Ryan Hunter-Reay Leads Champ Car Qualifying at Road America

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (August 6, 2004) - Ryan Hunter-Reay (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) currently calls Florida home, but the 23-year-old American may be contemplating a move to Wisconsin after winning in Milwaukee two months ago, and then leading first-round Champ Car qualifying at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin on a sunny Friday afternoon at Road America.

Hunter-Reay, who set a Champ Car single-race record for laps led in winning at the Milwaukee Mile, paced today's qualifying session at the 4.048-mile Road America circuit with a best time of 1:43.909 (140.246 mph). Hunter-Reay guaranteed himself his first front-row start since Milwaukee by leading today's qualifying and also earned a championship point, giving him 116 on the year.

The Herdez team didn't tip much of its hand during morning practice as various troubles prevented the squad for making any full-speed runs. Hunter-Reay didn't take long to find the speed once qualifying started however, vaulting to the top of the serial in just his second lap as the bulk of the field started rolling off Pit Lane.

Coming off a strong test session at Elkhart Lake back in June, Patrick Carpentier (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) immediately leapfrogged Hunter-Reay for the top spot to begin a battle that would carry throughout the 35-minute session. Carpentier held the lead for the first half of the session with Jimmy Vasser (#12 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) running in the third spot, but Vasser would drop out of the top three soon after due to a spin in Turn Eight.

The spin brought out the red flag and cost Vasser a lap that would have ultimately left him fourth in the session, but more importantly the red flag ended the first stints for some of the pole contenders, causing them to miss their window of opportunity on their first sets of tires due to the red flag stoppage.

Carpentier led the session when the emerald banner waved again, but defending Road America winner Bruno Junqueira (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) served notice that he would be a factor, jumping to the third spot with five minutes left in the session. The Brazilian took the pole on his next pass, but held it for less than five seconds as Hunter-Reay streaked past to post the time that would eventually give him the pole.

Junqueira would then seal the deal for Hunter-Reay less than a minute later as gearbox troubles caused the Newman/Haas machine to spin into the gravel trap at the end of the frontstretch. The resulting red flag not only ended the session, locking Hunter-Reay into the top spot, but it also cost Junqueira his fastest time and dropped him back to the third spot on the speed sheet.

Carpentier held on to the second spot on the day with a best lap of 1:44.076 (140.021 mph), while Junqueira would settle for third with a best time of 1:44.529 (139.414 mph). Series points leader Sebastien Bourdais (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) put up the fourth-best time of the day with a lap of 1:44.637 (139.270 mph) while rookie points leader A.J. Allmendinger (#10 BG Products/Red Bull Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who is carrying the colors of the Lance Armstrong Foundation on his RuSPORT machine this weekend, rounded out the top five with a best effort of 1:44.972 (138.826 mph).

Vasser ended the session in the fifth spot but would see his time taken off the board after his PKV Racing mount failed the post-qualifying technical inspection, moving Allmendinger into the top five. The closest pursuer to Allmendinger in the hunt for the Jim Trueman Rookie-of-the-Year story ended the day directly behind him as Justin Wilson (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) carded the sixth-best time of the session with an orbit at 1:45.034 (138.744 mph).

A pair of drivers closing in on their first Champ Car wins filled the seventh and eighth spots on the first-day grid with Oriol Servia (#11 YokeTV.com Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) taking the seventh position with a time of 1:45.077 (138.687 mph). Rodolfo Lavin (#3 Corona Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who scored his first-ever Champ Car front-row starting spot in Vancouver, finished the day in eighth after earning a time of 1:45.269 (138.434 mph).

Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top 10, Dominguez coming back to place 10th after a rear-wing failure on track kept him from running a full morning practice session.

Guy Smith (#17 Rocketsports Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ran his first-ever Champ Car qualifying session today and ended the day in 16th, just two days after the 28-year-old former Le Mans winner joined the Rocketsports Racing team as a replacement for Memo Gidley. His teammate Alex Tagliani (#8 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was unable to run in today's first-round of qualifying after a crash in practice forced the team to miss the session. Tagliani was unhurt in the incident and is expected to compete in Saturday's final session.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) "This feels great. The best is to get a front row start for the race on Sunday. We really struggled this morning during practice. We had a lot of in and out laps, running into different problems all session, and didn't get much time on the track. We took the time to make sure the car was good to go. At first, during the practice segment of qualifying I had huge understeer. We made some changes for the qualifying segment; the first run was good, but I still had understeer problems, the second run the car was much better. I could feel the car was going faster and faster, and we would have posted a faster time if the red didn't come out. The Herdez team did a good job today. I look forward to tomorrow."

PATRICK CARPENTIER (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) "The car feels good. We had made changed the car dramatically from practice. The car was really sliding a lot, but we were able to improve that so that the car was good for qualifying. I was hoping to keep the pole, but the red flag did not come out soon enough for us. We have a good car for tomorrow."

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) "It was difficult, we were really struggling with problems in my gearbox. On the first set of tires I was trying to down shift, and it was not working correctly for me. I went off in the grass and continued. On the second set, I was still having problems down shifting, I was pushing really hard and just spun. It is frustrating to lose my fastest lap, and it was a shame that I spun because I think that lap was going to be even faster."

-ccws-