Dario Franchitti won the Molson Indy Montreal today, pulling away from polesitter Cristiano da Matta after a late-race caution period for cleanup of a single-car crash by Adrian Fernandez. Franchitti benefited from a flawed pit strategy by the ...
Dario Franchitti won the Molson Indy Montreal today, pulling away from polesitter Cristiano da Matta after a late-race caution period for cleanup of a single-car crash by Adrian Fernandez. Franchitti benefited from a flawed pit strategy by the Newman-Haas team manager, Peter Gibbons that forced his driver, da Matta, to make one more pit stop than Franchitti. In addition to that advantage handed to the Team Green driver, Franchitti used a smart strategy and good speed to keep him in contention the entire race. Franchitti's Honda powerplant, like the other Hondas in the field, was using fuel at a higher rate than the Toyotas and Fords, but he conserved enough fuel in the race's early segments to allow him to go full throttle in the parts of the race where he needed to put some extra distance on da Matta.
Da Matta, continuing to show the speed that has him dominating the 2002 CART season, was able to hold second place despite the gaffe by his team. Tony Kanaan, on the same pit cycle as da Matta, completed the podium.
The race got off to a rough start when a chain reaction crash took Kenny Brack out of the race. Brack, who had qualified fifth, was caught on the outside of the right hand turn 2 of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as Alexandre' Tagliani slipped inside of him under braking. Behind them, Paul Tracy braked even later and rear-ended Tagliani, whose car slid out into Brack's. Brack's car took flight with the wheel-to-wheel contact and he was out of the race with suspension damage. Brack's Team Ganassi teammate, Scott Dixon, who was following just behind, avoided becoming part of the fracas with a good avoidance maneuver. The yellow flags came out right away so Brack's car could be removed.
Once the green flag waved again, da Matta pulled out to a solid lead over Franchitti, who was able to keep a safe distance ahead of Bruno Junqueira despite trying to conserve fuel for a later run. On lap 11 of the 80-lap distance, the second caution period was called by race officials to recover Mario Dominguez' car after it coasted to a stop at the exit of turn 2. Dominguez told his crew over the radio: "The engine just died." His race was done.
Da Matta headed into his pits under this yellow, despite being five laps short of the designated pit window, and was followed in by Kanaan and Toranosuke Takagi. These three drivers were then locked into a four-stop strategy, while the others teams would need only three.
Franchitti then took off in the lead, beginning a cycle that would continue for the remainder of the race. Franchitti would lead until he had to pit on lap 21, then da Matta took the point until lap 33, when it was his turn to stop again. On lap 42, it was da Matta's turn to lead and Franchitti returned to the front when da Matta made his third stop on lap 51. Junqueira, who was using a "normal" pit strategy like Franchitti and Kanaan and Takagi, who were off-cycle like da Matta, were part of the mix in the early parts of this long stretch of green flag racing, but the two alternating leaders were drawing away on sheer speed and held the top two spots for the rest of the race. Takagi fell behind after serving a penalty for a pit speed violation on his third stop and would later exit the race with brake failure.
Following sequence, Franchitti and da Matta made their final stops on lap 62 and 68, respectively. As da Matta made his stop, Junqueira returned to the pits with his car smoking heavily and retired out of third place.
After all required pit stops were done, the field was bunched behind the pace car for the third time in the race on lap 71 while the debris from Fernandez's crash was cleaned up. Franchitti's hard-won four-second lead was erased, but he pulled away on the restart to a satisfying win.
The top Canadian finisher was Paul Tracy in fourth place. The Quebecois fans, well over 60,000 of them, were disappointed that their two favorites, Team Forsythe drivers Tagliani and Patrick Carpentier, both suffered from mechanical troubles. Carpentier could not finish the race when engine failure parked him early and Tagliani finished three laps down in 11th place after a long, difficult day struggling with transmission troubles and a non-operating radio.
Behind Tracy was Jimmy Vasser, who battled with Tracy all day for position. A scary moment occurred when the two drivers nearly collided in the pits during mid-race stops. Sixth was Vasser's Team Rahal teammate Michel Jourdain, Jr. Christian Fittipaldi finished seventh followed by Michael Andretti. One lap down in ninth was Shinji Nakano. Dixon was 10th, despite exploding a transmission with only three laps to go.
Franchitti, who won an additional point for leading the most laps, moved past Junqueira and Carpentier into second in the CART Championship points chase. Da Matta, however, leaves the Ile Notre-Dame with a 55-point advantage, and will be very difficult to catch for the Vanderbilt Cup. Junqueira and Carpentier are tied for third in the standings, just five points behind Franchitti. Jourdain and Fittipaldi are tied for fifth, another 13 points distant.
The CART drivers complete their marathon August run next week on the streets of Denver, Colorado. The race on the new street circuit will be the series' fourth race in as many weeks. The green flag drops on the Grand Prix of Denver at 1 pm Mountain time on September 1st and the race will be shown live on SPEED Channel at 3 pm EDT.