Montoya hot in Brazil

Juan Montoya bounced back from a trying morning session to set the pace in Friday practice in Rio

Montoya hot in Brazil

The reigning CART champion won the Brazilian round of the series last year but has yet to finish a race in 2000. Morning practice provided another tale of woe, the Columbian star struggling to find a workable set-up and only 12th fastest as Penske's Gil de Ferran again set the pace.

Yet at the end of the afternoon session, Montoya was fastest by 0.289s, beating impressive rookies Kenny Brack (Team Rahal) and Alex Tagliani (Player's/Forsythe.) Last year's polesitter Christian Fittipaldi was fourth quickest for Newman-Haas.

'This morning nothing was working,' Montoya said. 'We were trying to look at all the options this morning, but this afternoon I jumped into the spare car and it was great. Everything we did made the car better. I couldn't believe it. We're definitely pointing in the right direction for the race.'

The Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver was full of praise for the Rio track, best known for being a cross between an oval and a road course, a high-speed circuit that also requires heavy braking for two of the turns.

'It's a very exciting place, but very simple,' he explained. 'I think the key here is to have a very nice-balanced car. You need a lot of stability under braking because you brake very hard and turn-in at the same time at both ends of the race track.'

Brack, last year's Indianapolis 500 winner, said he could have gone quicker still had he too not had to switch to his back-up car.

'This morning we had some minor problems and had to take the spare car out,' Brack said.

'I was learning the track and the set-up was pretty good all day long, but we lost a little time by changing cars. This afternoon the car was good and I was able to go for it. I like the place. It's an oval but a road course at the same time.'

Alex Tagliani's stunning rookie season continued as the Canadian set the third fastest time.

'I did my fast lap early in the session,' Tagliani said. 'I think we got the car a little better but every time we put new tires on, it went yellow, and I never got a good lap in on fresh tires.

'I wanted to do well here because I know it's a simple track and it wouldn't take long to learn it. Later in the year we go to some tracks I haven't been to which are much more complicated, so I wanted to do well on this tracks that are a little easier to learn.

'I'm hoping to stay in the top five tomorrow and have a good, clean race. That's my goal.'
Today's top nineteen drivers were covered by one second, so tomorrow's qualifying runs are wide-open. Championship leader Paul Tracy was eleventh today, but unconcerned.

'I'm pretty happy with the car,' Tracy said. 'Every time I tried to put a run together the yellow flag came out.

'My fastest times came on tires with sixty laps on them. I know we can run in the top three or four here.'

Ironically the yellows were caused by incidents involving two of the home drivers. Gualter Salles may have to miss the race after crashing his Dale Coyne Racing entry in turn two. A lack of spares could mean that his weekend is already over.

PacWest's Mauricio Gugelmin, polesitter here in 1997, was more fortunate, only causing minor damage to his Reynard-Mercedes after spinning into the inside tyre barrier at turn four.

Many improvements have been made to the track as well as the garage and paddock area at the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway, the former site of the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Changes to the garage and paddock have been welcomed by the teams and a track official said that $2.5 million have been spent on the improvements.

Ticket sales also appear to be going much better than in years past and while a sell-out is not anticipated, track officials say they expect the best crowd turn-out yet in this the race's fifth year.

Friday practice times from Rio:

1 J Montoya Ganassi Lola-Toyota 38.922s
2 K Brack Rahal Reynard-Ford 39.219s
3 A Tagliani Player's Reynard-Ford 39.241s
4 C Fittipaldi Newman-Haas Lola-Ford 39.273s
5 H Castro Neves Penske Reynard-Honda 39.345s
6 J Vasser Ganassi Lola-Toyota 39.507s
7 C da Matta PPI Reynard-Toyota 39.550s
8 M Papis Rahal Reynard-Ford 39.557s
9 G de Ferran Penske Reynard-Honda 39.606s
10 M Andretti Newman-Haas Lola-Ford 39.659s
11 P Tracy Green Reynard-Honda 39.678s
12 M Gidley Player's Reynard-Ford 39.717s
13 N Fontana Della Penna Reynard-Toyota 39.728s
14 M Gugelmin PacWest Reynard-Mercedes 39.736s
15 T Kanaan Mo Nunn Reynard-Mercedes 39.745s
16 D Franchitti Green Reynard-Honda 39.762s
17 O Servia PPI Reynard-Toyota 39.773s
18 B Herta Walker Reynard-Honda 39.851s
19 R Moreno Patrick Reynard-Ford 39.882s
20 M Jourdain Jr Bettenhausen Lola-Mercedes 39.965s
21 M Blundell PacWest Reynard-Mercedes 39.987s
22 A Fernandez Patrick Reynard-Ford 40.105s
23 T Kurosawa Coyne Lola-Ford 40.687s
24 L Garcia Jr Arciero Reynard-Mercedes 42.706s

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