In a typical Toronto battle of attrition, Dario Franchitti recovered from several pitfalls to score his third victory of the 2009 IndyCar Series season. He endured a slow pit stop, hit the pits a second time with a well-timed caution flag, and ...
In a typical Toronto battle of attrition, Dario Franchitti recovered from several pitfalls to score his third victory of the 2009 IndyCar Series season. He endured a slow pit stop, hit the pits a second time with a well-timed caution flag, and battled the challenges posed by the menacing walls and 22 other cars on track.
Franchitti's win in the Honda Indy Toronto comes ten years after his prior win at the circuit, in 1999 when driving for Team Green. This one came with his team owner Chip Ganassi not at the track, recovering from recent eye surgery.
"I spent a long time racing against the Target cars and finishing behind them on this track," Franchitti said. "It's been ten years since we first won here and it feels good. So thanks, boss!"
Franchitti led home Ryan Briscoe and Will Power, who both battled tire issues but recovered to podium finishes for Team Penske. Briscoe and Power each had to pit after the first lap with cut tires. Power's race was blighted as he had not completed the mandatory two green flag laps on the Firestone "reds," the softer alternate compound.
Each passed a lot of cars to capture these results. This is Briscoe's fifth second-place finish of the season and Power's third top-five result in four starts overall.
"It's great to get second on a day like this as I had a cut tire at the beginning which set us way back," Briscoe said. "I think Dario got a bit lucky on that yellow; if it was me, I'd hit the pit closed and have to pit twice!"
The other Aussie commented: "I hadn't made two laps, but the reds were good at the end," Power said. "It was great to get back to third after almost being a lap down."
Scott Dixon, Franchitti's teammate, completed the Ganassi-Penske 1-2-3-4 sweep. Franchitti now takes the series points lead by two markers over Dixon. Briscoe is third, 13 points back.
On a day when there were many incidents to recap, a number of drivers kept their heads above water to score solid results. Justin Wilson finished fifth, with the remainder of the top ten Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay (his best result in nine races), Marco Andretti, Alex Tagliani, and Raphael Matos.
The one Penske car that did not figure into the final outcome, Helio Castroneves, was still very much the center of attention in this race and for all the wrong reasons. Castroneves and his long-time nemesis Paul Tracy were engaged in a hot battle for second behind Franchitti went it all went awry.
As Tracy dove down Castroneves' inside at the right-hand turn 3 hairpin, the Canadian stayed alongside but did not complete the pass. Castroneves was saving fuel and struggling for pace on worn red tires. A simple racing incident occurred at the following corner, the left-handed turn 4 kink.
Interlocking wheels, the pair of red-and-white cars went into the barriers. Castroneves was able to limp his wounded car to the pits with terminal suspension damage, while Tracy was out on the spot. When this year's Indianapolis 500 champion emerged from his car, he was greeted with a chorus of boos from the Canadian faithful hoping in earnest for a PT win.
"Honestly, I need to see the replay; he would be the last guy I would take out in Canada," Castroneves admitted, ominously. "I thought I gave him plenty of room. Tracy and I -- it's always going to be like that. He touched me and then I don't know why -- it looks like I turned into him. The car touched and I just lost control. I would never do that, especially in Canada."
Was the "chrome horn" about to strike down his rival in a battle royale, a la the memorable San Jose "smack down" with his countryman Tagliani in 2006? Tracy actually agreed in earnest with Castroneves' assessment.
"It's hard to say, but we were racing really hard," Tracy said. "I made a move down the inside. He gave me some room, and then we touched, and he kind of moved over. I'm not going to say he did it on purpose, I think it's just a racing incident."
The reason they were in this position behind Franchitti was the aforementioned prior caution flag. The Scotsman darted for the pits, while at the same time Graham Rahal grounded to a halt on the exit to turn three after contact with Ed Carpenter.
"I guess we timed it right with strategy, as we really struggled the first stint on the reds," Franchitti admitted. "I was stuck behind some slow cars in the middle stint, (Mario) Moraes in particular who didn't do the same thing twice at any corner."
Castroneves and Tracy had just pitted on their own and would have been de facto race leaders assuming Franchitti could not have completed his stop. An earlier stop saw Franchitti back to 15th on track after an issue with a right rear tire.
"Dario went in the pits on yellow, and we went by him," Tracy's team co-owner Jimmy Vasser said. "I'm flabbergasted, and I've never seen such a rule like that. I guess because timing and scoring was frozen, it let him back by. By that thought anyone who stops on track gets their spot back."
After the incident with Castroneves, Vasser said he would never second-guess his driver's decisions and said it was kind of a squeeze. But he agreed it was basically a racing incident. Either way it dashed what had been a great drive from Tracy from 15th on the grid to contention for the victory.
The Rahal caution also affected a number of the leaders who were more or less dominant in the race's first half -- Tagliani among them for Conquest Racing. Tagliani, who led 21 laps, pitted with Dixon, Mario Moraes, Raphael Matos, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tomas Scheckter and Marco Andretti.
The top nine cars had stopped before the yellow so Dixon, who led that group off pit lane, had to restart 10th. Tagliani had dropped to 11th and was later engaged in a dustup with Moraes and Scheckter.
As the trio headed for turn 3, Moraes was off line with a broken front wing from contact with E.J. Viso. Three-wide into the tight hairpin didn't work and Scheckter was sandwiched between Tagliani and Moraes. Scheckter nosed into the tire barriers, while Moraes limped back to the pits with his damage and Tagliani unscathed.
"It was just a non-brain move right at the end to hit me up the back, especially when Moraes already had a front wing broken," Scheckter said. The tempestuous South African fired his driving gloves at Tagliani the next time he came through the corner.
Tagliani was disappointed that the caution wiped out a potential podium finish or better, but laughed off the incident. He eventually finished ninth.
"You just ignore it," he admitted. "Moraes squeezed Scheckter, Scheckter squeezed me and it was a very bad incident. Other than the pits are closed yellow flag stop that caused us to lose all our ground, we had it in our pocket today."
After the checkers had waved, Moraes was to Viso's outside on the back straight when the two interlocked wheels going into turn three. Naturally, the two sophomore drivers with more incidents than results on their resumes had differing opinions of who to blame.
"I was trying to pass Viso, he was blocking, and as we were side-by-side, he broke my front wing," Moraes offered. "He saw me and closed the door on my car."
Viso explained his perspective: "I was opening my visor and drinking water, he hit me in the back," he said in a speech reminiscent of Adrian Fernandez's description of Mario Dominguez taking him out at the 2003 St. Petersburg race. "I don't know if he didn't see the checkers or what, but he needs to go to the doctors. Everything was over."
Lost in the post-script of an incident-filled and passing frenzy in Toronto were a few other accidents. Mike Conway crashed out of a top-five position while battling Tracy. Richard Antinucci and Dan Wheldon had contact at turn 3 to bring out the day's first full-course yellow. Tony Kanaan also failed to finish after an incredibly frustrating weekend.
The calamitous street fight in Toronto ends a stretch of four races in four weekends for the IndyCar Series, which has a much-needed week off. Drivers and teams can recharge their batteries and emotions before the race in two weeks' time in Edmonton.