Does anyone need any further convincing that Ganassi are well and truly back in the game after a poor start to the 2013 season? If so, then try a dominating win for Scott Dixon in the second of the two Honda Indy Toronto double header races to make it three consecutive victories in eight days.
It's the first time anyone has done that in Indy competition since Al Unser won five on the trot in 1969, which had included back-to-back double header weekends at Indianapolis and Langhorne.
"It's been a long time since I've had such a dominant day," Dixon said in victory lane after another gruelling two hour stint in the cockpit. "I think it's been since, '03 or '08, I don't know, since we've had that kind of run. I'm just so happy for the team. Second place in the points now. What a turnaround in a couple of weeks. It's a big difference."
Just 24 hours after running 85 laps in downtown Toronto, the field shaped up to do it all over again on Sunday afternoon. And where the previous day had seen Justin Wilson hit problems leaving pit road, today it was James Hinchcliffe's turn to suffer the same frustration, this time the result of a stuck throttle pedal leaving him idling on pit road as the rest of the cars headed for the start.
"I was just going through the routine of the standing start, and as soon as I put my thumb on the throttle it stuck 100 percent, and that was about a minute before they gave the command," he explained. "We tried WD40, but unfortunately that wasn't the magic fix, and we had to replace the pedal and went three laps down right off the bat. Then we had no yellows to help us out; we ran around in the back all day.
"Obviously gutted for the team and for GoDaddy, but more than anyone for the fans," said the local hero. "It sucks for everyone that came out today. I was hoping for better in my hometown. But we weren't going to give up - I wanted to go out, finish the race and get any points we could."
That meant Hinchcliffe missed out on the IZOD IndyCar Series' second attempt at a standing start, and this time - with the exception of Ed Carpenter briefly unable to get away when the lights went green - it all went according to plan, polesitter Scott Dixon leading the field down the straight into turn 1. Behind him the two Penske cars of Helio Castroneves and Will Power got the jump on Dixon's team mate and fellow front row man Dario Franchitti pushing the Scot into fourth by the first corner, which saw contact that damaged the #10's front right wing and left Franchitti limping back to pit road for a replacement and falling to the back of the field, but he was just able to avoid going a lap down in the process.
"I was trying not to lose too many positions, and I was on the outside in Turn 1, and we kind of checked up," Franchitti explained after the race. "I just got in the back of Helio, and I couldn't avoid it. It was just a racing incident - my mistake. After that, qualifying lap was every lap. I came in the pits with the Target boys, and then I was off. It was just as hard as I could go every lap. I mean, the car was really, really good. It's a real shame."
The race quickly settled down into a groove, with Dixon stretching out a lead over Castroneves and Power, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay ahead of Sebastien Bourdais and Tony Kanaan. Unlike race 1, all of the top ten runners were on the same initial tyre choice of soft compound red-wall tyre. Behind them, the best battle on track in the early stages was between EJ Viso and Alex Tagliani for seventh place.
Kanaan was first man in on lap 17 to ditch the short-life soft tyres with Josef Newgarden, James Jakes and Graham Rahal following his lead seconds later. Almost half the field had pitted by lap 24 when Scott Dixon decided to come in, exiting just behind EJ Viso. Castroneves came in two laps later but was unable to get back out ahead of Dixon, and that set the pattern for the rest of the leaders' pit stops. Dixon was back on top again by lap 28 with Justin Wilson momentarily in second ahead of Castroneves as he ran a longer first stint courtesy of having started on the harder compound tyres.
Even so, fuel demanded Wilson report to pit road shortly afterward and that left Dixon over eight seconds clear of Castroneves with Power, Hunter-Reay and Bourdais ahead of EJ Viso who'd got the better of the early-stopping Kanaan in that sequence. The most interesting runner at this point was Dario Franchitti who was running off-sync as a result of his enforced lap 1 wing change which had also allowed him to switch to the prime tyres having limited the mandatory stint on the red tyres to just a solitary lap: Franchitti was up to third when he finally pitted on lap 34, and exited in 13th place just behind Marco Andretti and Josef Newgarden, both of whom he soon managed to pass.
Having gone for a three-stop strategy, Kanaan was in for his second visit to pit road on lap 35 but then overcooked it on cold tyres through the final corner on his out lap and clouted the outside wall, demolishing the right rear suspension of the #11 KV Racing car. It made him the first casualty of the race but still did not result in the first caution of the afternoon.
"I was pushing hard in the race, got a little loose and tapped the wall ending our day. I feel bad for the guys," he sighed. "I just wish we could have put on a better show for them and the fans."
Dixon's next visit to pit lane on lap 57 was also his last, and he was able to rejoin still in the lead as Castroneves had pitted a lap previously and left Dixon with a lead of nearly half a minute over Power. The rest of the leaders cycled through without incident over the next few laps, with off-sync runners Wilson, Franchitti and Charlie Kimball briefly up into the top five with their own later-than-others final stops still pending.
Once that happened, Dixon's grip on the race was absolute - now up to 15 seconds ahead of second-place Castroneves, who badly needed a caution to get back on an even footing with the Ganassi car if he was to have any hopes of battling for the lead in the final laps. But cautions were hard to come by: remarkably for Toronto, which is so often the scene of never-ending cautions, there hadn't been a single full course caution all afternoon.
That changed on lap 64 when James Jakes' #16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car got badly unsettled on the kerbing through turn 5, jolted his right hand off the wheel and caused the car to understeer off into the wall on the other side of the track.
"I just hit the kerb, and it ripped the wheel straight out of my hands," he said. "The kick-back is unbelievable in these things, and when you aren't quite dialled in with the dampers."
The replays of the incident gave rise to fears that Jakes might have injured his wrist, just as Ryan Briscoe had done the previous day in a three-car accident, but Jakes said he was fine. "My wrist is okay," he insisted. "I've seen some wrist injuries in the last few days, and hopefully we can sort that out."
The caution coincided with Dario Franchitti already in for his final pit stop with 21 laps to go to the finish, and he benefited from the safety car by blending back in sixth place ahead of EJ Viso and behind Dixon, Castroneves, Power, Hunter-Reay and Bourdais. That compared with Wilson and Kimball, who had pitted just before the yellow and who had fallen to ninth and tenth respectively as a result and who in addition were handicapped by now having to run the final stint on red-walled tyres.
At the front, the question now was whether Dixon would be able to avoid being mugged by the Penske pair at the restart, which came on lap 71: everyone made it through turn 1 without issue, Dixon maintaining the lead over Castroneves but Power was shuffled back behind Hunter-Reay and Bourdais which put him right in the sights of his arch nemesis Franchitti. Power put some space between him and the Scot by re-passing Bourdais who was struggling with badly blistered hands as a result of the weekend's back-to-back racing.
The man most struggling for pace was Hunter-Reay who quickly fell back to fifth place, but before Franchitti could make a move on him the circuit was back under a full course caution on lap 8 when Ed Carpenter followed in Jakes tyre marks straight into the wall on the exit of turn 5. That set up a final double file restart with two laps to go, and this time it was no holds barred at the front with Bourdais decisively sweeping around the outside of Power to secure third place.
Power could do nothing about that, and he couldn't see Hunter-Reay attempting to follow Bourdais through on the outside line. Hunter-Reay tried to back off but it was too late, and there was contact: both cars made heavy contact with the wall, and the Back of the Andretti Autosport #1 got run into by the unfortunate Takuma Sato for good measure, the AJ Foyt Racing #14 simply running out of room and left with no where to go except to the scene of the accident.
"Will was coming out from the bottom, I had a good run going on the outside, I was right next to him and he just - he was sliding across the patch," said Hunter-Reay afterwards. "I talked to him, and he just said he got loose on the bottom and he just drove right up into us. There's two lanes going through [the first turn], everybody kind of respects that.
"I don't think he drove into me on purpose, but we were taken out of the race," he sighed. "We had a good day going and had a decent car. We hung on today; that's what I was doing. I think we had a chance at a podium, maybe a fourth."
Power was similarly deflated by how the day had ended:" It was a disappointing end for the Verizon team. We worked so hard all day and had a good run throughout most of the race, then for it to come to an end like it did on the last restart is such a heartbreaker," he said. "We will just look ahead and work for a better result at Mid-Ohio."
And poor Sato was just ruing being in the wrong place at the wrong time through no fault of his own: "I went to Turn 1 very clean on the outside, and a lot of cars in front and on the side and I was boxed in. There was a concertina effect, and I was hit and there was nowhere to go. Very unfortunate," he said, adding "It was a lot of work for a very disappointing result in the end."
That put the race back under caution once more, and with no time left to clear the wrecked cars it meant that the race was decided: Scott Dixon had maintained his lead through the final two restarts and had pulled off a landmark double win in the Honda Indy Toronto, making him the most successful current active driver with 32 wins to his name. The fact that Sunday's win came with a bonus $100,000 SONAX Perfect Finish Award for achieving the sweep was just icing on the Kiwi's cake as he celebrated on the podium for the second time in 24 hours.
Helio Castroneves claimed second place and Bourdais battled through to a second consecutive podium position of the weekend, a stunning achievement for the Dragon Racing team which had come into this week's event with very low expectations after a dismal season to date, and especially since his push-to-pass had malfunctioned during the race.
"It was really hard, and it was from seventh place," said Bourdais. "I thought I was a sitting duck. Things just turned our way. I had a really good car on the restart. I was hooked up. I knew as soon as Ryan passed me, I had to get him back. I went for it, and it worked out."
Dario Franchitti managed to escape getting caught up in that final fracas and finished in fourth place ahead of EJ Viso, a remarkable outcome considering his first lap disaster and enforced pit stop - although there were grumbles in the paddock that Franchitti had ditched the red-walled tyres after only a single flag lap, where the IndyCar rulebook required that both compounds be used for at least two green flag laps. Race control confirmed that it had signed off on the Ganassi team's ploy under a special provision related to double-header weekends where tyre provision is limited, so there was no question of another traumatic post-race encounter for Franchitti with the stewards to retain his final position.
Franchitti's junior team mate Charlie Kimball had pursued a somewhat less controversial late-stop strategy to finish in sixth place, as had Justin Wilson who came home in eighth. The two cars bracketed Mike Conway, who had driven a quietly brilliant race from the back row of the grid to finish in seventh place by the flag.
"We had a very interesting race today," said Conway. "We started 23rd and were able to work are way up quickly at the start of the race. It was a little strange as we could overtake some cars in certain turns, and then in other turns we would give the spots right back. I'm really interested to see what the data shows from the race.
"We were able to score another top ten finish for the #18 Sonny's Bar-B-Q Honda today," he added. "I am looking forward to being back with the team for the last doubleheader of the season in Houston, but maybe I will be able to be back sooner for Mid-Ohio or Sonoma. Who knows? A big thanks to the entire #18 [team] for giving me another great car this weekend in Toronto."
As for Conway's team mate and compatriot Justin Wilson, he was happy to make it to the finish after sustaining some collisions during the afternoon's frenetic racing.
"We had a good race going as we were picking cars off one by one. I was able to work my way up to sixth before my last pit stop. We put a set of red Firestone tires on, and I thought we could pass a few more cars since the reds come in a lot better,: he recalled. "I had a lapped car that started racing me into turn 1, and then it slid into me, taking my front wing off. Then I got hit in the back of the car, not once, but twice. And they were big hits that did some damage to the rear of the car.
"I was just happy to finish the race, as it was a little crazy out there today," he admitted "It was a long-fought race today, and we were able to get another top ten finish for the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda. Thanks to the team for a fast car and some great pit stops today." Best of all, it meant that he got to take home an intact trophy from Toronto after all, following his podium fumble after Saturday's race.
Conway had been joined on the back row by the #4 National Guard Panther Racing car after the team was forced to change drivers following the news that Ryan Briscoe had broken his wrist in a late accident in Saturday's race. Firestone Indy Lights championship leader Carlos Munoz did a solid job considering the short notice and kept his nose clean in a solid run to the finish, but was nonetheless a lap off the leaders and the last of the cars still running with the exception of Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe running four laps down.
"It was a long race and a hard race for me," admitted Munoz. "It was basically my first time in an Indy car on a street course, and I didn't know what to expect to be in a race here with so many cars out there.
"We continued to drop lap times and I got more and more comfortable with each lap, and by the end we put together quite a good lap, which are all positive things," he said. "It's good work from the National Guard crew and my goal was to finish, and I finished, and I'm very happy to have this opportunity today."
Munoz wasn't alone in being thankful to have survived the weekend. All the drivers were looking somewhat battered, blistered and bruised as the teams started to pack up after a gruelling three days in Toronto, and were very relieved to have a positively extravagant three weeks off before the next race at Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course on August 4.See full race 2 results