With a strong potential of a major points swing in the offing, the thrill of a first-time Standing-Start in IndyCar (ChampCar used them), Push-To-Pass (P2P), two tire compound (Reds/Blacks) strategy, and the 24 year history of exciting temporary street races as a backdrop, the double-header weekend of the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto did not disappoint.
Okay, so the first race of the weekend really was disappointing to not have the Standing-Start as advertised. Josef Newgarden's car failed on the grid sequence which created a 'called' ABORT of the Standing-Start. The cars were rolled off and the formation lap counted as a race lap with the Rolling-Start GREEN Flag which began Lap 2. It was ruled that the Standing-Start would replace the planned Rolling-Start for Race 2 for the second race on Sunday.
Honda Indy Toronto's Race 1, itself, was one of the most entertaining and competitive temporary street course races this season, and what seems to be happening more often than not, the driver to lead the most laps did not win. Marco Andretti comes to mind.
In Race 1, Will Power was able to take over control of the race after Power took the lead from Sebastian Bourdais on Lap 32 shortly after the first cycle of green flag stops ended. Bourdais had managed to keep his advantage through the cycle, but was unable to stop Power from pulling off a tail-twitching inside pass in Turn 1 on the 1.75-mile Exhibition Place street circuit.
A full-course yellow on Lap 35 for contact between Tristan Vautier and Graham Rahal erased a two-second edge for Power, but he was able to hold off Bourdais on the next restart at Lap 40. Will Power went on to lead the most laps in the race when he was able to keep the lead until Lap 60 when he gave it up during Green Flag pit-stops to Sebastien Bourdais.
Soon after the Lap 40 restart, Scott Dixon was able to pass Bourdais in Turn 3, moving to P2 on the course. Through the same round of pit-stops where Power gave up the lead, to Dragon Racing's Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon came in last, extending his fuel run ... and filed in behind Bourdais and ahead of both teammate Dario Franchitti and Will Power. With Bourdais on the softer Reds, and Dixon on the Blacks standard compound tires, the showdown of tire wear and P2P began. Bourdais had no P2P left and Dixon had about 3 or 4 pushes left. After a couple of set-up attempts, on Lap 78 using one of the two remaining P2Ps while Bourdais was powerless on used-up Firestone Reds and without a Push-To-Pass to use in defense of the Target Chip Ganassi Honda. Dixon overtook race leader and held off the four-time ChampCar champion on a Lap 84 single-file restart to earn his 31st victory to tie Bourdais, Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy for seventh on the all-time Indy car list.
"These doubleheaders are tough; we got through Race 1. Just a crazy day," said Dixon, who earned the Verizon P1 Award with the fastest lap in qualifications for Race 2 earlier in the day. "This is what we need to get the momentum going."
As far as the Championship race within a race - In Race 1, Helio Castroneves extended his championship lead from 23 points to 41 with a fifth-place finish in the 12th event of the season, combined with Ryan Hunter-Reay's 18th-place result. Hunter-Reay encountered a myriad of problems, including stalling the No. 1 DHL Chevrolet twice leaving his pit stall and making contact with the Turn 3 tire barrier on Lap 79.
Honda Indy Toronto's Race 2 saw a ruled 'do-over' of the Standing-Start with the caveat that if the first attempt did not take for any reason, there would be at least one additional attempt. This ruling was not the only change in the interpretation of the rules by substitute, and former, Race Control head, Brian Barnhart. In Race 1, Barnhart first assessed a late race penalty on Dario Franchitti for blocking on Will Power as Power attempted a pass causing Power to tap the inside wall and miss Turn 3. This post-race penalty ruling was then later rescinded and everyone then knew that Race Control was not being headed by the current IICS Race Control captain, Beaux Barfield (who was unable to attend the Honda Indy Toronto weekend for personal reasons).
Back to Race 2 which ran without any full course cautions for 64 of 85 laps. This has to be a Green Flag running record for the tight and treacherous 1.7-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit. In 24 years, the Honda Indy Toronto has never seen a race without at least one Yellow Flag full course caution.
Scott Dixon went on to win a most convincing race and many would consider, save the Standing-Start, was just a continuation of the race ran the day before. The Target Chip Ganassi driver put on a clinic of driver and car domination in Race 2 that had him leading every lap except for Lap 24 and 25 when Helio Castroneves stayed out during the first set of Green Flag pit-stops. All other pit-stops, Scott Dixon kept the lead due to his lead on the track - that's domination.
A second Yellow Flag full course caution was called when Ed Carpenter lost it in Turn 5 and slammed the wall on Lap 77, this had another restart incident happen on Lap 83 where the driver who was the pre-race P2 in the Championship points, Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay try to make a three-wide pass on the outside of Turn 1. As the middle car, which squeezed down on the inside corner car of Will Power, cleared, Power applied the pedal and his rear end twitched, tapping RHR's car and this sent the Yellow DHL DW12 into the wall to finish the race in P19.
In a post race interview, Dixon was informed that he had also won the $100,000 SONAX Perfect Finish Award for winning both races of the Honda Indy Toronto. Dixon Quote - "$100 Grand is good but I'd rather have the points. Points ... is why were here."
Before the weekend, Helio had a 23 point margin between him and all other drivers. Helio Castroneves now leads all drivers by 29 points for a net gain of 6 points - not a huge shift. The biggest shift in the standings has to be the movement up the championship points ladder of Target Chip Ganassi's three-time IndyCar Champion, Scott Dixon who moves 5 point's positions in just three races.
More Front Wing's Stephanie Wallcraft caught up with Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe and he let her know in no uncertain terms that he is not a fan of double-header weekends. Said Hinch:
"I don’t think anybody likes them. Scott Dixon gets 100 points. How come we don’t have two races at Iowa (where Hinchcliffe not only won but dominated in much the same way the Target Chip Ganassi driver did in Toronto this weekend)? That would have been awesome for us.
"You have to have double-headers at all of them or none of them. I’ve said that since they announced these things. It’s not a fair way to do it. We as a team didn’t have particularly strong cars here, and we get penalized twice as much. And we’re going to go to Houston, and somebody’s going to nail it and have a really good day. It’s unfortunate that that’s how it works.
After 12 of 19 races in the 2013 season, it looks as though this season will end as many of the last several season's have ended (not 2012) with a shootout between a Penske Racing and a Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver for the season's driving Championship.
Two races in one road/street course weekend seems like the IZOD IndyCar Series might be stretching the performance rubber-band a little too far. This weekend, while being a crowd-pleasing event for those in Toronto, sucked all of the attention off of the supporting World Challenge and Road to Indy races.
In the end, the two days of races paid double points to Scott Dixon for what translated to be a single tour de force 170 lap race through the streets of Toronto.