TORONTO (AP) — No one was more surprised with Juan Pablo Montoya’s practice session at the IndyCar race Friday than Montoya himself.
Montoya, the IndyCar points leader and Indianapolis 500 winner, posted a one-lap time of 1 minute, 0.643 seconds in the morning session over the 1.755-mile, 11-turn Exhibition Place street circuit. That stood as the day’s fastest effort as rain washed out the afternoon run.
Montoya wasn’t expecting such a good opening result.
“No, because we didn’t do that many laps and we had a problem with the brakes, so we had a little bit less track time,” he said. “We went out there and the speed was there, which is encouraging.
“With the rain, it makes it harder because any rubber we put down (will be washed away). So (on Saturday) we have to start from zero again . . . but being that fast on a street course despite not running that much, that’s pretty good.”
The final practice is scheduled for Saturday morning before qualifying begins later in the afternoon. Gil de Ferran holds the track qualifying record of 57.143 seconds set in 1999.
The race goes Sunday afternoon.
Montoya currently leads the drivers standings with 348 points and two victories this season. He’s 35 points ahead of Penske teammate Will Power, the defending series champion, and holds a 43-point advantage over Scott Dixon, three times IndyCar’s top driver.
Power has a win and four pole positions on the season, while Dixon has a victory and a pole.
“You can’t focus on points,” Montoya said. “You have to focus and execute every weekend, and if things work out well, then we look good.
“So far it has been a good season. I think we have a really good car here in Toronto, so we’ll see.”
Power, sixth in practice with a time of 1:00.8656, said competing against a teammate for the driver’s title does create an interesting scenario.
“Yeah, I mean, obviously battling teammates is a little bit harder because you’re in the same engineering office,” the Australian said. “Battling another team is a big team effort and the push is to beat that team, but battling a teammate . . . it’s a different story.”
Penske’s Simon Pagenaud had the second-best practice time (1:00.7922), while Josef Newgarden was third (1:00.8363). Luca Filippi (1:00.8500) and Sebastien Bourdais (1:00.8620) rounded out the top five in the 23-driver field.
With no rain in the weekend forecast, Montoya predicted much faster times in qualifying Saturday.
“Oh yeah, we’ll go higher,” he said. “Qualifying will be at least a second and a half quicker than that.”
Teammate Helio Castroneves, fourth in the drivers standings with 286 points and seventh in practice, said the closeness of the field Friday suggests a close qualifying session. The top 11 cars were separated by just a half second while the gap between Newgarden and eighth-place finisher Graham Rahal was under a 10th of a second.
“It’s very tight,” Castroneves said. “Third to ninth is in the same 10th, which is amazing. So it’s definitely going to be competitive.”
Castroneves, who captured the pole for the 2000 Toronto race, said the corners on the track present a formidable challenge.
“Most of the corners have a patch of concrete in the middle,” he said. “It’s actually an old concrete, so it’s almost like glass, so when you hit the concrete it’s very, very slippery.
“You go from asphalt to concrete to asphalt, so you can figure what we have to deal with (on corners).”