CART Thursday practice - Motegi

Kenny Brack set the pace in the first day of practice for Saturday's 500 kilometre Champ car race on the high-banked 1.5-mile Motegi oval in Japan.

CART Thursday practice - Motegi

Last year's Indy 500 winner Brack is a CART rookie this season and has been very impressive in most races so far this year. The 34-year old Swede was doubly impressive on the first day at Motegi because he had never seen the track before but was immediately on the pace and finished the day at the top of the time sheets, lapping his Team Rahal Reynard-Ford at 213.885 mph (26.072 secs).

It also was the first time this year that Brack has enjoyed a trouble-free opening day of practice.

"Every race so far this year we've been back and forth between the primary car and spare car on the first day," Brack said. "It's been quite frustrating, so today was very nice. It's the first time we've had no problems on the first day so we're hoping for more of that. We will have to keep working hard to see if we can stay in the hunt."

Brack said he was very impressed with the track at Motegi. "It's a fantastic facility. Everything here has been built beautifully and the track is fun. It's pretty much flat in turns one and two and you have to breathe it a little in turn three. I'm really enjoying it."

As impressive as Brack's performance was, it was equally impressive, perhaps more so, to see three Toyota-powered cars in second, third and fourth places. Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmy Vasser and Cristiano da Matta were right on the pace and Toyota is hopeful of scoring its first Champ Car victory this weekend at home in Japan. In fact, Toyota produced a new version of its latest RV8E engine for Motegi.

The new engine features only one wastegate on the left side cylinder bank. The right side of the engine is without a wastegate, running effectively in normally aspirated form and producing a much loader, deep-throated exhaust note. Ford/Cosworth has experimented with this configuration in the past but nobody has actually run the set-up on a track before today. Both Montoya and Vasser ran the experimental engine today, although neither driver knows whether they will race the new powerplant.

"We don't know yet," Vasser commented. "This is the first time it's been on the track and we have to see how it runs before we make a decision." Montoya was particularly happy with his time, only 0.020 seconds slower than Brack, because he spent most of the afternoon session jumping back and forth from one car to another because of a blown gearbox oil seal.

"We had a problem with the gearbox in one car and I got into the spare but it was undriveable," Montoya said.

"I almost lost it big-time in the first turn so we decided to go back into the other car after the guys had repaired it. I got only three laps in that car so I think we did a pretty good time. I'm very encouraged after the few laps we did."

It's possible that today's times could comprise the starting grid for Saturday's race. Rain is forecast for tomorrow, and possibly Saturday as well. If Friday's qualifying is rained-out the field will line-up in today's order. If the worst happens and rain persists through Friday and Saturday, the race will be run on Sunday.

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