CHAMPCAR/CART: Molson Indy Toronto Friday Practice Report

Friday warmup 10:30 Toronto Molson Indy By Kristian Steenstrup, Motorsport News International Toronto, Ontario, Canada (July 16, 1999) The weather in Toronto could only be described as HOT on Friday as the cars took to the circuit for...

Friday warmup 10:30 Toronto Molson Indy By Kristian Steenstrup, Motorsport News International

Toronto, Ontario, Canada (July 16, 1999) The weather in Toronto could only be described as HOT on Friday as the cars took to the circuit for the morning free practice.

PJ Jones went out early, then Michael Jourdain Jr., and Memo Gidley. Each looking to maximize the time available in the 90 minute session. Soon there was a gaggle of champ cars in the sunshine feeling their way around the constraining and unforgiving circuit. For people like Gidley it is a learning process to see what it feels like in the Champ car. For others like Dario Franchitti, Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr. it is reacquainting themselves with an old friend. The Toronto circuit holds different memories for each of them.

Dario Franchitti is looking to avenge last years disappointment when his brakes failed when the win was in his grasp. Andretti may well be favorite to win on Sunday having run a strong second to the now absent Alex Zanardi last year, and his team coming off the one-two result at Elkhart Lake.

Within 16 minutes Michael Andretti has got under a 60 seconds for only his fourth lap. Clearly attacking the circuit with vigor and reasserting his assumed 'team leader status'.

Tony Kanaan also gets down to business early running third fastest in the session at the time, 25 minutes into proceedings which are interrupted by one of the concrete patches starting to break up. This has actually left a fist-sized hole on the circuit right on the racing line but the session resumes after a 5-minute break.

I heard a quote attributed to Gilles Villeneuve once that he approached practice by going faster and faster until he spun. Only then would he know how fast he could go. The trick of course is to feel the imminent approach of the limit without having the car in the scenery. Within the concrete confines of Toronto this is essential if you are going to have a happy and successful visit.

Immediately after the break Juan Montoya, the mercurial rookie, starts his learning curve at Toronto. The remarkable ability to learn is on full display as he is 14th after 2 laps, and 7th after 4 laps. Each time punctuating an attacking lap with a visit to the pits. This is not a "scream around pounding the car and wringing its neck" approach to speed. There is an obvious and deliberate approach to getting the most out of the car and it is taken a piece at a time. Such is his approach that if he doesn't go faster in one of these mini-sessions it seems like a step backward. His third set was not faster, but he was back on track in his fourth stanza. At least until he came upon Gaulter Salles and 'confused' himself into a harmless spin. But a spin that he could not restart his virtually undamaged car from meant he walked back to the pits to go out in the spare car (which was actually his racecar).

A contrasting approach to setting the car up for the weekend was shown by Helio Castro-Neves. Maybe it is necessitated by having to do most of the development of the Lola, but as the others were in the single digit count on laps, Castro-Neves was up to 21 half way through the session and finally got to 39 laps by the end of the session. This is one way to get experience under your belt. Another way is to bring it with you between your ears. Roberto Moreno has never seen the circuit before, but within 18 laps he was second fastest in the session, finally ending the session in 8th.

At the end of the 90-minute session there was order to the session that may be an indicator to the weekend. A sudden rush of fastest laps saw the top four drivers dip down below 59 second. Michael Andretti headed these in the Newman-Haas Swift-Ford who did a 58.734 on his very last of 25 laps. Close behind on 58.875 was team mate Christian Fittipaldi showing that the momentum of Elkhart Lake has at least carried forward to the opening session of practice. Marginally slower at 58.887 seconds was Montoya (Rookie seems like a strange term to apply to his season, but it is his first view of the Toronto track), and then Adrian Fernandez on 58.944 seconds. The most significant aspect of this group is that Montoya got to third in only 16 laps compared to say 30 for Fernandez, who has been here before.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Memo Gidley , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Christian Fittipaldi , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Michael Jourdain , Gilles Villeneuve