Race: Lucky seven for Andretti

Michael Andretti's victory in Toronto was not only the most unlikely of his seven wins at the Canadian street track, but one of the most remarkable in his long career.

Race: Lucky seven for Andretti

Andretti extended his record total of CART race wins to 41 by coming from last to first, beating Alex Tagliani by 2.74s, with 1996 Toronto winner Adrian Fernandez third.

"This was a big one, and I can't explain it," Andretti shrugged after his second consecutive Toronto victory (to accompany his winners trophies from 1989, '91, '92, '94 and '95).

"I love Toronto, I love Canada, and I'm already looking forward to coming back here next year. This place has been really good to me. Today we had great pit strategy, and we were able to do all the right stuff at the right time. It was one of those days when getting put to the back was fun. It was nice to be able to drive hard all race instead of saving fuel. I haven't been able to do that for a while, and it was a lot of fun," he added.

Andretti was nudged into a spin at turn three on the opening lap when his Team Green/Motorola Reynard-Honda clashed wheels with Scott Dixon's car. Michael stalled the engine, but quick work from the CART Safety Crew got him going before he lost a lap to the leaders. In a manner reminiscent of team mate Dario Franchitti¹s dramatic last-to-first win at Cleveland two weeks ago, Andretti was able to carve through the field by running an aggressive fuel strategy.

His cause was helped by a high rate of attrition, the main victims being the Penske Racing duo of Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves and Team Rahal's Kenny Brack. De Ferran led from the start, but a series of early yellows for spins and crashes on the tight Toronto street circuit kept him from making a break. It also allowed Andretti to keep topping off his tank and permitted him to run a full rich fuel mixture, which in turn helped him to rapidly work past cars on a fuel conservation run.

"After the first lap, I thought the race was over for us," Andretti said. "I have to give credit to the CART Safety guys, because they got me restarted before the Pace Car came by. After that, we took advantage by making pit stops on the early yellows. That put us on a different strategy from the other guys, and as the race wore on, that strategy began to work."

After three early yellows, the race essentially started on lap 12 with de Ferran pulling away from Kenny Brack, who had passed Castroneves for second on lap nine. Dario Franchitti took advantage and also passed Castroneves, and he then was able to slip inside Brack with a clean pass for second on lap 18. At that point, de Ferran led Franchitti by 3.5secs, and he had extended the gap to 8s over the Scot when Franchitti pulled in with an engine problem on lap 32.

"We had an oil leak in the warm-up and we changed the engine for the race," Dario said. "But then I was losing oil the whole race. The warning lights were on and the pressure was dropping, and eventually it just ran out of oil and seized. I know these things are going to happen, but you hate for it to happen when you're running strong. We were just biding my time."

With Franchitti out, de Ferran held a 17secs lead over Brack. But the yellow came out when Max Wilson hit Tora Takagi on lap 32, and the field promptly pitted. Takagi was involved in at least four incidents during the race, causing three yellows, and he is likely to face discipline from CART. Now de Ferran led from Tagliani, who put on a good show for the Canadian fans. Brack ran third, followed by Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Fernandez, Bruno Junqueira and Tony Kanaan. Andretti ran 15th.

After another brief yellow from laps 42-44 for another Takagi spin, one of the key moments of the race occurred on lap 49, when Takagi yet again got it wrong and took Roberto Moreno and Paul Tracy off with himself. Somewhat surprisingly, de Ferran pitted on lap 50 of 95, but Tagliani was the only driver who followed him in.

"It was a case of follow the leader," explained Tagliani's race engineer Tony Cicale. "It wasn't our plan to stop, but it came at one of those points in the race where you hope you don't get a yellow. In hindsight, if we had to do it again, we wouldn¹t have stopped."

Tagliani and the Forsythe team hoped they would get a substantial amount of yellow laps prior to the end of the race, and as events transpired, they got their wish. Meanwhile, Castroneves took over the lead, Brack having dropped out with an electrical ground problem on lap 62.

Helio triggered the second round of stops on lap 65, and he was able to hold the lead, but it was all for naught as his Honda engine blew up on the 67th tour. The yellow flew again, and if observers questioned Roger Penske's earlier call to bring de Ferran in on lap 50, they really wondered what was going on when de Ferran followed the leaders in again on lap 68.

Penske later admitted his error, and de Ferran's weekend came to an unhappy conclusion on lap 77 when he was punted off by Cristiano da Matta.

With Castroneves out of the race, Fernandez should have been in position to capitalise. But the Mexican stalled his Honda motor during his lap 68 pit stop, losing him valuable time.

"We led four laps (65 to 68) and should have had an advantage, but we were having problems with first gear and I killed it," Fernandez said. "I lost like 8secs, because it seemed to take forever to restart the car. We should have held the lead then easily."

Kanaan should have been the man to benefit, but he suffered a problem with the fuel flow when he made his stop, also on lap 68. Three laps later, he was back in.

"This is the most disappointed I have been in a long time," he remarked. "When I saw I was P1 after the second pit stop, I thought, 'This is finally the day we¹ve been waiting for.' Then my heart stopped beating when they called me in the very next lap. We have to fix the problem, because we have a lot of pit stops to make in our 500-miler next week." Kanaan wound up 10th.

The leader now, remarkably, was Andretti, who stopped on lap 68 and had plenty of fuel to run rich to the finish. Tagliani, who last stopped on lap 50, didn't have that luxury, and he wasn't even allowed to spin his tyres to warm them up for the restarts, so dire was his fuel situation. However, he judged it to perfection to earn his best career Champ Car finish with second.

The drama wasn't over yet, because Bruno Junqueira, running third, was proving to be a hard man to pass. Fernandez managed it on lap 80, and Alex Zanardi did it one lap later to take fourth. It finally ended in tears when Junqueira and Christian Fittipaldi ground to a stop in turn three on lap 87. Fittipaldi sarcastically applauded his countryman as they waited for push starts from the CART Safety Team.

With Tagliani in fuel conservation mode, Andretti was able to cruise to the finish for a remarkable victory. He also moved in to second place in the season point standings, jumping past Castroneves. Franchitti is fourth and de Ferran fifth.

"We had a lot of help today," Andretti said. "Brack, Helio, Adrian, and Tracy all had problems. When I got up to seventh or eighth, all of a sudden I could see the leaders and I thought, 'We're right back in the middle of this thing.'

"I got in the mind-set of, 'Go for it ­ you've got nothing to lose," Andretti added. "And when the car came good on the second set of tyres, we took advantage."

Fernandez was delighted to earn the first podium finish for his own team, which is in its first year of operation.

"I'm very excited for Fernandez Racing," he said. "Seeing two drivers in the top ten (Shinji Nakano finished ninth) is very encouraging."

Tagliani was also happy with his day's work. After an inconsistent start for the Forsythe team, he was happy to have a trouble-free weekend for a change.

"We've had a lot of hard times this year, but everything went well this weekend," he said. "The team gained me some position with a fast first pit stop, and I was able to pass Gil on the track when we were running together.

"This is good for the team. We needed a break, and it's great that it came here in Toronto. We've had a fast car, and the team has been strong since the beginning of the season. But in CART, you have to have every detail perfect. This will allow everybody to be a little calmer, and hopefully we can go on a roll."

Zanardi looked a lot like the driver he was from 1996 to 1998, when he won 15 races and two CART championships, while Dixon was once again the top rookie with a fifth place finish. Tracy managed to recover from his early adventures to regain the lead lap and move all the way to sixth, ahead of Mauricio Gugelmin, Max Papis, Nakano and Kanaan. The Champ Cars are back in action at Michigan International Speedway for a 500-miler on July 22.

For full race results, click here.

For latest championship standings, click here.

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