CHAMPCAR/CART: Toronto Friday qualifying report

by Tom Haapanen - motorsport.com "I just went out and stood on it," said Dario Franchitti of his Friday qualifying performance at the Molson Indy. "I think we timed [it] really well." And that was definitely an understatement. Mark ...

by Tom Haapanen - motorsport.com

"I just went out and stood on it," said Dario Franchitti of his Friday qualifying performance at the Molson Indy. "I think we timed [it] really well." And that was definitely an understatement.

Mark Blundell, who has recently been vocal about the superiority of the CART championship over Formula One, where he drove for a number of seasons before making the jump the IndyCars, as they were then called, was much less happy.

On this afternoon in Toronto, one of those very differences came back to haunt him. Blundell put in an exciting performance on a wet track, clcoking in at 1:09.505. However, it was all for nought, and only resulted in a 15th place, as the second qualifying group had the benefit of a relatively dry track.

The skies had opened just after lunch, while the Atlantic series was due to qualify, puring a torrent of rain on the track. CART brought out the jet truck to attempt to dry the track, but it had about as much impact as a hairdryer in carwash.

So as the first group, as determined by the Cleveland qualifying times, took to the track, it was still very wet, with standing water near the racing line. Predictably, there were numerous spins, but as the drivers continued to lap, the rain gradually eased, and the lap times began to drop.

In the end, though, only four drivers succeeded in breaking the 1:10 mark, all with a European racing background helping give them confidence in the wet conditions. Christian Fittipaldi finished with a 1:09.394, with Kenny Brack, Max Papis and Blundell all within about one-tenth of a second of his time.

Brack, who had been second fastest in the morning, played down his rain experience: "Actually, I think I might have had about 15 minutes in the wet since I ran in Formula 3000 in 1996." Clearly, a few years in the IRL cannot erase all memory of wet-weather driving!

The second session, with the fast qualifiers from Cleveland, saw a much different scene as the green flag fell, with a merely damp track, and a clearing sky. Slick rubber now replaced the rain tires of the first session, and the result was predictable.

The slowest qualifiers in the second group were still over six seconds in the clear of Fittipaldi and Brack, now truly putting the pressure on the fast four of the first session to find some dry track tomorrow -- but unfortunately the teams have not yet found a way to control the weather.

But even with the luck the second group had with the weather, it was still the group of most of the truly fast drivers for the Molson Indy. And today there was no one faster than Franchitti, who lapped the track in his Reynard-Honda in well less than second, at 58.877, and 12/100ths of a second faster than Juan Montoya's Lola-Toyota.

"It was definitely a challenge," said Franchitti, who is looking to repeat his 1999 race win this weekend. "It would have been good to be able to do some more laps." Still, within the constraints of the session, he clearly beat Montoya, and had more than half a second gap to the third through fifth place drivers: Helio Castroneves, Michael Andretti and Gil de Ferran, who all ended in the 59.5-second range, ahead of Jimm Vasser at 59.889.

Normally Saturday's qualifying is the decisive one, with everyone finding some extra speed, but thunderstorms are again forecast, with a probability of precipitation at 60%. Will both sessions be wet? Only one? Or neither?

This is the question that will determine whether half the field in Toronto will end up outside CART's (normally purely theoretical) 110% qualifying threshold. But for now, Franchitti has at least some level comfort, should the rains choose the second session on Saturday.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Max Papis , Christian Fittipaldi , Dario Franchitti , Mark Blundell