IRL: Round 10 – Honda Indy, Toronto – July 12

Toronto proved to be a tale of two pit stops for Dario Franchitti: one looked to have lost him the race, while the other was that rare stroke of luck that conjours race victories from thin air when all around are collisions and incidents aplenty.

Franchitti led the field to the green flag on the streets of Toronto surrounded by a crowd of unfamiliar names up at the sharp end, including Will Power, Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson, Alex Tagliani and Mike Conway. Would the mixed-up grid result in some topsy-turvey racing? Short answer, yes: Will Power cut his tyre on Graham Rahal’s front wing and shot off at the first turn, before crawling around a full lap to the pits for fresh rubber; Rahal was also quickly forced in for a pit stop for a new wing, along with Ryan Briscoe who had a puncture of his own after running wide onto the start/finish straight and hitting the wall as the green flag flew. The stops put all three runners at the back of the field and close to being lapped.

There was no yellow for those incidents, but the caution came out on lap 8 when Dan Wheldon tripped over Richard Antinucci, spun and stalled in a lazy collision where neither driver looked particularly committed to the overtaking move. The caution was a God-send for Power who was able to close up all that distance to the main pack, and the entire field took the opportunity to pit.

The course went green long enough on lap 1 for Scott Dixon to pass Robert Doornbos for 3rd but was quickly under yellow again for a rather embarrassing solo spin by Ed Carpenter. At the next restart, it was Franchitti once again leading the way ahead of Tagliani, Dixon, Doornbos, Conway and Paul Tracy creeping into the top six.

Doornbos lost another place at the restart when Mike Conway pulled off a brave and effective lunge down the inside; Paul Tracy took advantage of Doornbos’ disarray and followed Conway through, putting Doornbos down two places to 6th in just a few turns. When EJ Viso and Raphael Matos also cruised past him it was clear Doornbos had a bigger problem and it was no surprise to see him peel into the pits and retire.

Tony Kanaan and Ryan Briscoe also came in on lap 23 on an off-sequence strategy; but the big shock was when race leader Franchitti came into the pits the very next lap, a very strange time to give up the lead he’d so effortlessly enjoyed. Ganassi may have been gambling on an imminent full course yellow as Carpenter has spun out on track again, but if so they were disappointed as the marshalls cleared the stalled car out of the way with just local yellows. Even worse for the Scot, it was also not a smooth stop either: a stripped lugnut on the rear left tyre cost valuable seconds and resulted in Dario returning to the track in 15th place ahead of a combative Marco Andretti. The race victory appeared out of reach and now it was just damage limitation on the points front – unless something miraculous happened …

Dixon was in on lap 30 signalling the start of the ‘proper’ round of pit stops, and Paul Tracy was in on lap 32 also switching to the soft ‘red wall’ tyres. Tracy returned to the fray in 10th place, just ahead of Mike Conway who was then distracted by Tracy in front and who then lost the back end of his car trying to react; his rear right tyre slammed into the wall and resulted in an instant puncture that forced Conway to limp all the way back to the pits where the suspension damage forced him to retire.

Alex Tagliani had been leading since Franchitti’s costly and ill-advised pit stop, and he finally came in himself on lap 34. Tomas Scheckter and Helio Castroneves were among the cars that picked up the lead as the pit stops cycled through, with Helio staying out an exceptional 38 laps since his last pit stop before finally coming in on lap 48. Helio’s stop returned the lead to Tagliani, who was concerned about a vibration indicating a possible puncture. He stayed out and the problem seemed to abate.

By lap 51, Tagliani led Tracy, Dixon, Moraes and Franchitti in 5th, but Paul and Dario were approaching their own pit stops and about to tumble down the running order again. When Paul Tracy pitted from second on lap 57 for his final stop of the day, he returned to the track in 9th and Dario could expect similar.

Sure enough, it was Dario’s turn to pit on the next lap. He had just crossed the committment line when suddenly a full course yellow came out: Graham Rahal had tried to sneak under Ed Carpenter only for the two of them to clash wheels. Carpenter was propelled a few feet up into the air and to the left, but while appeared able to carry on Rahal was less lucky, his suspension crushed by the impact.

Because the stewards’ electronics systems said that Dario had already crossed the pit lane commitment line, he was able to carry on with his pit stop even though the pit lane was officially closed; it was the big break he needed to rectify his earlier pit lane problems, because when the pits did open and the rest of the field streamed in for their final stops it left Castroneves, Tracy and Franchitti out in front having already completed their final stops of the afternoon. Dario was then the beneficiary of a curious stewards’ decision that ruled that Tracy had overtaken Dario while he was in the pits, under yellow – a strict no-no, and therefore Tracy had to cede second place back to him. Paul Tracy’s car owner Jimmy Vassar was outspoken in his scorn for the decision.

And it got still better for Franchitti at the restart: Helio was clearly having to be careful with his fuel and tyres to make them last the full 38 lap stint to the end, and he wasn’t able to battle with Franchitti who was box fresh out of the pits. It didn’t take long before Dario passed him and started to disappear off into the distance, leaving Helio to try and fend off Paul Tracy.

Tracy, of course, is known for playing no holds barred. He was determined to pass Helio, and going into turn 4 of lap 65 he blasted down the inside line only to have the Penske turn in on him at the apex. They banged, clashed wheels, separated – and then hit again, the impact jerking the steering wheel out of Helio’s hands and causing the car to turn violently into Tracy’s, crushing the Canadian’s car into the wall and putting both cars emphatically out of the race. It was serious blow for Helio’s championship bid, plus it got the partisan local crowd booing the usually popular Brazilian.

At the restart, Franchitti led the field ahead of Briscoe. Things were getting feisty as the end approached, with Tony Kanaan booted out of the race after hitting his rear wing on the wall, and multiple contacts between Justin Wilson, Danica Patrick and Will Power as they jockeyed for 3rd, 4th and 5th. It was to their huge credit that none of them wrecked or spun. Further back, EJ Viso was less fortunate, propelled into a tyre wall thanks to a rear impact from Moraes; fortunatly a local waved yellow sufficed for the marshalls to clear up, but another three-way crunch occurred on lap 75 that forced a full course caution: Tagliani left his braking too late into turn 4, hit the back of Tomas Scheckter and the two of them collected Raphael Matoes on their way to the tyre barrier. Tagliani was able to carry on, Matoes needed a front wing – but Scheckter was stuck in the tyre wall and out of the race, left to vent his frsutration by hurling his race gloves at Tagliani as the cars came past the accident site behind the safety car.

With only eight laps to go, then, Franchitti led the restart – now ahead of Ryan Briscoe, Will Power, Justin Wilson and Dario’s ganassi team mate Scott Dixon who had already just got around Danica Patrick and then completed a neat, no-drama pass on Wilson after the restart. All Franchitti had to do in the meantime was build up a big enough lead to stay out of any potential trouble – and sue enough, his lead was over 2s over Briscoe by lap 81.

All went smoothly and the race completed its final laps without further incident, Franchitti scoring a win on the 10th anniversary of his first victory in Toronto in 1999 by keeping his head when all around were losing theirs, and not allowing others’ mistakes to affect him.

Race result

Pos  Driver             Team                       Gap
 1.  Dario Franchitti   Ganassi                85 laps
 2.  Ryan Briscoe       Penske               + 1.6745s
 3.  Will Power         Penske               + 2.1355s
 4.  Scott Dixon        Ganassi              + 2.4803s
 5.  Justin Wilson      Coyne                + 2.9230s
 6.  Danica Patrick     Andretti Green       + 6.4095s
 7.  Ryan Hunter-Reay   Foyt                 + 7.1837s
 8.  Marco Andretti     Andretti Green       + 8.2552s
 9.  Alex Tagliani      Conquest             +13.4745s
10.  Raphael Matos      Luczo Dragon         +16.0983s
11.  Mario Moraes       KV                   +19.0141s
12.  Hideki Mutoh       Andretti Green       +   1 lap
13.  EJ Viso            HVM                  +   1 lap
14.  Dan Wheldon        Panther              +   1 lap
15.  Ed Carpenter       Vision               +  3 laps

Retirements:

     Tomas Scheckter    Dreyer & Reinbold     74 laps
     Tony Kanaan        Andretti Green        70 laps
     Helio Castroneves  Penske                65 laps
     Paul Tracy         KV                    65 laps
     Graham Rahal       Newman/Haas/Lanigan   57 laps
     Richard Antinucci  3G                    41 laps
     Mike Conway        Dreyer & Reinbold     32 laps
     Robert Doornbos    Newman/Haas/Lanigan   26 laps

Championship standings

Pos Driver  Points
1   Dario Franchitti    347
2   Scott Dixon         345
3   Ryan Briscoe        334
4   Hélio Castroneves   269
5   Danica Patrick      266
6   Dan Wheldon         240
7   Marco Andretti      239
8   Tony Kanaan         227
9   Justin Wilson       217
10  Graham Rahal        209
11  Hideki Mutoh        204
12  Raphael Matos       182
13  Ryan Hunter-Reay    181
14  Robert Doornbos     175
15  Ed Carpenter        172
16  Mário Moraes        157
17  Mike Conway         148
18  Ernesto Viso        146
19  Will Power          134
20  Tomas Scheckter     113
21  Alex Tagliani        97
22  Vitor Meira          62
23  Paul Tracy           59
24  Milka Duno           51
25  Stanton Barrett      50
26  Sarah Fisher         43
27  Jaques Lazier        41
28  Darren Manning       38
29  Townsend Bell        32
30  A.J. Foyt IV         26
31  Richard Antinucci    24
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