Champ Car Round number 11 Toronto Molson Indy By Kristian Steenstrup, Motorsport News international Toronto, Canada 2:00 PM. The front row consisted of Gil de Ferran and Dario Franchitti separated by only .24 seconds. Behind them by .26...
Champ Car Round number 11 Toronto Molson Indy
By Kristian Steenstrup, Motorsport News international
Toronto, Canada 2:00 PM.
The front row consisted of Gil de Ferran and Dario Franchitti separated by only .24 seconds. Behind them by .26 seconds was Michael Andretti, then Jimmy Vasser only .04 seconds away from Andretti. The competitiveness of the field was underlined by the top 10 being covered by 1.3 seconds.
The field moved away smoothly from the pits with the exception of Al Unser Jr. His terrible weekend continued, as the car appeared to stall in the pit road and had to be restarted to join the warm up lap at the tail of the field, retaking his position before they completed the parade lap. On the hectic opening lap there was much elbowing for room. Christian Fittipaldi managed to get past his teammate but touched Dario in the process. Christian said later, "I was braking, and sliding and thinking get out of the way Dario, but I was lucky".
Greg Moore moved from 10th to 6th in the biggest gain. This most significant change was Dario Franchitti getting down the inside of de Ferran as they reached the third turn. By lap 3 Michael Andretti had fallen back to 8th place and may have been having some early problems. By contrast Dario Franchitti appeared to have the measure of the field leading by 3.6 seconds as the field completed their 5th lap. Fernandez also started impressively with his cobbled together 'Frankenstein' combination of his spare car and racecar. He leapt from 23rd to 18 th on lap 2, then took Gugelmin for 17th on lap 5.
By the tenth lap the order was Franchitti, 4 seconds of daylight, de Ferran, Vasser, Fittipaldi, Tracy, Kanaan, Moore and Andretti. Kanaan looked the most aggressive of this pack getting down the inside of Moore at the third corner. On the 12th lap big changes happened quickly. The Hogan car of Helio Castro-Neves expired on the circuit and had a few flames from the rear before Castro-Neves abandoned ship. Just after this Andretti seemed to forget his braking point and drove heavily into the back of Moore at the end of the back straight. Both cars were slightly damaged but only Andretti was out for the day. Greg Moore got his car restarted and returned to the pits to be checked over.
This accident triggered a full course yellow that a number of teams used to get early, out of sync, refueling done. The order was now Franchitti, de Ferran, Vasser, Fittipaldi, Tracy, Kanaan and a strangely subdued Montoya. The only top car that took advantage of the yellow for fuel was Fernandez who dropped to 19th from 13th looking for some creative strategy to overcome his practice problems.
At the restart Tony Kanaan caught Tracy napping into the first corner and moved to fifth. While Tracy continued to dispute the position down the long back straight it was put beyond doubt at the third corner with Kanaan boxing Tracy in. These two continued a fine duel around the circuit for the next couple of laps with puffs of smoke from Tracy's tires as he prodded and feinted looking for an opening. Finally at turn three two laps later Tracy found his opening and made it back to 5th. At the same corner on this lap Bryan Herta stalled his car as he locked the brakes and touched Scott Pruett attempting to pass the Toyota powered car.
By lap 22 Franchitti had returned to his pre-yellow state with a 4-second lead over de Ferran. But lower in the order Christian Fittipaldi finally got past Jimmy Vasser at the third turn. This tight right hand corner at the end of the long back straight once again proving to be the best passing opportunity for drivers. Fittipaldi immediately pulled away from Vasser and set about trying to close the gap to de Ferran, who was by now 5 seconds down the road. Vasser may in fact have had some problem developing since a short time later on lap 28 Paul Tracy took the Team Kool Reynard past Vasser as well.
On lap 30 Montoya muscled past Kanaan, and Richie Hearn got tangled up with Cristiano da Matta as he tried a very optimistic dive down the inside from a long way back. These cars were stationary almost blocking the track and this brought out a full course yellow. All the cars that had not yet pitted came in for service during this period and because of the earlier pitstops Roberto Moreno was now in second place behind Franchitti. Third was de Ferran and then Gugelmin who also pitted early.
The big loser from the pit stops was Juan Montoya who ran over Kanaan's airhose in the pitstop. For this transgression he was sent to the back of the queue for the restart. This restart didn't last too long as Greg Moore again had trouble in turn 3 when Al Unser jr. bumped him into a half spin. It must be something about the impatience of second generation drivers. Because Moore's car was immobile across half the track they put the field back under yellow until lap 39. On the restart Franchitti continued to lead from Moreno, de Ferran and Gugelmin.
Robby Gordon had some problem on lap 46 which allowed Montoya to get into the points despite his earlier penalty and he immediately started attacking Max Papis for 11th place, while Franchitti majestically continued to build his lead at the front of the field which by lap 54 was out to 8.6 seconds. Further down Fernandez continued his good race with a dive under Kanaan in turn three and joined the queue behind the 5th place PJ Jones who was now clearly holding up Fittipaldi, Tracy, and Fernandez. This blockage was unplugged when Jones pitted on the next lap to get fuel and tires, as he was one of the out of sync pitters. The PacWest team brought both their cars in next as they reached their pit window and rejoined with maybe enough fuel to reach the end.
Almost inevitably Montoya made contact in his impatience to make progress. Passing the Michel Jourdain Jr. he moved over to the left in the fourth turn and left no room for the Mexican. The accident put both cars out on the spot and brought out another full course yellow. During the ensuing pit stops de Ferran hit a wheel in the Fittipaldi pit as he urgently tried to get out in front of Tracy. For this he was penalized, like Montoya, by going back to the end of the restart queue. After all the shuffling the order was now Franchitti, Carpentier (yet to pit), Tracy, Fittipaldi and Moreno and Kanaan with 29 laps to go. Carpentier lost positions immediately with very worn tires. First Tracy bumped past in turn one, then Fittipaldi in turn three and Moreno after a couple of feints got past as well before the end of the lap. A train immediately formed behind him as Papis, Kanaan, Fernandez and Pruett jostled for position. While this was going on Moore finally expired for good as his engine let go on Lakeshore Boulevard and although he got off line as quickly as he could it caused de Ferran to spin under brakes going to turn three and slid into the run off area sideways. He drove a couple of slow laps before returning to the pits and calling it a day.
A full course yellow was put out to clean the fluids up and the restart order was headed by the Kool Reynard Honda teammates of Franchitti and Tracy. Following them were Fittipaldi, Moreno, Papis and Kanaan. Between laps 56 and 68 Tracy had managed to move from seventh to second. With 19 laps to go the track went green again and the field resumed racing, with a fog of dust down the back straight where the cement dust had been laid down over the oil leak
Once again Franchitti was able to leave the field behind over the next few laps. Tracy was comfortably in second with Fittipaldi not able to make an attack Tracy from third position. Further gaps of almost 2 seconds separated Moreno, Papis, a constantly improving Fernandez and then a 1-second gap to Pruett in seventh. Kanaan, Gugelmin, a surprising Unser Jr., Jones and Gidley completed the points paying positions.
The positions were constant except for Vasser getting into 9th until Kanaan was eliminated when a tire blew and he hit the wall at the last turn, and Gugelmin spun from 9th down to 14 Th. Franchitti made no mistakes in the final laps and got his revenge for last year's failure by leading a 1-2 result for the Kool Team. Honda winning its 10th consecutive street circuit race, which has become the expected norm. Following these two where Fittipaldi in a trouble free run and Moreno whose team executed a clever strategy to overcome his low starting position and gave the team their equal best result for 1999.
The fears for another intra-Kool-Team accident like at Houston last year or at St. Louis were unfounded. Said Tracy later, "I am a team player, that's what I get paid the big bucks to do, play on a team". He proudly announced later, "I didn't hit anyone all day". " I can't remember the last time I got second on a street circuit. This is what I have needed, to get consistency". But he admitted that there was no chance of catching Dario today. For his part Dario had a great day leaving a margin at the first turn (his undoing for the last two Toronto races). "I went as fast as I had to. I looked at the gap and kept it around 2 seconds. When the car is that strong you wonder what everyone else is doing".