Toronto CART preview

Dario Franchitti is looking to breathe new life into his Champ Car title bid when CART's densely-packed mid-season slog hits the streets of Toronto

Toronto CART preview

In all three of his previous seasons, the Toronto race has been the turning point for Franchitti - a fact that has not been lost on the Scot. He won his first race of 1999 there, and from then on proceeded to take a huge chunk out of Juan Montoya's lead, to the extent where he led the series going into the final round.

"The Toronto race was a big turning point in the season and, hopefully, the same thing will happen again this year," he said. "That was my first win of the season, and we were able to really feed off that. We had three podiums, including a win in the four races after Toronto."

In Franchitti's first season - 1997 - he gained pole position with the unfancied Hogan team. Unfortunately, a collision with Bobby Rahal in the first corner wasted any chance he might have had of gaining his first victory. Even so, that pole established a lap record of 105.694mph which has yet to be beaten.

He looked like making amends in 1998, his first year with Team Green. Franchitti led easily from pole for the majority of the race, but a brake problem caused him to spin - once again in turn one. After a run of podiums, Franchitti seemed to have his first CART win buttoned, but that would have to wait until Elkhart Lake a few weeks later. Nevertheless, his liking for the Canadian street track was duly noted.

Though he was beaten to the pole in 1999, this time the Scot made no mistake and led every lap en route to his fourth career CART victory - one of only two drivers to lead every lap of a race. Finishing second was his team mate Paul Tracy.

"Toronto has to be right up there as one of my favourite tracks on the CART circuit, not only because I've been really fast there, but because I really like the city, the layout, the fans and the whole festival atmosphere that's part of the race weekend in Toronto," he said.

The fact that Dario's season generally seems to come alive when the championship reaches Toronto means that he will be trying particularly hard to stake his claim to the 2000 title. Team boss Barry Green claimed "things can turn around in a hurry, as we saw last year when we had a one-two finish in Toronto and had five podiums in the next three races".

Based on their form this year, several drivers are poised to try and topple Franchitti from his position as Toronto favourite.

Roberto Moreno leads the championship for Patrick Racing, after winning his first pole and race at Cleveland. This could very well open the floodgates for the Brazilian, who has never ridden so high in an international series. On the other hand, Patrick Racing has a history of fighting for the series lead - in 1997 with Scott Pruett, and 1998 and '99 with Adrian Fernandez - but fading as the season progresses. Moreno will doubtless be keen to reverse this trend, and further revitalise his top-level career.

Gil de Ferran was the man who toppled Franchitti's chances of scoring a hat-trick of Toronto poles last year, and is as yet the only person to score more than one victory in 2000. The Brazilian is making use of a superb Reynard-Honda package and a rejuvenated Penske team. He currently lies third in the points standings, and hopes Toronto could be the place to move closer to the top.

"While I qualified on the pole last year and have consistently run fast in Toronto, I've never finished the race in a good position. I hope to change that this year and bring the Marlboro car home in the points," he said.

His team-mate Helio Castroneves scored his first CART victory two races ago, at the street race at Detroit. The young Brazilian has proved phenomenally fast on certain courses, and will be desperate to beat his more experienced compatriots de Ferran and Moreno.

Kenny Brack is another dark horse for victory after an unobtrusive but impressive run of results, culminating in a career-best second place in the last race at Cleveland. The Swedish rookie has finished fifth or better in five of his last six races. He currently holds fourth place in the championship - no mean feat in itself for a rookie at the halfway point of the season, and demonstrative of the speed with which the 1998 IRL champion has adjusted to CART's machinery and circuits.

Lola has appeared to suffer in recent races, with murmurs of discontent being rumoured at its flagship squad Team Ganassi. However, the English manufacturer has been hard at work recently to try and regain its advantage. Nevertheless, the B2K/00 chassis has performed admirably at street circuits, with Juan Montoya dominating at Detroit until his engine failed.

However, both Lola's wins this year have come on ovals, with Juan Montoya winning at Milwaukee and Michael Andretti taking the chequered flag at Motegi. The Lola has benefitted from a modified nose, which is said to allow the cars to run with a longer wheelbase. Both the Newman-Haas cars, of Andretti and Christian Fittipaldi, have been using the nose already, but Juan Montoya will apparently use the new set-up at Toronto, as part of his bid to chase the dwindling hope of back-to-back titles.

"I'm proud of Team Target for doing such a great job of figuring out a brand new car and giving me a great machine to campaign with on raceday," said the Colombian. "Toronto is a great race and a great city. I know we will have a great result there on Sunday. Starting with Toronto, my aim is to score points in each race - and I plan to score a lot in Toronto."

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