CHAMPCAR/CART: Ryan Hunter-Reay paces Milwaukee practice

Two practice sessions for Saturday's Time Warner Cable Road Runner 250 presented by U.S. Bank were held at the historic 1.032-mile Milwaukee Mile today and yielded some surprises and a few sure things. Ryan Hunter-Reay was quickest of the 18 ...

Two practice sessions for Saturday's Time Warner Cable Road Runner 250 presented by U.S. Bank were held at the historic 1.032-mile Milwaukee Mile today and yielded some surprises and a few sure things.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was quickest of the 18 Champ Cars present for race three in the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. The sophomore driver of the #4 Herdez Lola/Ford-Cosworth/Bridgestone racer turned his quick time in the 1.5-hour evening practice (as did all but two drivers) with a lap of 20.722 seconds (179.288mph) on his 49th of 57 laps tonight.

Hunter-Reay was second in the initial practice, which was held between 4:15- 5PM CDT. He called his result "excellent, but it's on the first day. We're pretty confident," Hunter-Reay noted. "We're right where we want to be and we know where the car needs to be."

Second for the day went to veteran Patrick Carpentier in the #7 Indeck Lola at 20.821 seconds (178.435mph); the French-Canadian set his quick lap on the 61st of 66 laps in the dark. Carpenter holds the official track record for a single qualifying lap at 185.500mph, set in his first year with Team Player's.

Carpentier, setting his quick lap late in the session said he was "happy with the time but I hope to make the car more stable for qualifying. It was a pretty good lap, and I think you'll see similar times in qualifying tomorrow night." Both Hunter-Reay and Carpentier beat Alex Tagliani's pole time of 20.822 seconds in practice tonight.

Third place went to 2003 champion Paul Tracy in the #1 Indeck Lola at 20.970 seconds (177.167mph). Tracy spent much of the night doing long runs and the three-time winner at this track wasn't terribly pleased with the balance on his car.

"The practice went okay," he said. "The car isn't behaving as well as I'd like and we still have some work to do. We did have a good long run and the car got a little bit better." Tracy's best lap came on his 47th of 67 laps.

Tracy did have quite a moment in the second practice tonight with rookie Nelson Philippe, the French driver half his age at 17. Apparently the driver of the #17 LeasePlan Lola "nearly pitched me into the wall while trying, like most rookies not to get into the way," Tracy said.

The Canadian tried to make an outside move on the rookie, but Philippe came up on him and Tracy had to brake hard. Going to the youngster's pit box once practice was over Tracy remarked, "He was a bit shell-shocked. Everybody was out at the end of the session trying to do some qualifying speeds. I was caught out real quick."

In fact there were no incidents in either practice today and the sole yellows were for removal of debris. With a total of six rookies on the tricky, flat oval there was reason to expect trouble, but very little came.

A.J. Allmendinger in the #10 BG Products/Red Bull Lola was quickest of the newcomers, no surprise although this was one of the few races he did not win last year. Allmendinger was tenth for the day, turning a total 149 laps in the two practices, 105 tonight. "I was very pleased overall because we made a lot of progress [from the first practice]. Driving under the lights is definitely a new experience."

Mario Dominguez led the standings at mid-practice tonight but ended up fourth in the #55 Herdez Lola at 21.009 seconds (176.838mph). The Mexican, in his third year with the Herdez Competition has a new engineer in Michael Cannon, who seems to be working well with Dominguez.

Bruno Junqueira, who was fifth last Sunday in the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race held the same position after practice in his #6 PacifiCare Lola Champ Car. Junqueira's team made some changes to the car after he ran his quick lap of 21.060 seconds (176.410mph), "but we made some changes after that and it was not as good. We will start practice tomorrow with the initial setup," he revealed.

Rodolfo Lavin also led practice for a bit in the early going tonight and ended up sixth in his #3 Corona Lola. Sebastien Bourdais took seventh in the #2 McDonalds Lola with a lap of 21.192 seconds (175.311mph).

Bourdais was quick early but when he tried qualifying simulations to the end of the session, "We got traffic on both sets of new tires. We still need to work on our qualifying setup but we will pretty much have to guess because we are going to try to save our tires for the race."

Oriol Servia gave Dale Coyne Racing a good result in the #11 yokeTV.com Lola with an eighth-place run at 21.244 seconds (174.882mph). The Spaniard said the car was "okay, but we hoped to be better. The car is not fast, but it is safe."

Servia has a new teammate this weekend as Argentine driver Gaston Mazzacane has joined the team to pilot the #19 American Medical Response Lola. In a baptism - thankfully not by fire, Mazzacane was the slowest guy out there tonight, but with his impressive Formula One resume should get with the program quickly.

Jimmy Vasser was ninth in the #12 Gulfstream Lola with his 55th lap (of 56) 21.303 seconds (174.398mph). The 1996 Champ Car champion thought his "run was okay. We were trying to save tires more than anything else because of everyone doing their five-lap runs for tomorrow. We ran into a lot of traffic, especially when we were trying to put together our own mock qualifying runs."

2003 Milwaukee Mile champion Michel Jourdain brought the #9 Gigante Lola to 11th place tonight. He believes his RuSPORT team has "closed the gap but there is still room for improvement. This race is very long, so the most important thing is to have a consistent car and a good car in traffic."

The Champ cars will have one more tune-up between 4:15 and 6PM tomorrow to prepare for the sole single-car qualifying of the season on the only oval they'll run this year. Tracy would "like to see one or two more ovals but only if we're at a track like this," but not ovals just for the sake of running ovals, he remarked.

Qualifying gets underway at 8:30PM CDT tomorrow night. Who will win pole position? It's a crapshoot.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Gaston Mazzacane , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Rodolfo Lavin , Nelson Philippe , Dale Coyne , Michel Jourdain
Teams Dale Coyne Racing