CHAMPCAR/CART: Hunter-Reay shows the way at Milwaukee

Sophomore Champ Car driver Ryan Hunter-Reay showed the veterans how to find the way around The Milwaukee Mile tonight, transferring his finesse in practice to take pole position for tomorrow night's Time Warner Cable Roadrunner 250, the sole oval...

Sophomore Champ Car driver Ryan Hunter-Reay showed the veterans how to find the way around The Milwaukee Mile tonight, transferring his finesse in practice to take pole position for tomorrow night's Time Warner Cable Roadrunner 250, the sole oval contest on the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford calendar for 2004.

During single car qualifying held under optimal evening conditions the driver of Herdez Competition's #4 Lola/Ford-Cosworth/Bridgestone racer used his second lap of 20.509 seconds (181.150mph) to best his 17 challengers.

The final driver to qualify, Hunter-Reay agreed he has "more confidence than I did last year. I was only two years removed from Barber Dodge Pro Series then," he reminded. Not only is this Hunter-Reay's first pole position; it is also the first pole for his team, which evolved from the late Tony Bettenhausen's racing team.

"When I got out of the car there were a lot of 'Ay gringo' cheers coming from the people around me," Hunter-Reay said with a big smile. "That was all I heard. The car was a bit light in the rear" during his run which "is not a fun thing," he noted.

Second on the grid, point leader Sebastien Bourdais in the #2 McDonalds Lola joined the group of those "who have hit the wall" during testing in May. For that reason, he knew he "had to make sure the car was not too loose. We had to make it neutral," the Frenchman advised.

Bourdais had a terrible race here last year (for him) finishing ninth from 13th grid position. That, and his accident in testing weighs on the sophomore's mind, even with his exemplary lap of 20.667 seconds (179.765mph). "There is a lot of guess-work in qualifying on an oval, especially with the difference of 20-degrees [in temperature readings] from practice this afternoon."

The lap-speed record-holder at this historic oval, Patrick Carpentier starts third in the #7 Indeck Lola after posting a lap of 20.740 seconds (179.132mph). The French-Canadian called his run "not too bad. We tried a few things in practice that caused the car to push in the corners, so we went back to our Thursday settings. We left a little bit on the table," he said.

"I think," Carpentier predicted, "that we'll see side-by-side racing tomorrow night and that we'll have a good race here. We do have a good race car and I think we've got a pretty good chance in the race. It'll be a long night and I hope we'll be there at the end. I expect you'll see a lot of good battles, just like last year."

Mario Dominguez gave Herdez Competition two cars in the two front rows as he posted a lap of 20.785 seconds (178.744mph) on his second qualifying lap in the #55 Herdez Lola, good for fourth. "I'm happy because I know I have a very good car but I'm also disappointed because we ran out of fuel on the start/finish on my final lap. We had some sort of fuel pick-up problem so that was a shame."

Reigning Champ Car titleholder Paul Tracy lines up fifth in the #1 Indeck Lola after running 20.800 seconds (178.615mph) tonight. "The track was very fast but our car didn't have the speed we needed. The car is good, and it's a long race. But it would have been nice to qualify higher as these were optimal conditions. This is," Tracy said, "about as good as you could possibly ever get" with regard to qualifying conditions.

Rodolfo Lavin's sixth-place qualifying slot showed the benefit of three-car teams as he now works with Tracy and Carpentier's Forsythe Championship Racing group based in Indianapolis. Putting together a lap of 20.809 seconds (178.538mph) in the #3 Corona Lola, Lavin said his car was "very good. This afternoon we had some understeer but we adjusted the car in the right direction."

Alex Tagliani, polesitter here last year when he turned the fastest practice lap and qualifying was rained out settled for seventh grid spot at 20.815 seconds (178.487mph) in the #8 Johnson Controls Lola. "I've struggled here so this is fantastic. We were pretty concerned last night and don't know what happened, but the car is much better tonight. If we have weather like this tomorrow the race will be amazing," Tag predicted.

Starting ninth, Jimmy Vasser did think his run was "real good. You always think you can go quicker but conditions were really good tonight" for him to run 20.854 seconds (178.153mph) in the #12 Gulfstream Lola. "The car is really solid," the 1996 CART champion said.

Tenth place on the 18-car grid went to Bruno Junqueira who crashed out of this race last year. Junqueira's lap of 20.867 seconds (178.042mph) in the #6 PacifiCare Lola didn't please the Brazilian, who raced to fifth last week at Indianapolis. "The car is very good but I thought I could go much quicker. The car got really loose and there was nothing I could do."

Oriol Servia took the #11 yokeTV.com Lola to 11th on the grid and he wasn't "too happy. I think we made the car a little too safe and our qualifying could have been better." Justin Wilson is the highest-gridded rookie of six in the field and will come to the flags 12th in his first oval race with the #34 Mi-Jack Lola. "This is very different and I'm still getting used to it," the Formula One veteran said. "I have to rely on my engineers' expertise and I think we've improved a lot" in the three practice sessions.

A.J. Allmendinger is only in his second oval race and first in a Champ Car here in Milwaukee. The 22-year-old rookie lines up 13th in the #10 BG Products/Red Bull Lola. "I've never been under the lights and this is a big adjustment for me," Allmendinger said. "It's tough to adjust to oval races but I know the speed is there. This just isn't natural to me and the car is probably faster than I am."

He's not alone. Roberto Gonzalez, 14th in the #21 Nextel Lola found his car "pretty neutral and what we expected. I'm pretty happy with the balance and I'm learning I can't fight with the car" in his first oval race.

Mario Haberfeld is 15th and first in Reynard class in the #5 Cummins machine from Walker Racing. This is his third oval race and "we are just trying to fix problems. The balance was okay" but Haberfeld hoped to do better.

First-timer Gaston Mazzacane, named to drive the #19 American Medical Response Lola for this race thought the extra warmup lap he took (drivers could take up to five laps before green) "made the tires go off. I'm trying to get a good rhythm on this kind of track and the car has been consistent." He starts 16th.

Nelson Philippe in the #17 LeasePlan Lola starts 17th after being first to qualify. He's worked to improve "as we worked on the car throughout the weekend and we know it runs well in traffic. I'm confident it's a good car for the race."

Bringing up the rear is rookie Alex Sperafico in the #14 Mi-Jack Reynard. He was "not happy with the balance in qualifying. We made changes from practice and it's very different," said the first-time oval driver, "to jump into the car and run. Last night the car felt much better."

There were many "firsts" tonight on The Milwaukee Mile. Hunter-Reay set the first pole for an American since Vasser's P1 start at Long Beach two years ago as he earned his first pole in the series and the first for his team in its existence. The six rookies made their first attempt at single- car qualifying and did so without one swipe of the walls.

In fact, as the teams and drivers prepare for the long, 250-lap - or 105- minute - race tomorrow night, there have been no work for the Simple Green Safety Team other than routine searches for debris.

Tomorrow's race, the sole oval on the 2004 calendar takes the green flags at 8PM CDT and will be seen on television in the USA on Sunday, when Spike TV presents the Time Warner Cable Roadrunner 250 at 4PM EDT.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gaston Mazzacane , Mario Haberfeld , Justin Wilson , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Rodolfo Lavin , Roberto Gonzalez , Alex Sperafico , Nelson Philippe , Tony Bettenhausen