By Kristian Steenstrup - Motorsport.com Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia - It is sometimes hard to see why they call this place Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast on weekends like this. The gloomy weather continued on Saturday morning...
By Kristian Steenstrup - Motorsport.com
Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia - It is sometimes hard to see why they call this place Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast on weekends like this. The gloomy weather continued on Saturday morning after very heavy rain overnight washed the circuit clean of the additional rubber that would have helped improve grip. The disappointing weather started clearing during the Saturday morning practice but initially only enough to entice a handful of drivers out onto the slick racetrack.
Oriol Servia in the lurid yellow Telephonica Toyota was the most committed and was searching for a good wet weather set up early. A spin indicated he had exceeded the limit but was soon going again and sat on the top of the times for the early period of the session. Only a small group of drivers went to the trouble of experimenting with wet weather settings no doubt convinced that the prediction for a fine Sunday would come true. Early runners included Alex Tagliani, Gil de Ferran (in the spare car), Christian Fittipaldi, and Mauricio Gugelmin. They completed only a small number of laps before returning to the pits.
Half an hour into the session these competitors were joined by single laps from Michel Jourdain Jr., Patrick Carpentier, and Mark Blundell who having satisfied their curiosity about conditions stayed in the pits until things got drier. Which it started to do with 40 minutes to go. The sun came out and the wind picked up enough for dry patches to start appearing. Tagliani went fastest and appropriately for the brighter conditions, the Australian rookie Jason Bright started putting in some confident laps to build up track time. Although a dry line was starting to appear at some points around the circuit the times were still no lower than the benchmark of 1:52.194 Servia set on his 16th lap.
Everyone else was still in the single digits when it became dry enough for some faster times.
This was signalled when Tony Kanaan put in a single lap that was 3rd fastest by that stage (24 minutes to go) and immediately Kenny Brack and Michael Andretti came out with some faster laps under 1:50. Even with the warm sunshine coming out to dry the track Jason Bright spun coming off a left-hand turn but managed to keep the car away from all the walls. With Jason back in the pits to be checked out the faster cars came out to play.
As the times tumbled lower quickly getting under 1:40 with some unexpected names among the regular fast runners. These included Shinji Nakano and Oriel Servia who by the end of the session had done 24 laps but terminated the effort by striking the wall on the far side of the track. He required a lift truck to get the car back to the pits. With some fast and committed laps at the end of the session Juan Montoya put the Ganassi Toyota Lola on the top of the time sheets at 1:35.121. Jimmy Vasser being only .66 seconds slower in second fastest confirming the dominance of the Ganassi team. Max Papis was third on 1:35.906 followed by Dario Franchitti on an almost identical 1:35.907 and then the surprising Shinji Nakano who went down an escape road right at the end of the session. For all his laps Oriel Servia ended in 13th place just ahead of a credible 14th for Jason Bright. The other surprise of the session was de Ferran ended in 22nd place and has some work to do for the afternoon qualifying session.