Vasser Takes Surprise Pole

1996 Champ Car Champion Jimmy Vasser rolled back the years at Milwaukee on Friday, claiming his first pole position in 52 races and the ninth of his illustrious career

Vasser Takes Surprise Pole

The 39-year-old is widely expected to hang up his helmet at the end of this season to make way for some fresh blood and allow him to concentrate on his ownership role at PKV Racing. But he showed that he can still teach the young pretenders a thing or two, setting the pace at the venerable Wisconsin bullring throughout the day and earning pole entirely on merit.

Indeed, such was the correlation between practice and qualifying pace that the single-car qualifying session played out in almost textbook fashion, with each new contender moving the benchmark time and sitting on provisional pole for all of a couple of minutes before being duly dethroned.

If the first two races of the season seemed to confirm the stranglehold of the Newman/Haas and Forsythe teams, the pecking order has been shuffled at Milwaukee and qualifying boiled down to a duel between the newer PKV and RuSPORT outfits.

AJ Allmendinger won the internal RuSPORT battle, shading Justin Wilson by a scant 0.016s and ensuring the first all-American front row at a Champ Car race for seven years.

The Briton has had the measure of his precocious and highly-rated teammate so far this season, so it was an important psychological boost for Allmendinger.

One man whose confidence took a real battering last year is Toyota Formula One refugee Cristiano da Matta, but the diminutive Brazilian is happy to be back in the more convivial atmosphere of the Champ Car paddock and qualified a solid fourth at a track where he has sometimes struggled.

Long-time sparring partners Paul Tracy and Sebastien Bourdais will share the third row. Tracy is a three-time winner at the Milwaukee Mile while for Bourdais it has proved something of a bogey track on his two previous visits - rather surprisingly since he has mastered all the other ovals he has encountered with ease.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was peerless at Milwaukee last year, romping to the most dominant victory of the season, but could manage only seventh on the grid this year with Rocketsports Racing, albeit seven spots ahead of Timo Glock in the sister car.

Bjorn Wirdheim has adapted well to the oval and was the top rookie qualifier in eighth, this time easily overshadowing teammate Ronnie Bremer, who was impressive at Long Beach and Monterrey.

Ninth on the grid went to Oriol Servia, who is standing in for the injured Bruno Junqueira at Newman/Haas Racing, while Mario Dominguez rounded out the top 10 in the second Forsythe entry.

Pos  Driver              Team                   Time
 1.  Jimmy Vasser        PKV                    21.081
 2.  A.J. Allmendinger   RuSPORT                21.109 + 0.028
 3.  Justin Wilson       RuSPORT                21.125 + 0.044
 4.  Cristiano da Matta  PKV                    21.261 + 0.180
 5.  Paul Tracy          Forsythe Championship  21.268 + 0.187
 6.  Sebastien Bourdais  Newman Haas            21.356 + 0.275
 7.  Ryan Hunter-Reay    Rocketsports           21.454 + 0.373
 8.  Bjorn Wirdheim      HVM, Inc.              21.584 + 0.503
 9.  Oriol Servia        Newman Haas            21.609 + 0.528
10.  Mario Dominguez     Forsythe Championship  21.632 + 0.551
11.  Alex Tagliani       Team Australia         21.722 + 0.641
12.  Nelson Philippe     Mi-Jack Conquest       21.883 + 0.802
13.  Andrew Ranger       Mi-Jack Conquest       21.954 + 0.873
14.  Timo Glock          Rocketsports           22.281 + 1.200
15.  Marcus Marshall     Team Australia         22.283 + 1.202
16.  Ronnie Bremer       HVM, Inc.              22.424 + 1.343
17.  Ricardo Sperafico   Dale Coyne             23.379 + 2.298
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