Matos leads Toronto Friday practice

Matos leads Toronto Friday practice

Raphael Matos of Luczo Dragon Racing topped the Friday practice timesheets on the IndyCar Series' return to the streets of Toronto, Ontario. Matos' time of 1:01.4739 was nearly three-tenths quicker than Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing at ...

Raphael Matos of Luczo Dragon Racing topped the Friday practice timesheets on the IndyCar Series' return to the streets of Toronto, Ontario. Matos' time of 1:01.4739 was nearly three-tenths quicker than Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing at 1:01.7627.

Raphael Matos, Luczo Dragon Racing.
Photo by Andy Sallee.

Matos later brought an early end to the second session after losing the tail end through the final turn, the left-handed turn 11, and stalling in the middle of the course.

Matos and Wilson are among 14 of the 23 drivers entered with prior experience on the street circuit near Exhibition Place in downtown Toronto. Wilson won the 2005 Champ Car event here, and enters this weekend riding high on the momentum of a well-earned first victory for Coyne's team last week at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

Times in the first IndyCar session were roughly three seconds off the pace of the pole-sitting time in the final Champ Car race in 2007, when Sebastien Bourdais nailed down the top starting position at a lap time of 58.288 seconds.

Completing the top five in combined practice times were Will Power, Robert Doornbos and Ryan Briscoe. Power returns to the cockpit of Team Penske's third entry for the first time since Indianapolis, with the #12 car now adorned in a throwback yellow and blue paint scheme and Penske Truck Rental backing.

Power paced the morning's practice session at 1:02.1733, but times fell significantly as the track rubbered in and drivers re-acclimated themselves to the circuit for session two. Power's quick time in session two was 1:01.7722.

Doornbos is looking for his best result this season and had the measure of his teammate at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Graham Rahal, in both sessions. Briscoe has never raced in Toronto.

The rest of the top ten: Dario Franchitti (Chip Ganassi Racing), Helio Castroneves (Penske), Scott Dixon (Ganassi) Rahal and Tony Kanaan. Kanaan is in a special livery this weekend, Nestle Pure Life water on the sidepods of the light blue and white #11 car for Andretti Green Racing.

Those with good memories or a sense of nostalgia might sense Kanaan's car is similar to the old light blue and white cars with Player's backing that ran in Toronto during the CART/Champ Car days, usually with a Canadian driver.

Kanaan's team owner Michael Andretti is promoting the race with his company AGR Promotions. He could not have been thrilled with his team's performance in Friday practice. Kanaan was quickest of the AGR quartet, while Marco Andretti, Hideki Mutoh and Danica Patrick clocked in only 15th, 19th, and 22nd respectively.

Patrick, despite two prior starts in Toronto in the Atlantic Championship, could not find the handle on her car and tank-slapped the wall at the exit of turn 5. She spun around and tattooed the left-rear suspension, breaking that and a halfshaft. It ended her day prematurely.

At least Michael Andretti could count himself lucky the circuit was clean, as Toronto city workers have been on strike since June 22 over a contract dispute. Elsewhere in the city, garbage bags are very much present.

The local drivers couldn't have been overly thrilled with their days either. Paul Tracy, in a dark red and white Honda Dealers entry for KV Racing Technology, looped his car exiting turn one. He recovered and avoided contact, but completed a lap no better than 1:02.3653 to finish P13. Alex Tagliani is back for Conquest Racing this weekend but was only 17th fastest, and unable to improve on his time from the morning session.

Slowest of all and the only driver to not run a lap quicker under 1:04 flat was Ed Carpenter of Vision Racing. But Carpenter was not the story from Vision Racing, rather his team owner, Tony George was.

The founder of the Indy Racing League resigned from his posts as CEO and president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its associated companies on June 30. George had been silent until today but released a statement on Vision Racing's website explaining the reasons for the changes.

"At a board meeting last week, I was asked to continue as CEO of the Indy Racing League, reporting to a new President and CEO of IMS," George said. "In my view, this would have created an unnecessary bureaucratic layer between the people in the operations of the IRL and the CEO of IMS that had not previously existed."

"From the perspective of my experience as President and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I am acutely aware that the interests of IndyCar racing as a sport, the IRL as a league, and the most important motorsports race in the world, are mutually dependant and inter-connected, both now and in the future. I did not feel that a subordinate position as "CEO of the IRL" was a management vehicle which would allow me to accomplish the objectives that the family and the board requested me to pursue. I declined that position."

The changes set off a firestorm in the racing media and blogosphere regarding the future of the IndyCar Series. George at least attempted to douse the flames within the end of his statement.

"There have been many questions raised in the industry and in the media about whether any of these recent changes reflect a reduction in the commitment of our family or the IMS to the IRL or the sport of IndyCar. I have been assured by my mother that no such reduction of support or commitment is intended or anticipated. I can assure teams, sponsors, media and fans that our family is sincere in its commitment to the Indianapolis 500, the League and the sport."

George's mother is of course Mari Hulman George, chairman of the board at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. New IMS president Jeffrey Belskus is expected to attend this weekend's event at Toronto.

Rain is forecast for tomorrow's qualifying session, which could all but negate the advantage of using the Firestone "reds," the softer alternate tire compound. At the three prior road and street course events, teams have used the "reds" to advance through the knockout-style qualifying sessions.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Michael Andretti , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Graham Rahal , Sébastien Bourdais , Robert Doornbos , Ryan Briscoe , Marco Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Tony George , Will Power , Hideki Mutoh , Dale Coyne , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , KV Racing Technology , Dragon Racing , Dale Coyne Racing