De Ferran sets Friday pace at Milwaukee

Nazareth winner Gil de Ferran set the pace in today's opening day of practice at the Milwaukee Mile. De Ferran was marginally quicker than Michael Andretti, Helio Castroneves and Mauricio Gugelmin, all four covered by less than one-tenth of a second.

De Ferran sets Friday pace at Milwaukee

The field was so close today in fact, that the top twenty-four cars were covered by one second. De Ferran scored Penske's one hundredth win at Nazareth last week of course, and the team demonstrated its increasing level of competitiveness once again today as de Ferran and teammate Castroneves completed the day first and third fastest. Both were reasonably happy with their cars, but no more.

"My car is good, very good, but we've still got more work to do," de Ferran said. "We've got a good balance and I think we have the makings of a good race car. We've just got to refine it a little more."

Teammate Castroneves was a little worried that his race simulation run today did not yield the results he had hoped for.

"We made a long race simulation run and the car wasn't as good as I'd hoped," Castroneves said. "It was difficult in traffic and it was very difficult, maybe impossible to be able to pass on the outside. But we still managed a fast time, so that's encouraging."

Andretti stopped early, with almost half an hour still to run in this afternoon's practice session. Even so, he finished the day second fastest between the two Penske drivers. "The car feels really good," Andretti said.

"We had a good test here a couple of weeks ago and the first run I did today I thought, 'Wow, the car feels great!' I did a long run in the spare car and it was really good, then I went back in the race car and did a quick lap. I'm really happy. We'll figure out what changes to make for qualifying tomorrow morning, but we're really close."

Mauricio Gugelmin impressed today, finishing the day in fourth place, a good follow-up to his run to second at Nazareth. Championship leader Paul Tracy was fifth today followed by Adrian Fernandez and Juan Pablo Montoya. The latter set his quick time in the morning session but was thirteenth in the afternoon, complaining of poor handling.

"The car wasn't bad this morning, but we went the wrong way this afternoon," Montoya said. "I was really fighting the car. We've got some work to do."

Qualifying takes place this afternoon following a morning practice session. The field will go out to qualify in the reverse order of practice times with the faster of two flying laps to count.

There was also some discussion today about this year's wing package for the short ovals. None of the drivers expressed satisfaction with the aerodynamic rules, most suggesting that something midway between this year's and last year's downforce figures. "I think we should go to last year's rules and take about a hundred horsepower away," Andretti suggested.

"We thought there was a lot of sense in what CART has done for this ear but it's not working the way we hoped. The biggest problem is the marbles from the tyres which make the outside groove impossible to use. We need to have a spect tyre and we need to cut some horsepower because we're flying on the straights. "I don't fault CART for trying," Andretti added. "They're trying to make it better. It just needs another look."

Qualifying takes place on Saturday afternoon. Stick with Autosport.com for the latest news.

Practice times, Nazareth day one.
1, Gil De Ferran (Penske), 21.389s
2, Michael Andretti (Newman-Haas), 21.404s
3, Helio Castroneves (Penske), 21.449s
4, Mauricio Gugelmin (PacWest), 21.468s
5, Paul Tracy (Green), 21.588s
6, Adrian Fernandez (Patrick), 21.588s
7, Tony Kanaan (Mo Nunn), 21.660s
8, Kenny Brack (Rahal), 21.683s
9, Patrick Carpentier (Forsythe), 21.684s
10, Max Papis (Rahal), 21.714s
11, Mark Blundell (PacWest), 21.732s
12, Jimmy Vasser (Ganassi), 21.778s
13, Juan Montoya (Ganassi), 21.779s
14, Dario Franchitti (Green), 21.843s
15, Roberto Moreno (Patrick), 21. 856s
16, Oriol Servia (PPI Motorsports), 21.872s
17, Michel Jourdain Jr (Bettenhausen), 21.943s
18, Christian Fittipaldi (Newman-Haas), 21.968s
19, Alex Tagliani (Forsythe), 21.979s
20, Cristiano da Matta (PPI), 22.011s
21, Tarso Marques (Coyne), 22.394s
22, Shinji Nakano (Walker Racing), 22.434s
23, Luiz Garcia Jr (Fast Racing), 23.153s

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