In 2002 at Kentucky Speedway, Sarah Fisher, driving for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, surprised all by putting her car on pole position and becoming the first woman in Indycar history to start from the coveted grid position. In the 128 successive races from that day, the team had not seen another pole position, until this weekend in Toronto. Our resident IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon offers his views on another typically incident-filled Toronto round…
Justin Wilson surprised nobody with his own personal ability, but surprised many with the car’s ability by putting in the fastest lap during the Firestone Fast 6 session on Saturday to land on pole for the second time in his IndyCar career. Championship leader Will Power started alongside on Row 1 for the 85-lap race.
Toronto has a history of carnage unfolding at the first corner, however all cars managed to get through Turn 1 unscathed. It took until Turn 3 for the first little mix-up, when Dan Wheldon out-braked himself into the corner and ran up the back of E.J. Viso, however nobody spun, Viso continued, and only Wheldon was impeded as he had to head to the pits for repairs.
As in Iowa, Dale Coyne’s money-tree Milka Duno was ordered to the pits for failing to meet the minimum speed guidelines, which state that all cars must be within 107% of the leaders pace. The leaders were lapping the unlucky lass after only 10 laps. For Formula 1 fans reading this, this would surely bring back memories of Jean-Deniz Deletraz doesn’t it?
Will Power had slowly been dropping down from his starting position of second, due to poor performance from his first set of Firestone Firehawk Tyres.
All was going along smoothly until Lap 17 when KV Racing’s Takuma Sato had a look for a possible overtake move on team-mate Mario Moraes. Unfortunately Moraes decided to take a wider line than normal approaching the corner, running Sato out of room, sending him into the wall and retirement. This brought out the first caution of the day. The field headed for the pits except Toronto’s famous son, Paul Tracy, who inherited the lead to the joyous cheers of his fans.
Helio Castroneves won the race off pit lane and assumed 3rd place on the road behind the out-of- pit-sequence Tracy and Vitor Meira. Pole-sitter Justin Wilson dropped to 4th. The race resumed on Lap 22.
An old saying in IndyCars is that yellow-flags have a habit of breeding yellow-flags. We definitely saw that over the next third of the race. From the Lap 22 restart, Castroneves was looking to pass Meira in Turn 3 and had a comfortable slipstream powering down Lakeshore Boulevard. Unfortunately Meira decided to brake early, forcing Castroneves to take evasive action, but not before clipping Meira and ploughing down the escape road for a heavy impact with the tyre wall. The Holmato Safety Team were on the scene in seconds, however Castroneves soon climbed from his car to applause from spectators, happy to see he was uninjured. Helio was downbeat however surprised at how early Meira braked for the corner.
At the next restart, Alex Lloyd crashed at Turn 1, returning the pace car to action. From the next restart, Mario Moraes tried a desperate lunge down the inside of Mario Romancini, sending the latter into the tyres and retirement and the pace car back on track. For his involvement in Sato’s and now Romancini’s accidents, both of which were viewed by the stewards as avoidable, Moraes received a drive-through penalty.
By this stage, Paul Tracy had pitted, sending him to the rear of the field. The new leader was Dario Franchitti. At the next round of pit stops, Franchitti was held up by traffic, which allowed Wilson and Power to leapfrog him out of the pits. Wilson quickly opened up a 3.6s advantage, obviously enjoying the grip his latest set of Firestone Reds was providing him.
Ryan Briscoe was the next to find himself in trouble, as he was hit from behind by Graham Rahal and scraped the wall. There was little damage, and the safety team managed to restart him without backing the field up behind the safety car again. On Lap 65, Alex Tagliani, sporting one of the best racing car liveries I have seen in a long time, tried to pass where it was not possible and tapped Raphael Matos into the wall. The ensuing spin caught out the unlucky EJ Viso, who got caught up in all the mess, bringing out another safety car.
On Lap 71, Scott Dixon tried a bold overtake on Ryan Hunter-Reay around the outside of Turn 3. Despite maintaining the slipstream and pulling right alongside, Hunter-Reay defended his position by holding the inside line, which forced Dixon to try around the outside. This was his downfall, as Hunter-Reay closed the door without Dixon yielding, which sent the Kiwi champion into the wall, damaging his left-front suspension and putting him out of the race. Dixon managed to limp back to the pits and into retirement – only his second DNF of the year.
A final incident between Alex Tagliani and Tomas Scheckter, which saw Scheckter attempt an overtake move from way too far back, a move which was never on, pushing both into the tyre barriers. The safety crew managed to clear both away quickly to minimise the time spent under yellow.
So the stage was set for a thrilling race at the front. Wilson was leading from Power and Franchitti and despite all the caution periods, was eager to rebuild the gap to second place. Coming through Turn 7, Wilson locked his rear wheels and spun. He didn’t hit anyone or anything and quickly got going again, but it was enough to push him down to seventh and gift the lead to Will Power, who kept his nose clean all day and held on to win his fourth race of the year and extend his lead in the overall series championship. Closing out the podium were Dario Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Power and Penske appear near unstoppable on the road and street courses, winning five of the six held so far this year, with Power himself winning four of those. The next stop in the series, our first and only airport circuit of the year, is Edmonton, in one week’s time. Will Power is the defending race winner, but for the sake of the championship, let’s hope Ganassi or another team can step up to challenge the superiority of the Penske’s in 2010.
Matt’s Edmonton preview will be published soon…
[Original images via GP Update]