Although 2003 was a lean year for the then-Champ Car World Series, it marked a major milestone in the history of The Milwaukee Mile.
The track celebrated its 100th anniversary, and for the occasion, much changed at the historic one-mile oval in West Allis, Wis.
A purpose-built, large, new grandstand was erected to replace the historic, iconic covered one that had been a staple at “the Mile” for decades. Additionally, the Champ Car race was to be run on Saturday night under the lights, with temporary lighting brought in by MUSCO.
It was a bitterly cold night with temperatures barely in the 40s, and as such, an early crash took several drivers out of the race. Bruno Junqueira, Roberto Moreno and Patrick Lemarie were all out on the spot.
But from the green flag Michel Jourdain Jr. got past polesitter Alex Tagliani, and the Mexican never looked back. Jourdain, who had been cruelly denied his first victory earlier in the year with a gearbox issue on a pit stop in Long Beach, took a popular first win driving for Bobby Rahal, after leading a then-record 234 of 250 laps.
Jourdain had the toughest luck of anyone at Indianapolis qualifying this year. He reunited with Rahal for another attempt after running in the team’s second car in the 2012 Indianapolis 500. Despite the team’s effort this year, it couldn’t find the handling or setup on the No. 17 Honda and Jourdain was left high and dry, unable to even make a qualifying attempt on Bump Day for this year’s Indianapolis 500.
Some historical notes from this race and in the decade that followed:
- The podium of Jourdain, Oriol Servia in second and Patrick Carpentier in third was matched exactly later that year in Montreal, for Jourdain’s second and last victory.
- This race marked the first and only Milwaukee starts for Lemarie, Tiago Monteiro and Joel Camathias. Lemarie was the forerunner at what is now KV Racing Technology, as the first driver for the then-PK Racing squad. Monteiro, who famously finished on the podium in the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, drove a Reynard co-owned by Emerson Fittipaldi. Camathias, meanwhile, was one of six drivers to lace up the driving boots for Dale Coyne Racing in 2003 (along with these gems: Roberto Gonzalez, Alex Yoong, Gualter Salles, Geoff Boss and Alex Sperafico).
- Tagliani, Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay are the only three drivers from that field expected to race at this Saturday’s Milwaukee IndyFest. Servia isn’t expected to, barring a last-minute appointment at either Panther or Dale Coyne Racing.