Editorial

View from the Topside
Milwaukee Musings

   by Rick Benjamin
June 7, 2005

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Just taking a breather after a flat-out 221 mile Champ Car battle at the Milwaukee Mile Saturday afternoon, gearing up for a full broadcast week that includes Hooters Cup stock cars, and NASCAR Trucks Friday night, before heading to Portland for Round 4 of the Champ Car title fight next week.

This year’s Time Warner Road Runner 225 was at least an artistic success while putting the Champ Car tour before large numbers of fans via CBS Sports. Champ Car fans had plenty to enjoy Saturday, what with the first all-American front row in seven years coupled with plenty of action up front and throughout the field.


Jimmy Vasser on his way to pole position in Milwaukee

Jimmy Vasser and Cristiano da Matta unfortunately couldn’t make their Tom Brown-authored setups work as well during race conditions as they did on a cooler qualifying day Friday. Vasser thought he’d be able to come back and challenge Paul Tracy later in the chase, once he’d given up the lead in the early going. Unfortunately for the ’96 series champ, Tracy was in a league of his own all day and was able to determine the pace throughout the first Champ Car oval event of 2005.

Saturday was really a coming-out party for a couple of Champ Car’s most interesting characters: AJ Allmendinger and Oriol Servia. AJ is the tour’s bright American hope; at 23 he’s a rare talent with huge upside both for RuSPORT and for the series. Fighting through a bad migraine and other medical woes on a very warm day, Allmendinger hung tough, battled back to second spot, and for awhile was closing on Tracy to challenge for his first career win. Unfortunately for AJ, Tracy’s Neil Micklewright-led Forsythe crew made the right calls and adjustments during PT’s final stop and the 3 car was able to drive away from Allmendinger and the rest of the field.

Servia earned even more respect with his strong run in his first drive for Newman/Haas in relief of injured Monterrey winner Bruno Junqueira. Servia qualified a comfortable 9th Friday without any testing for his new PacifiCare team and concentrated on finding a good race day setup. Oriol told us late Friday that no matter what happened during what could have been a one-off drive, he couldn’t have passed up the chance to drive the best Champ Car he’d ever had a shot at. He walked away from Dale Coyne’s team with no guarantees and no assurance he’d be welcomed back at Coyne should his tenure in the 2 car turn out to be for Milwaukee only.

But Oriol said he had to try an attitude that is just what this sport is really all about. Try and succeed is what he did Saturday, rolling nicely through the field to finish third. In the process he passed and stayed in front of his teammate, the defending series champ Sebastien Bourdais. I’ve written this season of how impressed I am with Sebastien; his IROC win at Texas has cemented his reputation as one of the world’s best. But Servia may be in position now to take advantage of the Newman/Haas opportunity to elevate his profile in the sport and find a top-flight ride once his relief role comes to an end.


Will Michael Valiante finally get his shot at Champ Car?

What of Dale Coyne? He’s told us on and off the air that he will field his normal two cars come Portland, with a second driver to be named. Servia could still return, but Coyne seems interested in finally giving Michael Valiante a full-time opportunity in the Champ Car paddock. That would be well-deserved.

Dale was none too pleased at losing his number one driver two days before Milwaukee but he’s been at this long enough to have been somewhat philosophical about the situation, noting that racing’s a day-to-day business. I’ve been impressed these past two years with what Coyne and Servia have been able to accomplish. I’m hoping Dale can find the right young driver plus sufficient commercial support to be able to excel. Champ Car needs Dale Coyne to survive and thrive.

One other note about Milwaukee: the ARCA ReMax Series stock cars were also on the Saturday card, giving fans a great show at a value price. ARCA unfortunately had to contend with rain showers late in the day, but multi-time champ Frank Kimmel showed he’s still the class of the garage area there. The tour is full of young talent sprinkled with plenty of classy veterans like Kimmel, Jason Jarrett, and Chad Blount. And ARCA continues to enjoy the presence of the great Red Farmer, the father of stock car racing’s Alabama Gang. Red ran fifth in an ARCA event two years ago on the dirt mile at DuQuoin in a backup ML Motorsports machine and remains one of the winningest drivers ever, accounting for some 750 feature victories in a 50-year career.

Seeing Red on the spotter’s stand after our Champ Car show was a treat, and created one of the most interesting juxtapositions you could find anywhere. Where else could you see Cristiano da Matta and Red Farmer in the same paddock, just feet apart? Kind of like seeing Boris Said and Billy Pauch standing together in Charlotte a week earlier.

See you on TV this week with Hooters Cup, on the radio with NASCAR Trucks, and back on CBS Father’s Day from Portland.

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