time of 104.076 seconds (140.021mph) after practicing in the top ten during both earlier sessions, eighth in the combined listing. Carpentier's crew, too, had to make many changes after that 15-minute third practice before qualifying. "The car was sliding a little bit too much and we made a good improvement," the veteran noted. "I'm very happy with the lap" and even happier he went out earlier in the latter stages of qualifying when the session was halted by a second red flag.

Trying for a three-peat, two-time defending Grand Prix of Road America winner Bruno Junqueira logged the third best lap of 104.529 seconds (139.414mph) in his #6 PacifiCare Lola. The Brazilian, who has been on podium in each of his three prior appearances at this track had a problem with his gearbox, spinning on his second qualifying attempt when the car wouldn't downshift properly into the gravel at the end of the straight..

Sebastien Bourdais, who had set the fastest practice time in practice #1 was fourth in his #2 McDonalds Lola at 104.637 seconds (139.270mph), a good two miles per hour off his practice pace. "We had an engine problem this morning which set us back," the point leader explained. "We didn't get as many laps as we wanted in qualifying; the red flags hurt us. The car was good enough to be on pole but today things didn't go our way."

After posting the quickest lap in practice #2 Jimmy Vasser put up a lap of 104.859 seconds (138.975mph), four-tenths better than he did in practice to place the #12 Gulfstream Lola fifth on the provisional grid . "I think we found something in our shock program," the 1996 Champ Car titleholder revealed. "Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come."

That wasn't to be when Vasser's best qualifying lap was disallowed for a technical infraction, moving everyone behind him up a notch.

Rookie A.J. Allmendinger keeps showing why he earned consecutive championships in the Barber Dodge Pro Series and Toyota Atlantic Championship as he posted the sixth best lap on this tough and fast road course, turning a lap of 104.972 seconds (138.826mph) in his #10 BG Products/Red Bull Lola as the final driver within one second of Hunter- Reay's quick lap.

The young Californian is wearing the yellow colors of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and promoting the foundation's "Live Strong" motto and will take part in Saturday's Tour of Road America bicycle jaunt around this historic track, also in support of LAF and People Living with Cancer. ""I'm pleased with today without a doubt," Allmendinger said. "Every lap we progressed," and if he hadn't gone off at Turn 14 on his final flying lap, no doubt the rookie might have been higher in the standings.

Seventh in this provisional qualifying session went to Justin Wilson, the British rookie driving the #34 Mi-Jack Lola in his first Champ Car campaign. Wilson, fourth on the combined practice sheets lapped Elkhart Lake's Road America at 105.034 seconds (138.744mph). "I guess I should consider myself lucky for being able to get at least one good lap in; the red flags were very untimely for me and I was not able to qualify as well as I was expecting," the former Jaguar F1 pilot noted.

Oriol Servia's eighth place lap of 105.077 seconds (138.687mph) in the #11 YokeTV.com Lola was one of the best timed laps recorded by a Dale Coyne driver at Road America.

Rodolfo Lavin recovered from several off-course excursions this morning to earn the ninth best lap in his #3 Corona Lola at 105.269 seconds (138.434mph) and pronounced himself "happy because we were able to improve a lot from this morning; the car is getting much better," Lavin declared.

Michel Jourdain Jr. rounded out the top ten at 105.377 seconds (138.292mph) in the #9 Gigante Lola. The Mexican said his team had improved the car from the morning "but we still have a few problems with oversteer at the front of the car," Jourdain said. With Vasser's disqualification, Mario Dominguez moved into the top ten with his #55 Herdez Competition Lola.

And where was Paul Tracy, the reigning Champ Car titleholder? Back down in 14th position with the #1 Indeck Lola. The red flags never allowed the Canadian to put in a good lap, even though he felt his #1 Indeck Lola was supremely capable.

Alex Tagliani never hit the timing sheets with the #8 Johnson Controls Lola after crashing in practice. His team just didn't have enough time to get the car ready in time, just like last year. New teammate Guy Smith was the slowest car in the #17 Rocketsports Lola in 17th place after working with "a steep learning curve."

Final qualifying for the Grand Prix of Road America takes place tomorrow afternoon beginning at 2:45PM EDT. Can the favorites rebound to knock Hunter-Reay from pole position? We'll have to watch to make that discovery.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Guy Smith , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Rodolfo Lavin , Dale Coyne , Michel Jourdain