Franchitti wins as upstarts falter in Toronto
12 July 2009
Dario Franchitti held off Ryan Briscoe to claim his third win of the 2009 IndyCar Series season at the Honda Indy Toronto as the 'old guard' survived to ensure that there was no repeat of Justin Wilson's surprise victory from a week earlier.
While Franchitti appeared the most likely winner in the early stages, a botched pit-stop seemed to have doomed him to a mere points finish, while the likes of local favourites Alex Tagliani and Paul Tracy stepped up to hint at a second successive shock result. When things shook out, however, the top two had a familiar look, with second and third both recovering from early-race tyre problems to reach the podium.
In an 85-lap race that included something for everyone - passing, crashing, cheers and jeers - Franchitti led comfortably from pole, but front row partner Will Power found Graham Rahal too close to comfort on the run to the green, slicing his rear tyre and breaking the American's front wing. With one likely contender reduced to bringing up the rear, and Briscoe's challenge dented by picking up a puncture on the debris, Franchitti headed Tagliani and Robert Doornbos through the first round of pit-stops, with the second half of the field opting to stop early when Dan Wheldon and Richard Antinucci tangled.
However, when the leader came to make his stop - under green on lap 25 - the left rear refused to seat properly, dropping the Scot down to 15th and making the first possible upset more plausible, as Tagliani made his fuel last a further eight laps. The Conquest driver had the second Ganassi car on his tail initially but, when Scott Dixon peeled off for fuel and tyres, ran at the head of a 'home' 1-2, with Tracy having rattled off the passing moves - including seven on the opening lap alone - to rise from a disappointed 15th on the grid.
Tracy's KVRT team-mate Mario Moraes hit the front for a lap when Tagliani finally pitted, before his open stop allowed Tomas Scheckter - one of those to pit under yellow on lap ten - to assume control of the race for six laps before his strategy caught up with him and dropped him to 13th, allowing Helio Castroneves to give Penske a taste of the lead.
The Brazilian made his fuel stretch to lap 48 before having to stop, at which point Tagliani returned to the front for another dozen tours, again with Dixon and Tracy providing the closest opposition. The Conquest car made it to the next yellow before pitting, but the timing was wrong and 'Tag' was made to wait until the field had lined up behind the pace car before being able to peel off.
Franchitti, on the other hand, had received the break he was looking for, having already arrived on pit-road at the point when Rahal and Carpenter tangled, the Newman/Haas/Lanigan driver being pinched into the wall as he attempted to lap the wayward Vision car. Franchitti emerged in second place, behind Castroneves and retook the lead by capitalising on a rare mistake from the Brazilian at turn one on lap 65. From there, the Ganassi car was never headed again, Franchitti posting his fastest lap just two tours from home to emphasise his pace.
The victory was Franchitti's third of the season - and the eleventh of his IndyCar career - as well as Ganassi's sixth in the ten races run so far in 2009.
"I guess we timed it right with strategy," the winner admitted, "We really struggled towards the end in that first stint, as we really used up the reds. Then I got stuck behind some really slow cars in the middle stint - Moraes, in particular, didn't do the same thing twice in any corner. I just stayed out of his way, but I couldn't get past him.
"We came in [to the pits] just as it went yellow, and that helped me get close to the front. I passed a couple cars and then, on the restarts, I was able to take off because the Target car was fast."
The unexpected pretenders for victory all saw their races unravel in the latter stages, with Tracy crashing out after a tangle with Castroneves while running second and third to Franchitti. The Canadian was still on fiery form - having escaped an energetic battle with rookie Mike Conway when the Briton tagged the wall on lap 33 - and lined up his adversary entering turn three on lap 66. Although Castroneves appeared to give the KVRT car room, they touched at the apex and then again, more terminally for Tracy, as Castroneves jolted right and pinned him against the wall. Both drivers were out, but remarkably sanguine about the incident.
Tagliani and Scheckter both saw hopes of a strong finish evaporate in the same incident, although they were running deeper in the pack at the time the Canadian mistook the size of a gap inside his rival as both lined up an ailing Moraes. The Conquest car succeeded only in pushing Scheckter into the second KVRT machine, bringing all three to a halt, again in turn three. Moraes was the first to recover, with Tagliani also able to get away, but Scheckter was out - and the South African showed his obvious displeasure by hurling his gloves at Tagliani as the Canadian filed through behind the safety car next time around.
By that point, Briscoe was back into second spot, initially ahead of Justin Wilson before the Briton's Dale Coyne car began to fade. Having followed a similar strategy to his Penske team-mate, Power was the first to slide by the Briton, putting the yellow Penske Truck Rental liveried #12 back into the top three, while Dixon also ensured that he limited the damage points-wise by picking Wilson off five laps from home.
"That's how it goes some days," the Watkins Glen winner admitted, "We just had to survive and it was pretty tough out there. I think it got us some good points, but that's racing, you just have to keep working at it and sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don't.
"I think Will got a run on me to get position, but then he was just plain blocking. Since the last restart, he slowed right down and let the leaders pull away - then he did his own restart. It's just how it goes. We beat up on Penske and Ganassi last week and they got their own back this week."
The Penske pair both paid tribute to their team for turning their fortunes around after the first lap tyre troubles, although Power admitted that a minor miscalculation meant that he was running the less favourable tyres on the run to the chequer.
"We were almost a lap down, and I didn't realise that I hadn't done my two laps on the reds, so we had to pit again and put the reds on 'til the end," he confirmed, "It was a good result though, and I had so much fun. I never passed so many cars in a race before."
Danica Patrick advanced twelve positions to finish sixth, while Ryan Hunter-Reay finally shook the monkey from the back of his relationship with AJ Foyt Racing by claiming seventh. Marco Andretti - like Patrick up from the rear of the grid - Tagliani and Raphael Matos rounded out the top ten, with only Moraes, Hideki Mutoh, EJ Viso, Wheldon and Carpenter also running at the finish.
"I'm happy for these guys to be able to roll the ABC car back into the truck - it's nice not having anyone run into us on the first lap," RH-R smiled, "We got going good early and we had a good car - but then we got caught out on a full course yellow with our pit strategy. We had been running fifth and then we were 16th, but we were able to work our way back up and get a top ten, thanks in part to good clean pit-stops. It's a big positive for the ABC Supply team - and maybe we finally got that monkey off our back."
Franchitti, who gained three bonus points for winning pole and leading the most laps, regains the championship lead over team-mate Dixon, with Briscoe's runner-up spot enough to keep him third overall.