CHAMPCAR/CART: Milwaukee race story

Vasser Soars at The Milwaukee Mile Milwaukee, WI -- Jimmy Vasser - whose Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team had shown mastery of every type of FedEx Championship Series venue but the short oval entering this season - scored his second victory of...

Vasser Soars at The Milwaukee Mile

Milwaukee, WI -- Jimmy Vasser - whose Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team had shown mastery of every type of FedEx Championship Series venue but the short oval entering this season - scored his second victory of the year on a one-mile oval Sunday when he drove to victory in the Miller Lite 200 before a crowd of 46,376 at The Milwaukee Mile.

Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) averaged a race-record 131.349 mph for the 200-lap, 206.4-mile event, and finished 7.673 seconds ahead of rookie Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes), whose runner-up effort matched the best finish in the 13-year history of Bettenhausen Motorsports. Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) finished third, his second podium finish of the season, following second at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan in March.

Vasser's victory moved him into third place in the PPG Cup championship with 72 points. Defending PPG Cup champion Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda), Vasser's Target/Ganassi teammate, leads with 92 points, followed by Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes), with 85.

The victory was the seventh of Vasser's career and his second on a short oval, following a win on the mile oval at Nazareth Speedway last month. He led a race-high 77 laps while posting his career-best finish in six starts at Milwaukee, topping a third-place performance last year.

"We came here and tested about a month ago and we were very quick," Vasser said. "We knew what the numbers were supposed to be, but for some reason, we couldn't get those numbers out of the car when the weekend started. Alex [Zanardi] was kind enough to open his book to us for qualifying. We used his information and the car was fantastic.

"We've been working as a team to figure out the black art of one-mile ovals. The car changes so much from the beginning of one fuel run to the end. We had a decent car. It was solid, but it wasn't super fast. I don't think we were the fastest car today, but we were the most consistent, and those are the cars that usually win on one-mile ovals."

Vasser led the final 75 laps, taking the lead for good on the 126th of 200 laps. He put himself in position to take command thanks to an unofficial 9.6-second pit stop on Lap 122, which allowed him to move to the front when then-leader Richie Hearn, out of sequence with the other front-runners, pitted on Lap 126.

"It was a good pit stop," said Vasser, who has scored PPG Cup points in 44 of his past 51 starts, dating to Milwaukee in 1995. "It gave me a cushion and that allowed me to take my time in traffic. We came out of the pits and went 'straight lean' [fuel mixture] right away, knowing that it would be close. I've got to thank [engineer] Julian Robertson and [Target/Ganassi managing director] Tom Anderson for making that decision, and Firestone and Honda were the perfect combination again."

Castro-Neves' performance equaled Patrick Carpentier's second-place finish at Gateway last season as the high-water mark in Bettenhausen Motorsports' 13 years in the FedEx Championship Series.

"Since my big crash at Homestead [on the season-opening weekend], it's been very tough for me on ovals," Castro-Neves said. "It's been tough to get comfortable and confident, but everything is starting to get very good for me now.

"I'm just so happy. I'm learning patience in Champ Car racing. It is a long race, with very many pit stops, you just have to be patient. That's what I did last week at St. Louis [where Castro-Neves finished seventh, a career best prior to Sunday]. These guys, Al [Unser Jr.] and Jimmy [Vasser], they're the best. It's very good for me to be in this position right now."

Unser Jr. scored his 80th podium finish in 17 FedEx Championship Series seasons and his third in the past four starts at Milwaukee, following seconds in '95 and '96.

"We had a great day today, what can I say?" Unser Jr. queried. "The Marlboro car was strong right from the beginning and we were hanging with the leaders.

"I want to thank Andre [Ribeiro] and Tom German [Ribeiro's race engineer]. We used their setup today and the car worked really, really well. We were doing ever ything we could to try and catch these guys. I was praying for traffic, but when it came, they got through that traffic as good as can be done."

>From the green flag, polesitter Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) led the first 16 laps, before he and Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford), owner of five CART career victories at Milwaukee, were both eliminated due to contact on Lap 17. Moore, the defending race champion, assumed the lead for the next 55 laps before a round of green-flag pit stops from Laps 72 through 76 had Vasser (Laps 72-73), Castro-Neves (Lap 74) and Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford, Laps 75-76) alternating on the point.

Thanks to his diff ering pit stop schedule, Hearn led Laps 77-95 before Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) took over when Hearn pitted on Lap 96. Tracy pitted in the lead on Lap 122 while Vasser pitted at the same time in second place.

Tracy was clocked at an unofficial 14.7 seconds during his stop, five seconds slower than Vasser, while Hearn assumed the brief lead from Laps 122-126. Vasser took over during Hearn's final pit stop and remained in command until the checkered flag.

Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) finished fourth, his best finish since second at Long Beach. Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford) finished fifth, a season best and his fourth consecutive top-10 effort.

An encore performance of the Miller Lite 200 will air 1 p.m. ET Monday on ESPN2. The race will re-air 3 a.m. ET Wednesday on ESPN2.

The FedEx Championship Series continues with its third event in as many weeks, the ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix, next Sunday from The Raceway on Belle Isle.

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Scott Pruett , Richie Hearn , Tom Anderson , Chip Ganassi , Greg Moore
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing