14 July 2013
Dixon beats Bourdais to Toronto race 1, Franchitti reprieved
Race 1 of the Honda Indy Toronto double-header saw Scott Dixon hold off Sebastien Bourdais for the win, and Dario Franchitti reclaim his podium place after successfully appealing a post-race penalty.
Scott Dixon and the Ganassi team as a whole had been having a pretty miserable time of it in 2013, right up to last weekend's race at Pocono which saw Dixon combine with his team mates Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti to deliver the first 1-2-3 in the squad's history in any motor sport series.
As wonderfully encouraging as that was for the team, it was far too early to start thinking that this marked the definitive turnaround point of the year. It would surely take at least another couple of pole positions, maybe a front row lockout, together with at least one win and a podium position over the double-header Honda Indy Toronto weekend before you could start entertaining wild dreams like that.
Well, Ganassi fans can indeed dare to start dreaming once more: all the above has indeed been accomplished and with a race still yet to run in Ontario, Canada - although it took some hard fighting both on and off the track on Saturday afternoon not just to win the race but also to keep the further podium position.
Unfortunately the proceedings didn't get off to the best of starts, with the much-anticipated first-ever IndyCar Series standing start for Saturday's race 1 failing to materialise after Josef Newgarden stalled on the grid. Because of concerns about the cars overheating, that forced stand-in race director Brian Barnhart to switch to Plan B and go for the traditional rolling start instead, once Newgarden had been rolled away into pit lane, but as a result of the anti-climax IndyCar announced that they'd switch race 2 to a standing start format for a second bite at the format.
As well as Newgarden, Justin Wilson had also got off to an unwelcome start to the day: his own #19 Dale Coyne Racing car had stalled on pit road even before the grid formation laps. That meant he had to give up his hard-earned eighth place on the grid and start instead from the back, and it looked like being a long day at the office for the Englishman.
Once the green flag was finally waved it was polesitter Dario Franchitti who went into an the early lead in front of of Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power ahead of a flying start into fourth for Ryan Hunter-Reay, with around a second soon separating each of the cars over the opening laps. However, the red-walled soft option tyres of Franchitti, Power and Hunter-Reay soon started to wear, giving Bourdais alone on the harder black prime tyres the whip hand and allowing him to move past Franchitti into the lead on lap 21.
Soon after losing the lead, Franchitti was among the first of the leaders to pit for fresh tyres. Bourdais himself was in on lap 30, after which the momentum shifted and it now seemed that among the leaders it was Power who had the advantage, moving to the front shortly before the first full course caution of the afternoon on lap 35. That was for contact between Tristan Vautier and Graham Rahal in turn 4, and Vautier was penalised for causing an avoidable collision by keeping his nose stuck too far up the inside of Rahal's #15 through the narrow left hander.
Power led at the restart on lap 40 with Bourdais battling hard but ultimately failing to hold second from Scott Dixon who had already got the better of his team mate Franchitti. Behind the Scot, Hunter-Reay found himself unexpectedly deposed from fifth place by his Andretti team mate EJ Viso, despite the Venezuelan having started from 14th on the grid - making him the biggest mover at this stage of the race. The #1 was clearly unsettled and Hunter-Reay also quickly lost sixth spot to the 2013 Indy 500 champ Tony Kanaan; this combined with a costly 'stutter' on pit road where the clutch refused to bite. Things only got worse in the final round of pit stops 30 laps from the finish when the car stalled completely as Hunter-Reay tried to pull away, forcing the pit crew to drag the car back into its pit stall to refire it.
Will Power waited till lap 61 to come in for his own final pit stop, while Dixon stayed out an extra lap and in the meantime dropped the hammer on his in-lap in a bid to jump the Penske on pit road. It worked: Dixon emerged from pit lane just in front of Power, who did his best to use his brief advantage of up-to-temperature tyres but ended up getting caught out by Dixon having to brake early into turn 3. Power nearly ran into the back of the #9 Ganassi, and the time lost in in the incident meant that when Bourdais pitted next time around it was Groundhog Day all over again for Power who now found himself staring close-up at the back of the #5 Dragon as it emerged from pit lane.
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