Just 19-cars lined up for the start of the Miller Lite 250, the lowest number of competitors since the Atlanta race two-decades ago. Whilst the field may have been short on numbers, those who were present produced a good solid race with...
Just 19-cars lined up for the start of the Miller Lite 250, the lowest number of competitors since the Atlanta race two-decades ago. Whilst the field may have been short on numbers, those who were present produced a good solid race with the eventual race honors falling to Paul Tracy and Team KOOL Green, who dominated proceedings from the outset.
For Tracy, his 19th victory has been a long time coming, having last taken the checkered flag first in Vancouver two years ago. The Canadian was naturally delighted with his dominant performance and as he slowed his Team KOOL Green Lola Honda down after taking the checkered flag, team owner Barry Green told Tracy on the radio: "Well done mate, that's two wins in two weeks...!"
Indeed it was.
"It was a great motivator, we haven't won a race in a week, so we needed to get the job done," quipped the equally delighted driver as the crowd made their feeling known regarding last week's Indy 500 decision to award the win to IRL rival Helio Castroneves rather than Paul Tracy. However, it was a faultless performance from a driver who has really raised his game in 2002 and now finds himself just 10 points shy of the championship lead.
Adrian Fernandez finished the race in second position after he got left behind at the start of the race, despite the fact that he was the pole-position sitter. The Mexican led the field around for the start of the 250-mile race, only to find himself engulfed by the as the race was waved green. Quite why CART opted top throw the green flag at that time is debatable and was something that Adrian Fernandez would later complain about while race-starter Jim Swintal would admit that he "blew the call."
It was not just Paul Tracy that beat him across the line to start the Miller Lite 250, but also Shinji Nakano, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan. This indicated that Fernandez simply got it all wrong. "I can't believe they waved the green, I set the pace I set the pole," Fernandez exclaimed. "When we came out four he was ahead of me like he was setting the pace and then they gave the green. It was disappointing...."
However, it was a temporary hiccup for the team owner as he fought back throughout the race, gaining positions as other fell by the wayside as well as running a virtually flawless race. Second position for Fernandez was still a good day's work and the fact remains that Paul Tracy was untouchable in terms of pace today at Milwaukee.
Max Papis looked to be set for a lower points paying finish until the final rounds of fuel and tire stops saw him vault from ninth position to third, a position that the popular Italian would keep until the end, scoring Sigma Autosport's second podium position in four races. The result was mighty impressive but for the team it is a critical one as money concerns continue to plague this one car team. It was also noted that Rockwell First Point logos are no longer on Papis' Lola Cosworth.
Fourth position fell to Christian Fittipaldi, who while not really on the ultimate pace, drove a strong race and played the pitstop game down to perfection along with his Newman/Haas pit-crew. One-time championship leader Cristiano da Matta suffered another hellish day in the office in the second Newman/Haas entry and eventually finished in 11th position. The result was one of staying power rather than pace and it is clear that the Brazilian and his team of mechanics have for the second race in succession got it all wrong. To be a championship contender the Brazilian, who dominated at Monterrey and Long Beach, has a lot of work to do.
Somehow, fifth position fell to Michel Jourdain Jr and Team Rahal, thus moving the Mexican to the top of the championship table five points clear of Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy. Jourdain and the team struggled throughout the weekend for pace, qualifying at the tail end of the field, but made steady if unspectacular progress through the field in the 250-mile race. Swift pit work eventually moved Jourdain into sixth position and when Scott Dixon ran high one time too many in his Ganassi car, Jourdain was through to collect another haul of championship points. If consistency is the key in this championship, Jourdain has it in the bag.... Teammate Jimmy Vasser had another low-key race and finished in a disappointing ninth position.
Scott Dixon vaulted up and down the leader board all day, eventually finishing in sixth position in his Target Ganassi car. Dixon, making his debut for the team, suffered from awful understeer late in the race but takes the honor in beating teammates Kenny Brack and Bruno Junqueira who finished in eighth and tenth positions respectively. For Ganassi, perhaps the recent work level took its toll, as the team were nowhere near as competitive as they have been in recent outings, while Bruno Junqueira, the winner last time out Motegi, was frankly lost in the race
Michael Andretti threw away an almost certain podium result as he spun out before rejoining whist the field was under yellow. The American veteran moved swiftly up through the field at the start of the race and seemed to be the only driver capable of challenging Paul Tracy on a lap-by-lap basis. However, his costly mistake saw him drop to seventh position come the checkered flag. "I came out on cold tires and the two guys in front were on warm tires and I was trying to stay with them and unfortunately, that dawned on me after I spun!"
The final points paying position went to Dario Franchitti who ran inside the top ten all day until losing patience and slamming the front of his newly liveried Lola Honda into the wall during the closing stages whilst running on cold rubber in fifth position. However, his retirement came sufficiently late in the race and the Scotsman was classified in a disappointing 12th place.
Of the rest, Townsend Bell was classified in 13th position, despite spending the entire race at the back of the field. Now, Bell is better than that and one has to ask if there was something fundamentally wrong with his Patrick Reynard Toyota this weekend, as he was clearly the slowest driver in the field. His crash at Motegi may well have damaged his chassis, but it is hard to believe that this damage was not correctly rectified during the five-week gap in the races, especially as Bell tested successfully before the Miller Lite 250. Whatever, Patrick racing has an awful lot of work to do. Bell by his own admission just tried to stay out everyone's way and that the car was terrible.
Tora Takagi was classified in 14th position after hitting the wall on lap 110, damaging his front right wheel and bringing out the second yellow flag and triggering the second round of pitstops. Patrick Carpentier was classified in 15th position and ran as high as second until his alternator failed - exactly the same problem that eliminated his Players teammate Alex Tagliani.
Tony Kanaan was again robbed of a podium position as his Mo Nunn Lola Honda was black-flagged as smoke began to pour from his Lola just before half distance. Yet again seemingly endless reliability issues struck the unfortunate Brazilian. As Kanaan clambered from his new stricken Lola, his frustration with his season to date was clear to see. One point for the fastest lap last time out at Motegi is not the only result that Mo Nunn and Kanaan deserve.
And so the crews pack up for next weekend's Leguna Seca race, but first we will have Team Green make a statement tomorrow regarding the result of last Sunday's Indy 500. Given the team's quotes this weekend, few doubt that they will go all the way to ensure that in their eyes at least, justice is done. Good luck Team Green.
Courtesy Earl Alexander - CART-Racing.com