IndyCar – Toronto Indy: Double the Trouble

indycar-2014-toronto-conway-victory-laneIt was a little bit wet but it was a lotta bit wild on the streets of Exhibition Place for the annual Toronto Indy. This year’s doubleheader was compressed to a one day show with two points races after a Saturday afternoon rainout. It was a long day for the drivers and teams but a hell of a show for the fans who saw a spectacular performance in the morning and a shootout to the end in the afternoon as Sebastian Bourdais and Mike Conway scored the wins in Canada.

Race One was due to run on Saturday but rain caused visibility to be so low that the race had to be cancelled. IndyCar officials sent the cars out twice to see if they could race but the start attempts were aborted both times.

indycar-2014-toronto-pace-car-spinThe second run was the most adventurous. With two laps to green, the pace car spun out under braking for Turn 3. In the final chicane heading to the green flag, Will Power spun into the wall. All this caused IndyCar to abandon that start attempt and eventually the race.

If the race did go on Saturday, there would have been controversy as the Penske team repaired the car for running. Most teams argued that Penske violated rules prohibiting working on cars under the red flag. Given that the race never started, Penske’s argument was that the red flag was never thrown as the race must start to be stopped. Fortunately, we didn’t have to find out what the ruling actually would be. Either way, it would be very controversial.

So after the washout on Saturday, both races were moved to Sunday and shortened to 65 laps in order to get the running in. I just hope that something was done to make it up to the fans who had Saturday tickets but not Sunday.

Anyway, Race One tried picking up where Saturday’s attempt left off. That meant that Will Power was starting shotgun on the field with Ryan Briscoe and Juan Montoya just in front after having to pit for small dust ups during the warm up laps.

indycar-2014-toronto-race-one-pagenaudPerhaps it was for the best that they started at the back of the field though. The cars started stacking up in Turns 4 and 5 when Luca Filippi spun Simon Pagenaud as they went through the kink at Turn 4. Unfortunately for most of the field, they were running fifth and sixth when they collided so a number of cars collided and required repair work afterwards.

While the punter didn’t make it much farther before retiring for a 22nd place finish, the puntee didn’t waste much time carving through the field. Between a two-stop strategy brought on by the early spin that allowed for a short second stop and driving like a bat out of hell, he made his way to the point by Lap 35 and held the lead for 6 laps before pitting.

Some of Pagenaud’s championship rivals didn’t fare as well. Will Power started last as IndyCar ruled that the starting grid was to be based on the positioning on pit road at the time of the race’s postponement on Saturday. Power was last for missing parade laps as a result of his damage and made it to 9th. Juan Montoya also started at the back but only climbed to 18th. And Ryan Hunter-Reay hit the wall just past the halfway point and ended in 21st.

Up front, it was the polesitter, Sebastian Bourdais, who absolutely dominated proceedings. In the 65 lap race, he only ceded the lead for seven laps to make his one and only pit stop for fuel and tires. Leading 58 of 65 laps certainly made for one of the most convincing wins of the season.

indycar-2014-toronto-race-one-podiumThe win was Bourdais’ first of his IndyCar comeback, his first since winning in Mexico City at the end of Champ Car’s final full season in 2007 and moved him to 8th in the all-time American Open-Wheel wins list out of a tie with Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy. Helio Castroneves had one of those good points days by finishing 2nd. And Tony Kanaan went back-to-back with thirds by repeating his Iowa result.

As mentioned, Pagenaud finished fourth. Scott Dixon cemented his Toronto specialist credentials with a fifth. Graham Rahal kept his nose clean which allowed him to finish 6th. Charlie Kimball crossed the line in 7th. The Mayor of Hinchtown and hometown hero James Hinchcliffe started to course correct his season with an 8th. Will Power was 9th and Justin Wilson rounded out the top ten for Dale Coyne.

Because Sunday’s qualifying session was cancelled because of postponements, the race’s grid was set on Entrant Points. That was good for the championship contenders who would all start at the front. Poor Sebastian Bourdais would have to deal with traffic if he wanted to contend for this win. (Spoiler: He didn’t.)

indycar-2014-toronto-race-two-aleshin-helmetThe race’s start was moved up to avoid the coming rain. They managed to do so but only for 10 laps. When the rain came, the track slicked up quickly which resulted in a scary moment between Montoya and Mikhail Aleshin. With Montoya sliding into the tire barrier due to no grip on slick tires and a damp surface, Aleshin followed him in and submarined the stranded Colombian. Aleshin was fine but he did have a tire mark on his helmet and noted to NBCSN that it wasn’t the pressure of the car on his head that caused him discomfort but the heat coming off it that made it hard for him to breathe. Still, maybe open-wheel series should start looking into cockpit protection for the drivers just in case.

With the race becoming wet, a few drivers chanced staying out on slicks hoping that the race would quickly dry up. Chief among them were Bourdais and Josef Newgarden. However, they didn’t last up front for long before getting the run around by Castroneves.

He held the lead until the track started drying quickly. This sent some teams scurrying for pit road under green, most under a caution for a slick runner who was a bit too ambitious, and a few trying to run the race out on wets hoping the clock on the now 80-minute timed race would expire quickly.

The likes of Justin Wilson, Newgarden and Carlos Huertas ran up front for a while before Mike Conway, the first of the cars to make the switch to slicks, picked them off one by one and seal his second win on the season.

indycar-2014-toronto-race-two-podiumInterestingly, team owner Ed Carpenter said that the call for slicks first came from Conway. The well-timed caution made him look like a genius. And now Ed can’t poke fun at him for having more points in fewer races. Tony Kanaan scored his third-straight podium with a 2nd. And Will Power finally broke his run of bad results by rounding out the podium.

Charlie Kimball didn’t repeat his 2012 2nd but a 4th isn’t too bad either. When it rains, you want Takuma Sato in your car. He took his ride to a much-needed 5th. Jack Hawksworth pulled out a 6th for Bryan Herta Autosport. Scott Dixon was 7th after sweeping the weekend last year. Marco Andretti finished where he started in 8th. Sebastian Bourdais’ early tire gamble probably cost him a shot at the win but a 9th ain’t too bad. And Justin Wilson’s late wet tire gamble didn’t completely ruin his day as he finished 10th.

The excitement of a home race and being feted as a national hero has given way to serious business for James Hinchcliffe. He went into the 2013 silly season as one of the hottest would-be free agents in IndyCar but he couldn’t work out a deal at Ganassi so he stayed at Andretti Autosport.

indycar-2014-toronto-james-hinchcliffeNow, after an unlucky and less successful season, he’s back on the market. His current contract with AA will end after this season if the one-year option clause doesn’t kick in. Hinch’s contract rolls over for 2015 if AA secures sponsorship for the 2015 season by August 1st but the team has reportedly asked Hinch to extend the deadline and the Mayor declined.

Andretti is already known to be interested in signing Simon Pagenaud from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as he’s also a free agent this season. While he’s succeeded at SPM, the team is short on cash this season after HP withdrew its sponsorship. If they can’t secure full-time sponsorship, Pagenaud might look elsewhere.

The question now becomes which seats are available for them next season. Rahal Racing is looking for a second driver for their operation. If they can secure sponsorship, they’d jump at the chance for either driver. KV Racing has run multiple cars in the past and could open up their operations for another car. Apart from that, there isn’t enough info out there about available seats right now. Maybe this could end up being a seat swap where Pagenaud ends up at Andretti and Hinch ends up in the #77 SPM.

indycar-2014-toronto-rob-ford-paul-tracyThe highlight of all the coverage that NBCSN did for the IndyCar 2 in T.O. weekend had to be their checking in with the local celebrity. Of course, when you’re talking about a visit to Toronto, there’s only one man who is synonymous with Canada’s biggest city when you ask Americans.

This weekend’s special guest on the track tour with Paul Tracy was Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. While comments about the Mayor’s admitted problems with drinking or crack cocaine were withheld by the broadcast team, when the Mayor gave Paul his catchphrase of “call me if you need anything,” the obvious jokes were made by everyone else.

indycar-2013-midohio-trackIt’s been a busy run for the drivers and teams since the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May and it will be an equally busy run to the end of the season but the IndyCar season takes next week off. In two weeks’ time, it’ll be the first road course in three months as the series goes to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

Looking at results from the first two natural road course races of the season, you have to like the chances of both Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Conveniently enough, they’re also the closest challengers to the Penske cars in the championship chase. Keep an eye on those three guys, though. Helio has a couple of wins from the CART days, Power has four top fives from five races at Mid-Ohio and Montoya has a win from his only Mid-Ohio start.


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