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
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
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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