Ryan Hunter-Reay never let any of his 17 competitors close to the ...
Ryan Hunter-Reay never let any of his 17 competitors close to the #4 Herdez Competition Lola/Ford- Cosworth/Bridgestone Champ Car over 250 laps around the 1.032-mile Milwaukee Mile tonight, leading every lap and winning his second race in his second season in the series. It was the first flag-to-flag domination in a Champ Car oval race since Bobby Rahal's similar feat at Phoenix in 1992.
It was a tough Time Warner Cable Roadrunner 250 race for everyone else, as only Hunter-Reay, second-placed Patrick Carpentier in the #7 Indeck Lola and 2003 Milwaukee Mile winner Michel Jourdain in the #9 Gigante Lola completed the 250-lap distance.
"It wasn't as easy as it looked," Hunter-Reay said. "We had great restarts all night but the car was pretty dicey in traffic with a bit of understeer. The guys did a great job in the pits and the car was great in the race. That's what you need to win."
Carpentier, who holds the qualifying lap record at this track - set in 1998! - "tried really hard to catch Ryan, but it was almost impossible because he had an excellent car. I figured I would have to settle for second."
For Jourdain, who joined RuSPORT only three weeks before the season began, this was an excellent result, even though he would have preferred a second consecutive victory. "Ryan made me look bad from my win here last year, but he did a fantastic job. Third is so good. The team is unbelievable; we are making great improvements and becoming strong. The car just got better over the weekend."
Jimmy Vasser, the 1998 winner here finished fourth in his #12 Gulfstream Lola, while rookie AJ Allmendinger had a tremendous run from 13th on the grid to take fifth at the flags in his #10 BG Products/Red Bull Lola. Both Vasser and Allmendinger were one lap down.
Vasser, CART's 1996 champion called this evening's contest "a struggle for the first half of the race, but overall, the car seemed to come on in the later stages and was much better." Allmendinger was "more than thrilled. I talked with my engineer David Brown and told him I was nervous [after qualifying last night].
"I really didn't know how hard to push the car," the Californian explained, "but as the race went on I found my car was really good after about 10 laps on the tires. Everybody was coming back to me." This was only Allmendinger's second oval race; both at The Milwaukee Mile. Last year he competed here in the Toyota Atlantic championship, a title he won.
Bruno Junqueira finished sixth in the #6 PacifiCare Lola after starting tenth. "My goal was to finish in the top-three and leave here with the championship lead. We finished sixth but at least we put the car in the lead. The car wasn't that good; we are missing something." He was two laps down at the close.
Oriol Servia took seventh, unlike last year when he was on podium at this race. Driving the #11 yokeTV.com Lola, the Spaniard started 11th and patiently worked his way up. "This was the hardest race I have ever done. I have never had to work so hard. The crew did a great job, but we need to work together and practice our pit stops," he said.
Performing his usual dance through the field, Mario Dominguez earned eighth place in the #55 Herdez Lola after having a troublesome pit stop. "We were never really able to recover."
With 59-lap pit windows the race appeared to work better for nearly everyone involved. The only time the leader wasn't followed was when Hunter-Reay made a final stop under yellow (for debris) on lap 191 and it took Carpentier and Jourdain until lap 197 to make their final calls to the pits.
Not that it mattered much. At most points during this race, Hunter-Reay was able to pull his lead to anywhere from 11-20 seconds; nobody had anything for the 23-year-old Floridian. Interesting that it was an all North American podium with a US-born driver, a Canadian and Mexican represented.
While there were only five retirements - and the final two came with less than five laps remaining - there was plenty of action to keep the fans occupied. Justin Wilson brought out the yellow on lap 1 when he spun in turn 2 and knocked the nose off his #34 Mi-Jack Lola; he continued to finish 11th, six laps down.
Sebastien Bourdais relinquished the points lead he'd built up over two races by brushing the turn 4 wall on the 51st lap and suffering ignominy of being the first car out of the race. He was battling Rodolfo Lavin at the time and "when Lavin went low I was already low. He took all the downforce from my car and it just went straight," the Frenchman explained.
2003 Champ Car titleholder Paul Tracy was next to exit the contest on the 61st lap when he crunched his #1 Indeck Lola into the turn 2 wall while trying to pass his teammate. "It was disappointing racing Pat for second place side by side in Turn 1, both of us working the track. I just got into the marbles and it took me into the wall. I was disappointed," he growled. I think Pat could have given me more room but that's racing."
Making his first Champ Car start and his first oval start to boot, Gaston Mazzacane began the contest in the same place he ended it: 16th place. Driving the #19 American Medical Response Lola, the Argentinean found the turn 2 wall on lap 80 in about the same spot as Tracy, scattering debris as he bounced back to the inside of the track.
A fire at the rear of the #21 Nextel Lola put rookie Roberto Gonzalez out of the race on lap 244 and the final caution - which brought the proceedings to a close under yellow flags - came when Rodolfo Lavin contacted the turn 4 wall on lap 246 after running pretty strongly throughout the evening.
This sole oval race on the Champ Car schedule may have ended under yellow flags, but it was followed by fireworks and cheers from the crowd, which was estimated around 38,000. They sure got their money's worth with a great American driver slicing through traffic, seven cautions and plenty of dicing through the field.
With the close of the race, Junqueira took the championship lead with 76, followed by Carpentier's 75 points. Hunter-Reay holds 66 third-place points, Bourdais is fourth with 65 and Dominguez is fifth with 62. The Champ Car World Series reconvenes on June 18-20 in the Pacific Northwest at Portland international Raceway for the champ Car Grand Prix of Portland.