By Alan Perry - Motorsport.com
For the second day of the Molson Indy Vancouver, the drivers were greeted with a wet track. Rain overnight washed off the rubber from the previous day's activities. However, before the CART cars started their last practice session, the Barber Dodge and Atlantics cars dried off the track a bit, at the expense of some suspension and wings on their cars.
Unfortunately, they didn't get all of the water off of the track and the session started off slowly. The session was red-flagged early on to try and remove some running water.
Eventually, the track dried out and the times started improving. For the most part, the session was a series of small improvements, with some drivers not even improving on their time from the previous day's practice. The biggest excitement of the session came when Tracy was trying to pass Andretti, Andretti closed the door on him and Tracy's car hit the back of Andretti's car hard.
At the end of the session, Castroneves put in the fastest time by almost half a second. That may not seem like much, but the top times of the drivers in position 3 through 13 was covered by a half second. That fast time was 60.742 seconds at an average speed of 105.555 mph. That was a good, fast time, but not quite as fast as Franchitti's 60.405 seconds from last year. His Penske teammate de Ferran put in a time of 61.235 seconds. da Matta, actively campaigning for the title of Most Popular Driver in CART, put in a fast time of 61.503 seconds, followed closely by Max Papis, who ran out of fuel and stopped on track at the end of the session, with a 61.504.
Brack, currently runner-up in the championship, showed signs that may be slipping further behind. He was consistently slower than championship leader Castroneves, almost 2 seconds slower in Saturday practice. However, he would make up for this in qualifying.
By the time that qualifying started, the overcast from the morning had turned into scattered clouds, the sun was shining, temperatures warmer than they had been and the track was dry.
In CART racing, there are two qualification groups. The first group included Vasser, Servia, Kanaan, Jourdain, Papis, Wilson, Zanardi, Fernandez, Nakano, Gugelmin, Junqueira, Herta and Takagi. The second group included everyone else.
Gugelmin and Junqueira started off the fast times, then Vasser took top time and held it for awhile. Fernandez put in top time about halfway through.
There were two red flags for drivers who didn't quite make it around turn 6. The first of these was Junqueira. "I broke too late going into the corner and I almost hit the tires." He stalled the car and stopped the session. The second one was Vasser. He hit the tires and the car had to be pulled out. Vasser said, "the tire presssures were still low in the front and when that is the case the front end is lower. The car started hitting the ground as I was going into the corner and I lost my breaking grip. Then the front end locked up and I hit the wall."
After the second red flag, with under five minutes to go, everyone went out to give one last shot, except for Vasser, who had to sit out the rest of the session for causing that last red flag. Gugelmin, Kanaan, Papis and Junqueira all made last minute improvements into the top ten. When the session was over, Junqueira had the fastest time with 61.194 seconds, followed by Papis, Fernandez and Kanaan. Servia, Zanardi, Wilson and Herta were at the end of the pack, where they would remain. At least, everyone was faster than in practice.
With the second, faster group taking to the track, it was expected that the times would come down further and, for the most part, they did. However, the red flag quickly came out when the throttle on da Matta's car stuck open and the car stuffed itself hard into the tire wall at the beginning of the front straight.
When the session resumed, the Canadian drivers Tagliani, Carpentier and Tracy were the first to improve on the times from the first group. This was followed by Helio then Brack and Moreno. With twenty minutes left in the session, Tagliani put in top again and there he would remain. Castroneves put in a fast time immediately afterward, but it was just short of Tagliani's time.
About halfway through the session, Moreno's car stopped at the end of the back straight. He got out of the car and pushed it off the course and did not bring out the red flag. On the other hand, Dixon did his best impression of Junqueira and Vasser, not quite making it through turn 6 and bringing out the red flag, ruining a hot lap by Castroneves.
The course went green again with almost 10 minutes to go. Tagliani and Castroneves had top times. Then, Castroneves' teammate de Ferran got second. Then, Tagliani's teammate got second. And somewhere during that time, Brack put in a time better than Castroneves'. da Matta, who was last because he did not complete a lap before he had his accident at the start of the session, struggled to get into the top 20.
The session ended early, when Tracy put his car into the tires at turn 8 and made sure it would be a Players/Forsythe front row. "I was on my last good lap on the tires and was going for a fast time. I got on the brakes too late, couldn't get it stopped and put it into the tires," Tracy said.
So, Tagliani and Carpentier are on the front row for tomorrow's race and the locals are happy. Tagliani's fast time was 60.872 seconds (105.329 mph average speed). Penske drivers de Ferran and Castroneves ended up third and fifth, split by Brack.
The Molson Indy Vancouver starts at 2 pm tomorrow.