Zonta's late burst fastest on new track

ISTANBUL: : McLaren dominated the opening day of running here on Friday but Toyota driver Ricardo Zonta put in a late lap to finish fastest in practice for Sunday's inaugural Turkish Grand Prix.

Surprisingly cloudy skies and temperatures of 28 degrees Celsius greeted the drivers at the Istanbul Park Circuit as they completed their first forays on the tricky new track.

The teams had undertaken pre-race computer simulations to determine their car set-up before heading to Turkey while many of the drivers had learned the track by playing on their PlayStations.

And after the two hours of practice, Brazilian Zonta led the way with a time of 1:25.583 but it was McLaren, the form team in Formula One, which suggested it would again be the real favourite for victory here this weekend.

McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa finished second, 0.613 seconds slower than Zonta's late lap while their race drivers Juan Pablo Montoya, of Colombia, and Finn Kimi Raikkonen claimed third and fourth.

Raikkonen is chasing down Fernando Alonso for the title, with 28 points to close down in the six races remaining, and the Spaniard could manage only seventh fastest time, almost two seconds off the pace.

Briton Jenson Button finished fifth fastest in his BAR-Honda with Italian Red Bull test driver Vitantonio Liuzzi sixth and Alonso's Renault team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella eighth fastest.

Italian Jarno Trulli, the fastest of Toyota's race drivers, finished down in ninth place some 2.381 seconds slower than Zonta, and Takuma Sato completed the top ten in the second BAR-Honda.

Tricky for some

World champion Michael Schumacher, hopeful of continuing his improved performance here, finished down in 13th place after several mistakes and his Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello managed only 15th.

Schumacher made a mistake at turn 10 in the second session as he continued exploring the lines around the track in the second session while Felipe Massa and Christian Klien both had small spins during the first 20 minutes. Raikkonen made a small mistake and went wide at turn ten, as did his teammate Montoya and Red Bull Racing drivers Klien and Liuzzi later in the session while both Ferraris went off at turn eight.

De la Rosa had been the first to venture out in the first session and he set the pace by the end with a lap of 1:27.882 putting him 0.571 seconds ahead of McLaren team-mate Raikkonen.

India's Narain Karthikeyan had a lap of 1:32.886 in the first session and 1:30.899 in the second practice finishing 22th and 24th, while his Jordan teammate Tiego Monteiro, of Portugal timed 1:32.147 and 1:30.626 for a 20th place finish. Narain Karthikeyan described the circuit as interesting and believed that it had great facilities.

``I am just back from my first four laps on this track. Two laps walking and two on the bike. From what I have seen, this circuit has great facilities.''

Racing in the 14th race of his debut season, the 28-year-old driver said it was difficult was to understand the grip level of the track but it was wide enough with room for overtaking. — Agencies

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