by Alexander Oolo
Coronation # 7 for Super-Andretti
Michael Andretti’s brilliant driving and an equally brilliant pit strategy by his Team Motorola earned the American a well-deserved, record-breaking seventh win at the 16th running of the Molson Indy in Toronto, July 15, 2001!
Marking his third back-to-back victory podium (‘91/’92, ‘94/’95, ‘00/’01) as defending race champion for Toronto, Andretti also posted a record setting 41st career victory, his first season win and a first win for his Team Motorola on the grounds of Toronto’s water-fronted Exhibition Place.
In fact, once it was time to race in Round 10 of CART’s (Championship Auto Racing Teams Inc.) 2001 Fed-Ex Championship Series it first went from bad to worse for Michael Andretti.
After side-to-side contact with rookie Scott Dixon, Andretti was nudged off course. Car # 39 stalled in the third turn on only the first green flag lap. This led to the days’ first yellow as the initial start was waved off when the front two rows got a jump on the third.
"This was a big one. After the first lap, I thought the race was over." said Andretti " I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the CART Safety Team; they got me restarted before the pace car came around. They helped me win this race."
Still, that initial run-in dropped Andretti all the way to last place out of a field of 26 open-wheel champ cars. This was followed by a slur of incidents and full course cautions for the first ten race-laps, resulting in only two laps being completed under green.
Andretti’s patient wait & come-from-behind strategy plus the race’s ongoing attrition would eventually pay off handsomely. Team Motorola moved gradually toward the front of the pack: from 22nd place by lap 4 all the way to fourth by lap 54. Slowly it became apparent that Andretti might just have a chance at this.
"We took advantage of being in back to make pit stops", so Andretti. "It gave us a different pit strategy than the other drivers. I was able to pass cars because they had to save fuel. I was able to race today, the first time in a very long time. It’s always ‘save fuel’. Everybody we passed did a lot of wheel to wheel (safe) racing. That was fun and what racing is all about. I never thought we would end up where we did. I had a lot of help from the competition. There must be something about Toronto. I love coming here, and I can’t wait to come back next year!"
Through all of this, pole sitter and 2000-season champion Gil de Ferran remained in the lead rather easily. Drivers such as Kenny Brack, Helio Castroneves, and Dario Franchitti were dog fighting for positions behind that initial leader car. All would eventually leave the race due to mechanical troubles.
In-between was Alex "Tags" Tagliani who benefited from a quick first pit stop and so jumped to second place.
Under caution, just past the halfway point, at the 49th lap, top guns de Ferran and Tagliani pitted while the rest stayed out. Fuel conservation became now a key strategy. In the end, it backfired on de Ferran as a fuel nozzle problem prevented him from getting all the fuel in on that stop.
And so, while the rest of the field pitted on lap 63, Team Penske’s de Ferran once again came in to get topped off. Now in twelfth place, Gil de Ferran did not-his-best to come through the field. It all ended when he made contact at turn 3 with da Matta breaking his rear suspension, who too was finished along Michel Jourdain’s car, which caught a whiff of this fender-bender.
"The race was going very well for us," de Ferran said. "Unfortunately, the timing of the caution flags didn’t play in our favour and then I got tagged.’’ That cut the field in half, making car # 1 one of 15 casualties to either contact or become afflicted by mechanical problems.
Following this was a whole new set of other incredible circumstances, all of which aided Andretti on his way to the finish line.
It all started with Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who led laps 50-64 but gave it all up to Adrian Fernandez, the 1996-winner of the Molson Indy Toronto.
"The race was playing out in our favour when we took the lead on lap 50," Castroneves said. "We felt like we had a good chance to win, but unfortunately an engine problem ended our day early".
Helio losing his engine caused a full course caution, albeit not to the benefit of Fernandez either. He stalled while pitting under that caution allowing Tony Kanaan of Team Hollywood and Andretti’s Honda-Reynard to exit their pits first.
But Kanaan didn’t get all of his fuel and was forced to come back in, virtually gifting the lead of the 2001 Molson Indy to one Michael Andretti. Andretti didn’t do anything less than take the lead and keep it for the remainder of the race.
Ultimately it was a combination of factors, attrition being one but also Michael Andretti’s strategic driving and Team Motorola’s appliance of truly brilliant pit strategy (requiring four pit stops) that led driver and team to such a resounding and deserved victory.
Andretti as such only averaged 83.375 miles per hour (complete race time, 1:59:58.904) as the race was slowed by 11 cautions for thirty-one laps – almost one third of the 95-lap race, 1.755-mile long temporary street circuit!
Today, however, was also a break through race for both Alex Tagliani and Adrian Fernandez. For Tagliani that solid second-place finish represents a career best, and for Fernandez Racing coming in third is a podium-first for Adrian in his brand new team.
Actually Andretti finished only 2.741 seconds ahead of the Ford-Cosworth/Reynard-driving Tagliani of Player’s Forsythe Racing. And it is conceivable that today’s race could have gone in favour of "Tags" Tagliani.
It was during the time when Andretti held a seven-second advantage. Christian Fittipaldi and rookie Bruno Junqueira crashed on the 88th lap to bring out the final caution. But the anticipated duel between Andretti and the consistent second-place holder, Canadian Alex Tagliani, never occurred.
As such, Tagliani was running out of time and on old tires. "We had enough fuel, but the problem was that I was on older tires than Michael and the team wanted me to save enough fuel to finish the race,’’ Tagliani said. "After a while, I was getting really strong, but with so few laps to go I needed to be quicker on the restarts.’’
For Fernandez, who was second here last year, this marked his best finish since a victory at Australia last year. "Sometimes you’re happy to be third, but inside you know it could be better. But I’m pretty happy all things considered." He led laps 65-68 before being overtaken by Kanaan.
That’s about it for the very exciting 2001 version of Toronto’s Molson Indy.
But wait, we’re not quite done yet…
Guess what’s coming to Germany between September 13 - 15, 2001?
Climb onto the victory podium if you guessed CART’s 21-stop 2001 Fed-Ex Championship Series!
That’s right, Round 16 of the series will be held as an inaugural event for the German 500 at the brand-spanking new 2-mile oval EuroSpeedway Lausitz.
Race day will be September 15th, starting at 1:30 p.m. local time.
Now, there are two ways to be part of this.
One way is to watch the race on TV. For a live broadcast just switch to the ESPN channel at 7:30 a.m. (Dates and times subject to change. Check your local listings).
Or better yet, race-fans, why not actually attend this history-making inaugural race? Here is all the info you will need for that: eventTickets: Tel: 011-49-18-05-88-01-88; e-mail: German500@eurospeedway.de ; web-site: www.eurospeedway.de
I could not find any information on package tours. However, if you are attending be sure to send me an e-mail about it.
In any case, we here at Echo Germanica and www.echoworld.com wish the very best for Indy racing in Germany.
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