CHAMPCAR/CART: Toronto Saturday Qualifying

Saturday Qualifying 12:45 PM. Toronto Molson Indy By Kristian Steenstrup, Motorsport News international The session for the slower 13 cars started with motivated drivers coming out to improve their positions from yesterday's session. Robby ...

Saturday Qualifying 12:45 PM. Toronto Molson Indy By Kristian Steenstrup, Motorsport News international

The session for the slower 13 cars started with motivated drivers coming out to improve their positions from yesterday's session. Robby Gordon withdrew his number 22 car, and decided to qualify with the 22x spare car. In any case he wound up in 22nd place. This is a team that has not found anywhere near the requirements for the tight Toronto circuit. He assessed later, "You just have no idea how hard it is to go out there and drive the wheels off something and still wind up 22nd".

Cristiano da Matta, Gugelmin and Papis immediately set laps under 60 seconds as they attempted fast laps straight out of the pits. The first big impact of this slower group was da Matta, as he took his Arciero-Wells Toyota to a remarkable 6th place on his 6th lap with a 58.496 second lap. This was promptly beaten by Bryan Herta who, with a 58.441 confirmed that the track was faster than either yesterday or this morning. Memo Gidley surprised watchers by putting in 11th fastest overall time and third in this session with a 59.662. Not good enough to keep him at the top but indicative that he is getting on top of the challenge at this track. Max Papis had the first spin of the session. He contacted the tire wall backwards in turn 8 but was able to return to the pits for repairs and the session was not stopped.

Adrian Fernandez who was expected to among the fastest did not come out until 12 minutes to go because of a problem with his primary car the number 40. He reappeared in car 40x in the hope of qualifying the spare. Meanwhile Bryan Herta put in a 58.320 for fourth place overall and fastest in this session with 11 minutes to go.

With a little over 5 minutes to go Adrian Fernandez went down an escape road undamaged with an unspecified problem. A driver who was running well yesterday and should arguably have been the fastest of the group has had his weekend turn to a nightmare. He was now marooned at 23rd having rolled the dice of changing to the spare and losing the bet. Fernandez said later, "we did not have an opportunity to test the back up car this weekend and it didn't handle correctly. It really is a shame. We had a huge improvement in the Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth this morning and I think we had a top five car for sure.. maybe a pole car.. but we'll never know".

As this session paused for the fastest runners to come out in fifteens minutes the big improvers were Herta who went to fourth, da Matta who snatched seventh, Gidley in 11th and Gugelmin in 14th. No one else intruded on the faster group from Friday, even temporarily, and everyone expected it to be temporary as the faster group had yet to run.

The second, faster, group emerged after a 15 minute break. Most of the field coming out with the exception of Michael Andretti who seemed to be patiently waiting while others set early times. On his third lap Dario Franchitti in the Kool Team Reynard Honda showed the potential of this session by going faster than on Friday on only his third lap setting a 57.624. Gil de Ferran tried hard but fell slightly short initially as did others including Christian Fittipaldi, and Michael Andretti. The Swift/Ford/Firestone combination clearly suiting this low grip track.

Jimmy Vasser finally made his mark for the weekend by going third fastest on his seventh lap, only four hundredth slower than the second placed Andretti. Light rain was reported around the back of the circuit but did not seem to impact the times as Montoya moved to 10th place overall. Such is his reputation this year that while this would be impressive for most rookies it seemed to fall short of what he should achieve.

Franchitti went faster again, but immediately de Ferran put in a 57.373 to get fastest time. As the track cooled slightly with cloud cover, the top runners seemed to get more grip. Particularly the Goodyear shod de Ferran who put in consecutive laps that were faster than anyone else. Local hero Paul Tracy responded to the changing conditions with fifth fastest, but in attempting to improve further he miscalculated at the first turn and motored towards the Toronto downtown without turning. He rejoined undamaged, as the design of the track allows for a run off and continuation at the difficult turn one. Admiring this technique, Tony Kanaan followed a couple of laps later, also rejoining without damage.

As the heat returned no improvements at the top were occurring. Fittipaldi and Scott Pruett put in personal bests, but they were only good enough for 5th and 11th respectively.

As the session closed off Gil de Ferran in the Valvoline/Cummins Honda Reynard was fastest with 57.143 seconds. A satisfied de Ferran related, " it was a bit of a nail biting session... I came in and talked to our engineer. He came up with a couple of things to improve it a little bit. I thought to myself it is either going to happen now or it's not going to happen at all. I was just concentrating as hard as I could to not make a mistake. The changes did make an improvement and that was it. I just threw caution to the wind."

Second was Dario Franchitti in the Kool Honda Reynard on 57.363. He stated the obvious frustration later, " the main problem in qualifying was not being fast enough.". " We had one problem in that we flat spotted the tires yesterday so I had to get a mix and match set. I was braking later than I ever had, but I had to look after the tires and not flat spot them." His disappointment was tempered by a sense of history. "I was on the pole here for the last two years in a row and didn't finish either race so I am looking for a change of luck tomorrow".

Third came Michael Andretti in the K-Mart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Reynard on 57.649 seconds. His commented that problems in the morning had made him uncertain about his chances in the afternoon. Andretti said after qualifying, "This morning we had a bit of a problem with brakes. Because of the brakes it didn't feel as good, but I didn't know for sure. In qualifying the car felt really good. So I was relieved there.". He missed the fastest time he said because ".. Basically I didn't get a clear lap when the tires were at their best. I had a real quick one that I know would have been pole, no question in my mind... we would have been 5 to 6 tenth faster". (Montoya was occupying the track immediately in front of Andretti at the time).

Other notable drivers were Juan Pablo Montoya who reached a frankly disappointing 8th. It will be interesting to see how he starts from so far back on Sunday and deals with street fighters such as Paul Tracy who starts 6th, immediately in front of Montoya. Much more disastrous was Al Unser Jr. in the Marlboro Penske Lola. Clearly the team has a lot of work to do and must be hoping that at least the standby Penske chassis will be good on ovals. They certainly have lost their way on street circuits.

From an engine perspective, Ford and Honda dominated qualifying showing that these engines had the best combination of drivablity and accelerative power out of the slower corners. Mercedes was strangely absent at the top of the order with their fastest runner Greg Moore of the Players team in 10th place following him was the fastest Toyota of Scott Pruett.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya