Final Friday Practice: Helio fastest Brazilian

An interesting afternoon practice session on Friday at Portland saw Helio Castroneves setting the pace from Brazilian countrymen Christian Fittipaldi, Mauricio Gugelmin and Crisitiano da Matta.

Final Friday Practice: Helio fastest Brazilian

Castroneves's Honda-powered Penske/Reynard beat Fittipaldi's Newman/Haas Lola-Toyota by just over two-tenths of a second as this year's Indy 500 winner begins to emerge as the man to beat, weekend after weekend. Castroneves complained again that he was lacking straightline speed because of the new 'pop-off' valve mandated by CART starting in Detroit last weekend.

"This is definitely a great track," said Castroneves. "I really like it. I think I've started on the front row here since 1999. But today we had our ups and downs. We started the day with trouble with the valve. We were pretty upset about it. We didn't do any laps so my tyres were good at the end of the session and we picked up a little speed coming off the corners which helped us. Just imagine what we could do with full horsepower!"

Fittipaldi was well off the pace most of this afternoon's session but leaped to second near the end. "We tried a lot of different solutions to make me happy this morning," he said. "We also tried a bunch of stuff this afternoon. That's why I was basically nowhere for most of the session. It's going to be tough tomorrow (for qualifying), but I'm pretty confident. We have a good basic set-up here. If we start in the top four or six we have a shot of winning the race."

Veteran Mauricio Gugelmin was third fastest on Friday. Gugelmin has been through a tough few months, surviving a huge crash in practice at Texas and the death of one of his sons the week following the accident. "It's been a difficult start to the season," Gugelmin admitted. "There was the accident and as some of you know I've had some personal problems as well. But I've been training hard and I'm in the good physical shape. There have also been a lot of changes in the team. It took some time to get both teams working. It takes time. Racing is not only about money. It takes time. It's like a good marriage. It takes time to work."

Although da Matta was fourth fastest in the afternoon session, morning pacesetter Kenny Brack was fourth overall for the day based on his morning time. Championship leader Brack was a little over a tenth of a second slower in the afternoon.

Castroneves's team mate Gil de Ferran, the winner in Portland the last two years, had a rough day. De Ferran spun off twice this afternoon, stalling the second time so that he was unable to complete the session. "My car has a lot of turn-in oversteer," de Ferran explained. "The first time I spun I went across the gravel trap, but not the second time."

The first 17 drivers on Friday, down to Paul Tracy, were covered by just one second. Among those struggling near the back of the field were Tracy's team mates Dario Franchitti and Michael Andretti, who were 22nd and 25th respectively. All three of Barry Green's drivers complained of a lack of grip and balance.

At the back of the field on Friday, just over 1.5 seconds off the pace was Memo Gidley, who replaces Nicolas Minassian in Chip Ganassi's team this weekend. Because of CART's in-season test ban (rookies excluded) Gidley was unable to test prior to Friday so he had plenty of work to do having not driven a Champ Car since the end of last season. Team mate Bruno Junqueira finished the day eighteenth, just over half a second quicker than Gidley.

"I spent most of the day trying to get a feel for the car," Gidley said. "We made some changes this afternoon and it helped us out. So far this has been an easy transition for me. I'm very happy to be with this team and I hope to make this my home for the season, and many seasons to come."

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