Andretti takes another Toronto victory

Michael Andretti used to be thought of as reckless and impetuous, but today in Toronto he used patience, good tactics and a sensible, consistent drive to secure his second CART win of the year, the 40th of his career and his sixth on the Canadian street circuit. The result moves him to within two points of series leader Roberto Moreno

Andretti takes another Toronto victory

For the third race in a row, there was utter chaos at the start. Also for the third race in a row, Dario Franchitti was in the middle of it. Helio Castroneves got away well to lead from pole but got sideways into turn three and allowed Cristiano da Matta to move into the lead.

Behind them, Andretti, Franchitti and Juan Montoya were all trying to be in third place, running side-by-side down Lakeshore Boulevard at 180mph. Franchitti locked up to try and avoid the sliding Castroneves, but spun around and slammed into the side of Montoya's Lola. Last year's title contenders were left locked together in the middle of the track and out of the race.

"Me, Juan and Michael were very close," Franchitti explained. "Michael was moving around the track and I was trying to stay out of his way. Then I saw Helio locking up ahead I locked up the brakes pretty hard and the back came around on me."

Montoya was surprisingly philosophical for a man whose title defence has so far redefined the word 'frustrating.'

"I had a very good start and suddenly when I was braking for turn three somebody ran into the back of my car," he said. "It's disappointing but I'm sure it wasn't deliberate. That's racing..."

At the restart, da Matta got away well to head Castroneves, Andretti, Christian Fittipaldi and Kenny Brack. Gil de Ferran was next up but got away badly and was simultaneously pounced on by Adrian Fernandez, Paul Tracy and Oriol Servia. Somehow they all made it to turn three without hitting each other, although Tracy brushed the wall during the dice, collecting a large plastic bag on his front suspension in the process.

As da Matta edged away into a comfortable lead, Castroneves found himself troubled by both his oversteering Penske Reynard and the entire Newman-Haas racing team, as Andretti and Fittipaldi proceeded to gang up on the young Brazilian. Further back it was the other way round, as the experienced Tracy was struggling to fend off cheeky rookie upstart Servia for seventh.

Da Matta's lead was briefly threatened by the appearance of the habitually obstructive Luiz Garcia Jr, fresh from a trip down the turn three escape road. Despite the PPI team making a personal visit to Garcia's crew to remind them that he was being lapped, the latter remained in the way until CART began to ready the black flag...

By lap 29, Castroneves was in real trouble, getting sideways in turn three and then running parallel with Andretti in turns four and five before reclaiming second. Brack, Fernandez and Servia, who had passed Tracy into turn three and then received a congratulatory punt up the gearbox by the KOOL Green driver as a reward, were also closing in on the battle for second.

At the back of the field, Tarso Marques shoved Norberto Fontana into the turn eight tyre wall while fighting for 19th, conveniently bringing the pace car out just when the first pit stops were due. Da Matta took routine service without incident but Castroneves lost a place to Andretti.

Fittipaldi would probably have passed the Penske too, had he not collided with de Ferran as the latter pulled into his pit and Fittipaldi pulled out. The Newman-Haas Lola lost its' entire front nose section, and with the mountings irreparably damaged his race was over.

"Gil and Mikey were side by side and Gil decided at the last minute to go into his pit," Fittipaldi explained. "I was right behind him and hit him big time. I wouldn't expect someone to stand on the brakes when I was inches behind..."

It was a pretty eventful full course yellow all in all. Alex Tagliani, who like his Player's team-mate Patrick Carpentier had been making progress up the field from a lowly starting position, punted series leader Roberto Moreno into a spin at turn one. The Brazilian was able to rejoin without losing much time under the yellow, unlike Bryan Herta, whose time as a Mo Nunn Racing supersub came to an ignominious end when a exhaust problem set his clutch on fire. With Tony Kanaan fit to return at Michigan, it's back to the beach for Herta...

"I'm going on vacation with my family," he said. "Then we'll see what happens, but my focus is on getting a full-time drive for next year."

Da Matta got away from Andretti at the restart while Castroneves now found himself under pressure from Fernandez for third. The Mexican got alongside at turn three but couldn't complete the move and dropped back into the clutches of the impressive Servia. At the same place a lap later, the Spaniard just squeezed through but not without banging wheels with his Patrick Racing sparring partner. Servia had made the move from a long way back, but was given so little room by Fernandez that he would have struggled to get through had he been riding a bicycle.

Fernandez retaliated, and as Servia tried to hold on around the outside at turn six, he slid sideways and headed for the tyres. He rejoined three laps down and lapped at the same pace as the leaders until the end.

"I was trying to give Adrian room on the inside because the next corner was a right-hander so I knew the place was mine," Servia recalled. "But then I got into the marbles and it was like 'whooaahh...'"

Castroneves didn't last much longer, retiring in the pits with an engine problem. After another strong drive in an unco-operative car, he deserved a lot better.

All that allowed Fernandez to close in on the increasingly tense battle for the lead between da Matta and Andretti. The leader was struggling as his car developed serious oversteer. His frequent powerslides through turn two were great to watch, but did little to help his cause as the most successful active CART driver drew ever close to his tail.

Da Matta's handling problems became so severe that by lap 68 the top eight cars were running together, all covered by just 4s. The young Brazilian, in only his 30th ever CART race, was holding off Andretti, Fernandez, Tracy, Brack, the flying Tagliani, Vasser and de Ferran, with the squabbling Papis, Carpentier and Moreno soon joining the train. It was stunning to watch as 11 of the best drivers in CART ran within 7s, but this was no Formula One-style procession, the pack fanning out down Lakeshore Boulevard on every lap as they battled.

Andretti was weaving around behind da Matta, trying to unsettle his young rival, but the Brazilian was having none of it. After three laps of trying to climb over the leader, Andretti got alongside into turn three. Both locked up simultaneously but there was no way past for the American.

"I had him pretty much under control," da Matta said later. "It's hard to pass here and my car was faster than his out of the last turn so I had no problems holding him off in turn one. Down the backstraight I always kept him on the outside, so I knew he would have to try and pass me in the pits."

Sadly for da Matta, that's exactly what Andretti did. The American stayed out one lap longer, put in a flier and emerged just feet ahead. Da Matta nearly hit him in turn three as he tried to take advantage of Andretti's colder tyres and retake the lead, but to no avail.

Team KOOL Green then produced an excellent stop to get Tracy out ahead of both of them, but on warm tyres Andretti was able to pass the Canadian before the first corner. Da Matta was given a harder time, forced to nearly brush the wall as he took the outside line down the backstretch, kicking up plenty of dust as he did so before taking the position at turn three.

Both Patrick cars stayed out a lot longer, allowing Fernandez to come out in the lead after his stop. However, Andretti had the momentum and retook the lead around the outside at turn three. Fernandez held second as da Matta found his handling problems soon returned. A massive slide in turn three allowed Tracy through to third and that would be the way things stayed as the laps ran out in comparatively uneventful fashion. Andretti pulled out a 5s cushion over Fernandez and maintained it to the flag.

"A perfect day, the team did a perfect job," he said afterwards. "The great pit stops won us the race. That's where I did all my passing because I couldn't do it on the race track.

"In the middle of the race I was all over Cristiano and hoping he would make a mistake. He made a couple of small ones, but it was never enough to let me take the lead so I just tried to be patient and wait for the stops."

Behind Fernandez, Tracy took third, best of the Canadian drivers in front of his home crowd. The result was especially poignant as Tracy was wearing the helmet colours of the late Greg Moore, killed in an accident at Fontana last season. Tracy and Moore had been good friends and this gesture was received well by their home crowd in Toronto, where Moore had always received a hero's reception.

Da Matta took fourth, followed by Tagliani, who had passed more cars than anyone else in a feisty drive from 17th on the grid. De Ferran admitted he was just "trying to hang in there and get some points" as he took an unspectacular sixth, followed by Carpentier, Papis and Vasser, who had lost time when he struggled to find a gear after his second stop. Brack should have been up there too but a late trek down the turn three escape road dropped him to tenth.

Moreno ran fifth after his excellent fuel mileage leapt him up the order at the second round of pit stops. However, just as he looked set to take fourth from the struggling da Matta, his gearbox began to falter and he dropped down the order before retiring.

Both PacWest drivers dropped out with mechanical troubles after relatively strong midfield runs, while similar problems for Garcia Jr, Michel Jourdain Jr, Shinji Nakano and Takuya Kurosawa meant that only 11 cars made it to the flag.

Andretti's win and Moreno's misfortune means that only two points now split this pair at the top of the table as the 2000 CART title battle continues to provide a new twist with every race. If the sight of 11 cars running together and jostling for positions around the streets of Toronto wasn't spectacular enough, the series now moves to the high-banked superspeedway at Michigan in a week's time, where the result is invariably decided on the final corner of the final lap. The only thing that can be taken for granted is that it will be another thriller.

Results from Toronto:

1 Michael Andretti Newman-Haas Lola-Ford
2 Adrian Fernandez Patrick Reynard-Ford + 5.9s
3 Paul Tracy Green Reynard-Honda + 10.1s
4 Cristiano da Matta PPI Reynard-Toyota 16.5s
5 Alex Tagliani Forsythe Reynard-Ford + 23.0s
6 Gil de Ferran Penske Reynard-Honda + 24.8s
7 Patrick Carpentier Forsythe Reynard-Ford + 28.3s
8 Max Papis Rahal Reynard-Ford + 32.5s
9 Jimmy Vasser Ganassi Lola-Toyota + 42.2s
10 Kenny Brack Rahal Reynard-Ford + 50.4s
11 Oriol Servia PPI Reynard-Toyota + 3 laps

Retirements:

Luiz Garcia Jr Arciero Reynard-Mercedes
Roberto Moreno Patrick Reynard-Ford
Shinji Nakano Walker Reynard-Honda
Mauricio Gugelmin PacWest Reynard-Mercedes
Helio Castroneves Penske Reynard-Honda
Christian Fittipaldi Newman-Haas Lola-Ford
Bryan Herta Mo Nunn Reynard-Mercedes
Michel Jourdain Jr Bettenhausen Lola-Mercedes
Norberto Fontana Della Penna Reynard-Toyota
Tarso Marques Coyne Swift-Ford
Mark Blundell PacWest Reynard-Mercedes
Takuya Kurosawa Coyne Lola-Ford
Juan Montoya Ganassi Lola-Toyota
Dario Franchitti Green Reynard-Honda

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