GK on Milwaukee

Traditionally in Champ car racing, the Milwaukee Mile always followed on the week after the Indianapolis 500. That tradition was broken when Tony George created the IRL in 1996. But happily, the last two years have seen the beginning of a rebirth of the old ways with the return to Indianapolis of some of CART's top drivers and teams.

GK on Milwaukee

CART champions Penske took a one-two sweep of last Sunday's 85th Indy 500, with Helio Castroneves heading home Gil de Ferran. Now those two, along with Nicolas Minassian, Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser and Bruno Junqueira can enjoy the revived tradition of going from the glamour and glitz of Indy to Milwaukee's historic one-miler.

In fact the Milwaukee Mile, which is part of the Wisconsin State Fair Park in suburban Brookfield, Wisconsin is America's oldest racetrack. The one-mile dirt horsetrack hosted its first automobile race in 1904 and witnessed its first Champ car race, under AAA sanction, in 1933.

The old dirt track was paved in 1954 and 10 years later, Jim Clark scored an historic first Champ car win for a rear-engined car when he drove one of Colin Chapman's Lotus-Fords to victory. The following year, A.J. Foyt momentarily stemmed the tide of history by defeating a field of rear-engined cars driving a front-engined USAC dirt car!

Traditionally, the Indy 500 winner is out of luck and often not very competitive at Milwaukee, although Juan Pablo Montoya punctured that myth last year by scoring his first CART win of the season the week after driving one of Chip Ganassi's IRL cars to victory at Indianapolis.

Castroneves and de Ferran should be very competitive at Milwaukee, just as they were on the fast, high-banked 1.5-mile Motegi oval in Japan two weeks ago. Castroneves finished second to Kenny Brack at Motegi with de Ferran losing third in the closing laps because of a split oil line, and Helio (47) is second to Brack (49) in points going into this weekend's 225-lap race in Wisconsin. De Ferran is sixth with 30 points and I expect both Penske/Renard-Hondas to be right in the hunt.

It was raining steadily in Milwaukee as I wrote this on Thursday evening and the weather forecast is for rain through Friday morning and again on Friday afternoon into Saturday. The forecast for Sunday is for a sunny but cool day with temperatures barely making it into the 60s (F). This should make for an interesting weekend with limited track time. The race could be a classic oval track 'crap shoot' with everyone gambling on set-ups.

Motegi winner Kenny Brack took the championship lead in Japan and has been the most consistently competitive Champ car driver this year. With his first win under his belt, Brack is sure to be one of those to beat at Milwaukee and probably almost every other race this year. The 35-year old Swede is able to get the best out of his Rahal/Lola-Ford combination and has put team mate Max Papis firmly into the shade so far this year. Brack is a very sharp, seriously motivated fellow and may well be the man to beat in CART this year.

Cristiano da Matta lost the championship lead when he was eliminated in a lap one accident in Japan, but the diminutive Brazilian is as good as anyone out there in CART. In his first year with Newman/Haas's Lola-Toyotas he has been competitive in every race save Motegi and I expect him to be a front runner at Milwaukee. Teammate Christian Fittipaldi has been overshadowed so far this year by da Matta. The under-rated Fittipaldi is better than he's maybe given credit for, but needs some results to prove it.

Chip Ganassi's team has yet to find its feet this year. Last weekend's Indy 500 was the team's best race to date in 2001, but the result emphasised that Ganassi might have been far better served this year to retain Jimmy Vasser rather than casting him aside. Vasser produced Ganassi's best result at Indianapolis and one can't help reflecting that the combination of Jimmy and Bruno Junqueira would have made an excellent team.

Junqueira has shown considerable ability this year and his performance at Indianapolis, where he handily outpaced experienced oval racer Tony Stewart in the race's final segment, demonstrated what a quick learner he is. Team mate Minassian has had a tough time so far, encountering every possible hurdle. The Frenchman has shown speed and resilience however, and hopefully his cheerful, positive approach will soon yield results.

Also in need of some results and momentum is Barry Green's three-car team with Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti. All three have been quick in most races so far this year, but trouble has dogged their tracks. Tracy is in the championship hunt, tied for third in points with da Matta and Vasser, and any one of Green's trio of drivers are capable of scoring a breakthrough win this weekend. All three need a win and the longer they go without achieving victory, the more frustrated they are sure to get.

As ever, the great thing about Champ car racing is that so many people are capable of winning. Rookie Scott Dixon pulled it off at Nazareth last month and the pressure is now on the young Kiwi to show that Nazareth wasn't a fluke.

Knocking seriously on the door of victory circle is Tony Kanaan in one of Mo Nunn's Reynard-Hondas. Kanaan was very competitive at Motegi and I'm sure he will win some races this year and be a regular threat to win. Team mate Alex Zanardi showed some serious speed for the first time this year at Motegi and everyone hopes Alex will soon enjoy a strong race or two.

Others to consider include Jimmy Vasser and Roberto Moreno in Pat Patrick's pair of Reynard-Toyotas, Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani in Jerry Forsythe's Player's Reynard-Fords and Oriol Servia in Sigma's Lola-Ford. Each of these five have shown flashes of speed, but little more so far this year.

Also in need of a result is Adrian Fernandez, last year's championship runner-up. Fernandez started his own Reynard-Honda team this season and after a difficult first few months to the year, the Mexican national hero must soon show his team is as good as it looks.

Milwaukee begins a hectic run of four races in five weeks which should begin to shove and shape the title contenders into a manageable picture. Right now, it's almost anybody's game.

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