Tony Kanaan led the time charts at the Saturday morning practice session for the CART Grand Prix of Chicago with a fast time of 23.326 (158.810 mph), and he closed the session in spectacular style with a lurid spin/slide exiting turn two that ...
Tony Kanaan led the time charts at the Saturday morning practice session for the CART Grand Prix of Chicago with a fast time of 23.326 (158.810 mph), and he closed the session in spectacular style with a lurid spin/slide exiting turn two that brought out the yellow flag with only 30 seconds remaining. He missed the wall, so Mo Nunn's Lola/Honda will be ready for this afternoon's qualifying.
The Chicago weekend is the first race of CART's new condensed-schedule weekend, as a two-day format is in place for this and a few other stops on the CART tour. Other than a 30-minute warmup on Sunday morning, this was the only practice time the CART teams will have this weekend.
Walker Racing's Toranosuke Takagi, in a Reynard/Toyota, was atop the timing list for much of the session and finished the 2 1/4-hour practice with the second-fastest time: 23.339/158.721. Also turning fast times were Patrick Carpentier, third at 23.346, Cristiano da Matta, fourth at 23.379 and Jimmy Vasser fifth-fastest at 23.423. The entire field was very closely-matched, as usual, with the slowest driver of the session (Vasser's Team Rahal teammate, Michel Jourdain, Jr.) turning a time that was less than one second slower than Kanaan's.
The session was interrupted by several incidents at the 1.5-hour mark, the most serious being some light contact in the pit lane between the two Newman-Haas team drivers, da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi. The session was also put under yellow flag with just a few minutes remaining when the Ford engine in the back of Alex Tagliani's Team Players Reynard expired.
The opening of CART's Chicago weekend didn't answer the two biggest questions on everyone's mind: "Will anyone come to watch?" and "What will become of Max Papis?"
The answer to the first question will likely wait until tomorrow's race. Just several hundred fans were scattered in the grandstands for the first practice sessions for the CART Fed-Ex Championship series cars and the supporting Toyota Atlantic Championship series. The competition for Chicagoans attention is steep on this hot summer weekend, with the Cubs and the Sox playing a sold-out cross-town series, the Taste of Chicago attracting hungry partiers and even a gay lifestyle festival drawing thousands of participants. For Midwest racing fans there are other options, as NASCAR is racing just up the road in Milwaukee with the Busch series, and many road racing fans are at Mid-Ohio for the ALMS and Trans-Am races.
Max was in attendance at the Chicago oval, dressed in civvies, but speaking confidently: "If this means one door is closed, then maybe another will open." He was huddled, laughing and joking, with the Sigma team's PR staff (who, when asked, spoke of having plans they couldn't reveal.) to watch the opening practice. The team's official statement put Max's confidence in writing:
"Papis says he expects to be back in a racecar soon.
'I'm contracted to race for Sigma and I fully intend to continue the year,' said Papis. 'Not only for myself, but for my team and my fans. I am still committed to doing my best and to try and win races. The passion is within me and I want people to know that I am not feeling sorry for myself.
'I'm a fighter and a winner.'"
Another popular discussion topic was the progress of CART's plans to hold a street race in Chicago in future years to replace the Chicago Motor Speedway/Sportsman's Park venue. The track is challenging, with a fast but tight-turned mile oval that requires 4-to-8 gear changes per lap, but the racing has suffered due to the drivers' inability to run multiple racing lines. The resulting parades have caused increasing apathy from the fans, and the attendance has been smaller each year. CART is proceeding with plans for a waterfront/street version of the CART Grand Prix of Chicago, but is not ready to announce their progress.
The Toyota Atlantic series led off the morning with a one-hour session that ended a few minutes early when series points leader Ryan Hunter-Reay put his car heavily into the wall. He was OK, but a major repair job was at hand for his Hylton Motorsports team. He was 13th-fastest (of 23 entrants) on the session with a time of 28.058 seconds. The session's fastest time came from the World Speed Motorsports entry of Alex Figge, nearly one full second faster at 27.063 seconds (136.881 mph.)