It was just like old times for Michael Andretti on Sunday at the Toronto Molson Indy.
Six years after winning his fifth race in the streets of this Canadian city, Andretti used some patience and a great pit stop to take the lead, then pulled away for his 40th career victory.
"I love Toronto," Andretti said. "Maybe it's something in the water."
As befitting a former CART FedEx Series champion and the leading race winner in CART history, his victory lap on the 1.755-mile, 11-turn temporary course was calm and measured.
The 37-year-old driver waved calmly to the crowd, a marked contrast to the emotional outburst by first-time winner Roberto Moreno two weeks earlier in Cleveland.
Combined with Moreno's 13th-place finish, one position out of the points, Andretti cut the Brazilian's series lead from 22 to two points after 10 of 20 races this season.
Andretti won five of the first 10 races in Toronto, but had not taken the checkered flag since the course at the edge of the downtown area was somewhat altered in 1996.
On Sunday, the son of longtime open-wheel racing star Mario Andretti trailed second-year driver Cristiano da Matta - who led a race-high 72 laps - until the two made their second and final pit stops of the 112-lap race.
Da Matta, still winless, was out front before heading toward the pits on lap 74. Andretti, who had been less than a second behind, made his own stop a lap later.
The Newman-Haas Racing crew got Andretti's Ford-powered Lola out of the pits in under 10 seconds and he beat da Matta back onto the track.
"When da Matta went in, that had to be my quickest lap because I knew I had to make up some time," Andretti said. "It was like a qualifying lap."
Da Matta, who started the race a career-best second, said, "We didn't lose first in the pits. The guys did a very, very good job. We lost it in handling. I didn't have any grip."
Former Toronto winner Adrian Fernandez also made a quick stop and was just ahead after returning to the track, but Andretti easily slipped past Fernandez on lap 79 and grabbed the lead for good when Moreno, who later retired with a transmission problem, made his pit stop on lap 80.
It was no contest after that.
"I tried to have patience on the track because I know what our guys can do," Andretti said. "They were just perfect in the pits. That helps a lot in the championship. Now we just have to be consistent and finish races."
Andretti, who also won earlier this year in Japan and joins Gil de Ferran as the only two-time winners in 2000, added, "It was great to finally do it on the new circuit here. That makes me feel better, too."
Fernandez finished 6.527 seconds behind, followed by local favorite Paul Tracy, da Matta, rookie Alex Tagliani, de Ferran and Patrick Carpentier.
Tracy, who had gone four straight races without scoring a point afer leading the standings early in the season, moved from fifth to fourth with Sunday's finish. He now trails Moreno by 17 points and is just two behind third-place de Ferran.
Helio Castroneves started from the pole but was passed by da Matta on the third turn following the green flag and quickly fell out of contention. Moments after da Matta took the lead, Dario Franchitti - Tracy's teammate - locked up his brakes, banged off a wall and hit defending series champion Juan Montoya, knocking both of them out of the race in the same turn.
It was the third race in a row in which hard-luck Franchitti has been involved in a first-lap incident.
Only 11 of the 25 starters were running at the end, with 10 on the lead lap of the race that was lengthened from 97 to 112 laps this year to give television a longer show.
"When we got to where the race ended last year, I thought, `This isn't good,'" Andretti said. "I was really counting off those last 15 laps. I was really happy to see the checkered flag."
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