Player's/Forsythe rookie Alex Tagliani topped the final practice session before qualifying for the CART Rio 200 in Brazil this morning [Saturday].

The Canadian was among the crowd of cars which left pit-lane with just eight minutes remaining on the clock after another yellow flag had interrupted the practice session, and made the most of the drafting opportunities presented by his rivals to inch closer to initial pace-setter Juan Montoya. Finally, as the clock ticked down, Tagliani first edged past and then opened a gap over the Colombian. Remarkably, however, he claimed not to have had the benefit of a draft to snatch top spot, simply claiming that his Reynard was the best it shad been all weekend.

"Is good," a breathless Tagliani said as he returned to the pits, ''I'm happy - we're getting closer, and I have a pretty good car."

Montoya had seemed destined to repeat his Friday dominance in practice before the Player's car leapt ahead of him on the timesheets. Nevertheless, the Ganassi man was comfortable with his second spot, knowing that his Lola-Toyota was also right on the money.

" We're OK,'' he reported, ''but it was just like yesterday - I couldn't get a clear lap on new tires.."

Team Green's Paul Tracy recovered his position in the top five from the previous morning, lapping a fraction slower than Montoya at the end of the session. The Canadian headed another top spot ever-present, Kenny Brack, as the Swede built on his growing knowledge of the quirky Rio circuit to place fourth overall for Team Rahal

Leading Brazilian Christian Fittipaldi (Newman/Haas) was fifth, ahead of Homestead winner Max Papis and Tony Kanaan. A third 'home team' player, Helio Castro-Neves, was next up, heading Jimmy Vasser and the recovering Adrian Fernandez at the tail of the top ten. The Mexican had only managed a lowly 22nd on Friday, and was relieved to have got his car handling in a way he liked.

Fastest man in Friday's first session Gil de Ferran was eleventh, with Michael Andretti and Dario Franchitti immediately behind him. Mark Blundell was 16th, behind Bryan Herta and Roberto Moreno.

One Brazilian will not be present on Sunday, however, as the Dale Coyne deemed Gualter Salles' Reynard to be beyond immediate repair after it hit the wall hard on Friday.

Saturday practice - CART - Rio.

1. Alex Tagliani Forsythe Reynard-Ford 38.694secs
2. Juan Montoya (spare) Ganassi Lola-Toyota 38.811secs
3. Paul Tracy Team Green Reynard-Honda 38.880secs
4. Kenny Brack (spare) Team Rahal Reynard-Ford 38.887secs
5. Christian Fittipaldi (spare) Newman-Haas Lola-Ford 38.890secs
6. Max Papis Team Rahal Reynard-Ford 39.046secs
7. Tony Kanaan Mo Nunn Reynard-Mercedes 39.089secs
8. Helio Castro-Neves Penske Reynard-Mercedes 39.102secs
9. Jimmy Vasser Ganassi Lola-Toyota 39.175secs
10. Adrian Fernandez (spare) Patrick Reynard-Ford 39.243secs
11. Gil de Ferran Penske Reynard-Mercedes 39.254secs
12. Michael Andretti Newman-Haas Lola-Ford 39.289secs
13. Dario Franchitti Team Green Reynard-Honda 39.344secs
14. Bryan Herta Walker Reynard-Honda 39.369secs
15. Roberto Moreno (spare) Patrick Reynard-Ford 39.532secs
16. Mark Blundell PacWest Reynard-Mercedes 39.542secs
17. Norberto Fontana Della Penna Reynard-Toyota 39.592secs
18. Roberto Moreno Patrick Reynard-Ford 39.596secs
19. Oriol Servia PPI Reynard-Toyota 39.606secs
20. Cristiano da Matta PPI Reynard-Toyota 39.629secs
21. Takuya Kurosawa Dale Coyne Lola-Ford 39.674secs
22. Memo Gidley Forsythe Reynard-Ford 39.677secs
23. Mauricio Gugelmin PacWest Reynard-Mercedes 39.827secs
24. Michel Jourdain Jr (spare) Bettenhausen Lola-Mercedes 39.887secs
25. Kenny Brack Team Rahal Reynard-Ford 40.009secs
26. Luiz Garcia Jr Arciero Project Reynard-Mercedes 41.313secs
27. Luiz Garcia Jr (spare) Arciero Project Reynard-Mercedes 41.696secs


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