Race No. 11
1996 Pole Winner: Andre Ribeiro
1996 Race Winner: Adrian Fernandez
1996 SpeedCenter Report
Toronto Weather Forecast
Battle in Full Swing Going to Canadian Streets
Top Five Drivers Within 16 Point Difference
©1997 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.
In 1986, Emerson Fittipaldi captured the pole at the inaugural Molson Indy Toronto, eventually to be beaten by Bobby Rahal.
Ten years later, in 1996, Andre Ribeiro clinched the pole, and Adrian Fernandez scored his first win at the track, but the celebration was overshadowed by the tragic loss of driver Jeff Krosnoff in a freak accident after touching wheels with Stephan Johanson. Track worker Gary Avrin was also lost in the accident as Krosnoff's car was launched over the three-foot barrier that separated the corner workers from the competitors.
This year, fundamental changes have been made. A fence now stands eight feet tall around the area where flagmen and corner-workers will be. The chances for a repeat of last years incident are next to impossible. [See "Tragic Deaths Spark Changes"]
The drivers now return to a temporary street course the likes of which they haven't seen since Long Beach and Surfer's Paradise, with concrete barriers taking the place of wide open run-off areas and more forgiving points of reference. Parker Johnstone had this to say of racing at the track:
"Toronto always poses a challenge, because we're returning to a very closed-in street course after running out in the great wide open of Portland and Cleveland. It requires a very quick shift in perspective, which can sometimes be a bit of an adjustment. At Toronto, you really feel as if you're racing within the confines of concrete - along the straights, through the turns, everywhere. Because of that, it is very difficult to pass on the Toronto circuit which makes qualifying position extremely important."
Barry Green's attitude about the race is from a little different perspective. "Toronto is an unusual street circuit, he said, "It puts the drivers to the test, but a few drivers seem to have all the answers year in and year out. I think Bobby Rahal, for one, has discovered a shortcut around that place that he hasn't shared with the rest of us."
Fellow Canadians Paul Tracy and Greg Moore come to the race positioned first and second in the PPG Cup chase with 106 and 95 points respectively. The atmosphere in the City of Toronto is ripe with expectations as the two continue what has been a brilliant showing of driving skill and machinery to date. First, Tracy experienced a three win streak at Rio, Gateway, and Milwaukee (all short ovals,) but hasn't fared as well on the road-course portion of the season. Moore, on the other hand has excelled with back-to-back wins at Detroit and Portland, and was moving to overtake for third place in last weeks' Burke Lakefront Grand Prix of Cleveland until his Mercedes-Benz powerplant expired due to a faulty oil pick-up.
Third place in the points is Gil de Ferran with 94 points. De Ferran has edged his way into third with podium finishes in St. Louis (third,) Detroit (third,) Portland (second,) and Cleveland (second.) The Portland race is where history was made with the closest finish in Indy-car history when Mark Blundell took advantage of faster slicks while de Ferran had tried to weather out his lead on rain tires.
Fourth place Michael Andretti comes to Toronto with 91 points, but also comes with a great deal of confidence. Last Sunday's Cleveland race issued Andretti his second DNF of the season when he retired early due to electrical problems, but Michael has won half of the ten races ever run at the Molson Indy Toronto track. Andretti's wins came in '89, '91, '92, '94, and '95.
Fifth in the chase for the PPG Cup is Alex Zanardi with 90 points. Zanardi drove a commanding race overcoming two penalties that relegated him to 22nd position. Alex claimed to have just put his head down and concentrated on driving as hard as he could in the comeback win on Sunday.
Though these five drivers make up the most likely candidates for the PPG Cup Championship, they are not the absolute victors in the chase. Scott Pruett with 71 points, Jimmy Vasser with 69, Raul Boesel with 61, Mauricio Gugelmin with 56, Al Unser Jr. with 49, and Bryan Herta with 45 all still have a shot with a winning streak the likes of what we've seen of Tracy this year.
Barry Green best summed up the experience of racing in Toronto. "All week long, the race is in the air throughout the city of Toronto. The atmosphere is so exciting, so happening, that it becomes part of the event itself. The fans are real race fans, too, and they make us all feel very welcome."
Gentlemen...the stretch is on!!