CHAMPCAR/CART: Toronto: Event preview

Michael Andretti leads CART field trying to stop the Cristiano da Matta rampage as Champ Cars head to Toronto streets. INDIANAPOLIS (July 2, 2002) - For 364 days a year, the Toronto Police do a first-rate job of running the city's downtown ...

Michael Andretti leads CART field trying to stop the Cristiano da Matta rampage as Champ Cars head to Toronto streets.

INDIANAPOLIS (July 2, 2002) - For 364 days a year, the Toronto Police do a first-rate job of running the city's downtown streets, but for one day a year, everyone relinquishes control of 1.755 miles of Exhibition Place asphalt to Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone).

Andretti has ruled the CART FedEx Championship Series Molson Indy Toronto nearly from the first time he touched a driving shoe to the track, winning seven times on the temporary street course, a mark that stands as the CART record for most wins by a driver on a single course. He took full possession of that record last season with an unlikely drive that saw him climb from the last spot in the 26-car field to win for the seventh time in Toronto and 41st overall in his illustrious CART career.

Andretti tangled with Scott Dixon (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) in the first lap of last year's event and ended up at the back of the field, but benefited from 11 caution periods to make his way up the ladder, eventually making a string of passes that would give him the victory ahead of native Canadian Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Lola/Bridgestone).

But this year could be a bit different as instead of being the man leading the charge, two-time defending race champion Andretti will be looking for some help from a 17-man posse as everyone looks to stop the blazing streak of Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone). Da Matta has been the hottest driver in any series in the last two months, winning six of the last nine CART events and three in a row, capped by last week's victory at the CART Grand Prix of Chicago. The victory put da Matta within reach of the all-time CART record for consecutive victories as a win in Toronto would allow him to tie former champions Al Unser Jr. and Alex Zanardi as the only drivers to have captured four straight Champ Car events.

Da Matta has fashioned a 25-point lead with the recent winning streak, building the largest lead that the Newman/Haas driver has ever enjoyed in his four seasons in the Champ Car ranks. He leads Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) by 25 markers as the Brazilian sophomore has stayed within hailing distance of da Matta with back-to-back runner-up finishes, but the rampage that the former Dayton Indy Lights champion is on has put all but three of his rivals more than 50 points behind after just seven races.

The points leader has tasted a bit of success on the Toronto course, starting second and finishing fourth in 2000, but he failed to score in his other two visits, including a 15th-place run last year in his first visit as a member of the Newman/Haas squad. The team however, has taken more than a few trophies away from Toronto, having won five times with Michael Andretti and earning a podium finish in 1999 for current NHR stablemate Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone).

Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) has put back-to-back podium finishes together for the first time in two years (Vancouver, Laguna Seca, 2000) and is right back in the hunt for his first series title. The 1999 series runner-up could make a big move in Toronto, a place that was nearly was the site of his first CART win when he led 76 laps in 1998 only to fall prey to brake problems. He has a pair of poles at Toronto from 1997 and '98, and started second before passing Gil de Ferran on the first lap in 1999 on his way to a wire-to-wire romp to the checkered flag.

Fernandez will be looking to use a trip to one of his favorite tracks to climb back into the top 10 in points as the Mexican returns to the site of his first Champ Car win. The owner/driver won the tragic 1996 event that claimed the lives of driver Jeff Krosnoff and marshal Gary Avrin, and has finished worse than ninth only once in his six previous visits. He and his Fernandez Racing teammate Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola Bridgestone) will be riding a tide of momentum as Nakano comes off a career-best finish of fifth last weekend at Chicago, earning the first top-five of the Japanese driver's career.

Native Canadian Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) also has a Toronto win under his belt, claiming the victory in 1993 during a season that saw him win a career-best five races. He has finished in the points in eight of the last nine Toronto races including podium placings in 1999 and 2000 - although last year's event at Exhibition Place cost him a pair of points after he was docked by Chief Steward Chris Kneifel for rough driving.

Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/Denso Special Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) was also penalized after last year's Toronto race, but comes into this weekend on a much better note, having matched a career high last weekend with a fourth-place finish at Chicago. The second-year Walker Racing driver moved into the top 15 in the points chase with the finish, his third top-eight run of the 2002 season.

Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) kept his season-opening run going last week with a 10th-place finish, giving him seven consecutive top-10 placings to start the season, making him the first driver since Fittipaldi in 1999 to start the year with seven top 10s. Jourdain is the only driver to have finished every race this year and is fourth in the points, but has never scored a championship point on the streets of Toronto in his five previous Champ Car starts.

Dixon will be looking to improve on his first Toronto run, an improvement that would give him his highest finish of what has been a strong start to his sophomore season in the series. Dixon placed fifth last season in Toronto and is trying to continue a season-opening run that has seen him score six top-10 finishes in seven events - including four sixth-place efforts. The consistency has helped Dixon to the sixth spot in the championship chase and has him just one point behind Fittipaldi for fifth.

The weekend opens with practice on Friday morning at 10 a.m. followed by provisional qualifying at 2:00 p.m. Saturday morning sees another practice at 10 a.m. with the final grid set with another qualifying session at 1:45 p.m. Both qualifying outings will be covered live by SPEED Channel and will be preceded by the CART Friday Night show at 10:30 p.m. Friday. CBS Sports will broadcast Sunday's Molson Indy Toronto live, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets the CART FedEx Championship Series. Former series champions Michael Andretti and Jimmy Vasser are among the stars who will battle for the 2002 FedEx Championship Series title on ovals, temporary street circuits and permanent road courses. CART Champ Cars are thoroughbred racing machines that travel at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, showcasing the technical expertise of manufacturers such as American Honda, Ford Motor Company, Toyota, Lola Cars, Reynard Motorsport and Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC. The 20-race 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series will be broadcast by new television partners, CBS, FOX and SPEED Channel. CART also owns and operates its top development series, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship.  Learn more about CART's open-wheel racing series at www.cart.com.

--CART--

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Chris Kneifel , Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Alex Zanardi , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Jeff Krosnoff , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams ART Grand Prix