Franchitti takes overnight pole

Dario Franchitti and Juan Pablo Montoya traded fastest lap throughout the final 10 minutes of the first qualifying session in Toronto, with Franchitti coming out on top.

Franchitti takes overnight pole

Running on a drying track after a heavy mid-day rainstorm, Franchitti beat Montoya to the provisional pole by 0.020s in a thrilling climax to the session.

The Scotsman, who was fastest on the opening day of practice and qualifying in Cleveland two weeks ago, appears to be gathering strength for the second half of the season.

Franchitti led teammate Paul Tracy home in a Team Green 1-2 here last year and led most of the race in 1998 until spinning because of a transmission problem. He was also on the pole here in 1997, his rookie year in Champ cars, only to crash at the first turn.

"We're not there yet," Dario said about today's provisional pole. "We're still working on the car. We're not exactly where we'd like to be. We had the luxury of having a very good car here the last two years and we haven't got it quite the stage yet."

Franchitti and Montoya were just over a second off last year's pole time because the track was still damp in places today. In fact, the first or slower half of the field qualified in light rain and the track remained wet throughout. The second or faster half of the field ran on a steadily drying track with the racing line getting better throughout the session although the edges of the track remained wet.

"It's fun when it's like that," Franchitti said. "Different areas of the track try at a different rate and you have to pay attention to which part of the track is quicker and which is slower. You've got to think about it.

"I just went out and stood on it, really," Dario added. "We had been a bit conservative because our main objective was to try to stay in the fast group for tomorrow. I wasn't sure if it's going to rain tomorrow or not, but if it's dry I'm of the opinion it'll be faster tomorrow, as it generally is."

Franchitti has yet to win a race this year - indeed, he has yet to lead a lap. His best finish so far this season is a second in Japan in May, the only time he's made the podium. A run of poor luck leaves him currently ranked 13th in the championship with 44 points, just under half of championship leader Roberto Moreno's tally of 90 points.

Montoya tried hard to beat Franchitti, running right on the ragged edge. He was locking his brakes and searching for the driest and quickest parts of the track. Montoya and teammate Jimmy Vasser enjoyed a very good road circuit test at Sebring last Sunday and Monday as the Ganassi team tries to improve the handling and performance of its Lola-Toyotas on road courses.

"We're OK on the ovals and street circuits," Montoya said. "It's the road courses where we're struggling a little, but I think we're making progress and I'm sure we can be quick and competitive here this weekend. I was surprised to be second today because the car isn't right, but I think we'll be quicker tomorrow."

Third fastest on Friday was Helio Castroneves who was just over half a second slower than Franchitti and Montoya. "Running in the wet in qualifying is a little exciting because different parts of the track dry at different rates," Castroneves said. "The concrete patches at the apexes are dry and the pavement around the rest of the track takes a little longer to dry out.

"When I put the slicks on I had a big moment in turn one but the track was dry on the line at the end of the session," Castroneves added. "I was following Bryan Herta and I came up behind him and had to brake early. That was my fastest lap. I'm not saying I would have been on pole but it would have been a little bit quicker than what I ran. So I think we're in pretty good shape for tomorrow. We'll see what happens with the weather."

Fourth fastest was Michael Andretti who has won this race a record five times. "I think the car had a little more in it," Andretti said. "It's close but not there yet in terms of having a good set-up for the race. I am losing a little time in the first turn and we're working on that so we hope to keep improving and know that is one place where we can pick up time."

Gil de Ferran was fifth fastest after crashing in the closing minutes. De Ferran hit the wall exiting the first turn, damaging his car's left rear suspension.

The top 10 were completed by Jimmy Vasser, Oriol Servia, Mauricio Gugelmin, Bryan Herta and Cristiano da Matta.

Championship leader Roberto Moreno had to sit-out the last minutes of the session because he had spun and caused a red flag in the final qualifying session at Cleveland two weeks ago. As a result Moreno was the slowest of the 11 cars to run on the second, faster session.

Christian Fittipaldi was fastest in the Friday morning session but was among those consigned to the first or slower session. Running in the wet, Fittipaldi edged out Kenny Brack, Max Papis and Mark Blundell but all four were more than 10 seconds slower than the second group because of the conditions.

Fittipaldi, Brack, Papis and Blundell finished the day therefore in 12th-15th, and are among those hoping for a better turn of luck with the weather tomorrow.

For full results of first qualifying click HERE.

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