Montoya fastest on day one at Nazareth

Until the closing minutes of today's first day of Champ car practice at Nazareth, it looked as though anyone but Juan Pablo Montoya would emerge as the fastest man of day, but in the end the brilliant young Colombian came out on top.

Montoya fastest on day one at Nazareth

Montoya spent most of the session running with a full fuel load, trying to learn as much as possible about his planned race set-up. Then at the end with a low load of fuel he came in for fresh tires and went for a time.

Montoya's first six laps around the furiously tight 0.946-mile oval on new rubber were foiled by traffic of some type or another, so he came in, then went out again. "Like everyone I was looking at the weather, and right at the end I went for a fast lap," Montoya said. "But I couldn't get a clear lap so I came in waited and then went out, looking for the right place on the track so I wouldn't come up on anyone and it worked out. The car felt good and I think it has very good potential for the race."


Montoya was referring to tomorrow's forecast for rain which would mean that qualifying would be wiped-out and the field would line-up in the order of today's practice times. The weather was overcast and cool today, but a winter storm is moving east from the midwest and could result in rain on Saturday and similar wet weather on Sunday, possibly including some wet snow! If bad weather stops Sunday's race from taking place CART plans to try to run the race on Monday.


An impressive second fastest today was Helio Castro-Neves who duelled for the lead with Montoya in this race last year until crashing because of a brake failure. Now with Team Penske, Castro-Neves topped the time sheets for much of this afternoon before being nosed-out by Montoya. Third fastest today was Roberto Moreno so that three different combinations occupied the top spots--Montoya in a Lola-Toyota, Castro-Neves in a Reynard-Honda, and Moreno in a Reynard-Ford.


The cars are fitted this weekend with the same Handford mk 2 wing as used at Homestead and the drivers are unanimous that the new wing package will result in much better racing than last year at Nazareth.


"Last year it was very tough to pass here," Castro-Neves said. "Nazareth is always tough but I think the fans will see a lot more passing this year. I tried some high and low lines today and the car could take it. I think you're going to see a lot of passing in turn two. I think everybody is going to go to the outside."


"I agree," Moreno said. "I think it will make for a much better race but I also think it's a much safer package. The cars are more difficult to set-up with this wing package, but when you get it right you know what the car will do. It's doesn't surprise you. It's very predictable."


Homestead winner Max Papis was seventh fastest today, but very confident about his chances in the race. "The car is very good," Papis said. "It feels great. We're just refining our set-up, but I think we should have a very strong car for the race."


Local favourite Michael Andretti was eighth today and believed he and his team had found the key to a competitive set-up at the end of this afternoon's second session. "We were struggling for most of today, but we were onto something at the end," Andretti said. "We found something that really made the car come to life."


Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy finished the day in tenth and eleventh, both much happier with their cars than at Homestead two weeks ago. "The car feels good," Franchitti said. "We're very close. It's much better than two weeks ago. We're just creeping up on it, but I think we can be very competitive here."


The fastest 18 cars were covered by 0.749 of a second, and the field is sure to line up in a very different order on Sunday if tomorrow's scheduled qualifying takes place.


Three drivers -- Gualter Salles, Kenny Brack and Patrick Carpentier -- crashed without injury on Saturday. Salles crashed hard in turn two early in the final afternoon session while Brack spun in the morning and then crashed in turn three in the afternoon. Carpentier crashed coming out of turn three in the closing minutes of practice.


Qualifying takes place on Saturday afternoon. Stick with Autosport.com for the latest CART news.

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