Sébastien Bourdais and Mike Conway showed their street racing skills last Sunday as they scored impressive wins in IndyCar’s pair of races in Toronto’s Exhibition Park. Bourdais dominated Sunday morning’s first race from pole to score his first win in almost seven years while Conway won the second race thanks to sharp pit strategy which enabled him to drive away from the field in the final laps and record his second win of the year.
IndyCar looked like the Keystone Cops on Saturday as they consumed almost three hours dithering over whether or not to start the first race of the weekend. Amid steady, light rain the cars took to the track a few times but never took the green flag. At one stage Arie Luyendyk spun the pace car in front of the field and when an attempt finally was made to stage a single-file start Will Power lost it and clouted the wall.
Eventually, around 6.30pm, IndyCar announced that Saturday’s race was postponed until Sunday morning because of bad puddling and poor visibility on the back straight.
Race 1 results
1. Sébastien Bourdais, KVR
2. Hélio Castroneves, Penske
3. Tony Kanaan, Ganassi
4. Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt Peterson
5. Scott Dixon, Ganassi
6. Graham Rahal, RLL
7. Charlie Kimball, Ganassi
8. James Hinchcliffe, Andretti
9. Will Power, Penske
10. Justin Wilson, Coyne
11. Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson
12. Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi
13. Jack Hawksworth, Herta
14. Carlos Huertas, Coyne
15. Mike Conway, Carpenter
16. Marco Andretti, Andretti
17. Carlos Muñoz, Andretti
18. Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske
19. Sebastián Saavedra, KVR
Josef Newgarden, SFH
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti
Luca Filippi, RLL
Takuma Sato, Foyt
Many people, including some drivers who started their careers in Europe, couldn’t believe the decision. Rookies Jack Hawksworth and Mikhail Aleshin said there was no reason not to go racing and anyone who watched the 1990 CART race in Toronto could only shake their heads. That year’s race, won by Al Unser Jr from Michael Andretti, started in steady rain which got worse as the race wore on.
In fact, it rained much more heavily in 1990 than at any point last weekend. Eventually Toronto’s 1990 race was stopped after 94 of 103 scheduled laps and more than two hours of racing providing a spectacular, enthralling show. One has to ask, if they could do it then, why not now?
Both of this year’s races in Toronto were scheduled for 65 laps and the first of these on Sunday morning was dominated by Sébastien Bourdais. The Frenchman took his first pole in seven years and went on to score his first win in the same period of time after leading all the way save for pitstops.
Bourdais drives these days for Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser’s team, known as KVSH Racing, and last Sunday morning Sébastien looked like his old self from his Champ Car days with Newman/Haas as he pulled away from the field and maintained a comfortable cushion of more than three seconds through the race’s second half.
“I’m a bit speechless to be honest,” Bourdais said. “It’s the kind of race you can lose but it went just perfect to the chequered flag. The car’s been great all the weekend and I have to thank these guys [Kalkhoven, Vasser and new partner James Sullivan] for giving me a second chance.
“It was a pretty dominant performance,” he added. “We knew we had the pace after qualifying but we really didn’t know how the car was going to be on a long run. It was back to the old days, saving fuel and being smart and we made it stick today. It’s been more than six years and it’s damned sweet.”
Co-team owner Vasser was equally delighted. “Hopefully there’s more of that to come,” Vasser grinned. “When he gets on a roll he’s unbeatable. We’ve always believed in him. Great job from the whole team. I think there’s more to come. We’ve had the speed all year long and I really think this is the beginning of some more wins.”
Castroneves chased Bourdais all the way to finish second and take a 28-point championship lead over team-mate Power who came home ninth after starting from the back of the field. Simon Pagenaud recovered from damaging his car’s nose after he was nudged into a spin on the opening lap to finish an excellent fourth between Ganassi drivers Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon. For a few hours Pagenaud moved past Ryan Hunter-Reay into third in points behind Castroneves and Power.
“The team did a good job of putting me on the right strategy,” Pagenaud remarked. “I was really upset after the accident. I got lucky to be honest because everybody could have T-boned me there. But we got back in the race and I drove really hard. We were really competitive and we did some good lap times. Fourth was really good.”
Hunter-Reay was squeezed into the wall while trying to pass Kanaan in the middle of the race. The collision broke his car’s front suspension, rendering Hunter-Reay a DNF and costing him more points in his seemingly Pyrrhic struggle to stay in the championship battle.
Three hours later the field lined up in championship order for the second race. So it was Castroneves on pole with Power beside him followed by Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay while morning winner Bourdais started 10th.
Light rain began to fall after a few laps and it rained off and on most of the way with the track drying in the closing laps. Castroneves led the majority of the race chased hard by team-mate Power with Ganassi men Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon emerging in third and fourth after everyone changed from slicks to wet tyres.
Race 2 results
1. Mike Conway, Carpenter
2. Tony Kanaan, Ganassi
3. Will Power, Penske
4. Charlie Kimball, Ganassi
5. Takuma Sato, Foyt
6. Jack Hawksworth, Herta
7. Scott Dixon, Ganassi
8. Marco Andretti, Andretti
9. Sébastien Bourdais, KVR
10. Justin Wilson, Coyne
11. Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi
12. Hélio Castroneves, Penske
13. Josef Newgarden, SFH
14. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti
15. Carlos Huertas, Coyne
16. Luca Filippi, RLL
Carlos Muñoz, Andretti
James Hinchcliffe, Andretti
Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske
Graham Rahal, RLL
Sebastián Saavedra, KVR
Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt Peterson
Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson
So it went until Power was able to find a way past Castroneves on lap 41. A few laps later Carlos Muñoz was the first to stop for slicks followed by Mike Conway whose propitious stop came after 44 laps. Moments later a full-course yellow flew after Sebastián Saavedra, Jack Hawskworth and James Hinchcliffe were involved in a melee at the infamous turn three at the end of the back straight.
Most of the field stopped for slicks under the yellow, save Justin Wilson and Josef Newgarden, who gambled on getting to the front of the field for the final sprint to the flag, hoping their wet tyres would serve them better than slicks.
But it was a vain hope as Conway, well-placed in the restart line by stopping before the yellow, quickly took the lead and motored away on his own. Meanwhile, Wilson and Newgarden tumbled down the order as Kanaan and Power came through to finish second and third ahead of Charlie Kimball.
This was the fourth IndyCar win and second victory this year for the unassuming Conway who shares his car with team owner and oval specialist Ed Carpenter. “It feels so good,” Conway grinned. “It was really difficult conditions in the wet and we were kind of struggling. I knew as soon as I could see half a dry line it was time to come in. It was a great call and the guys were up for it. From there we just took off and just controlled the race. I was a bit nervous but it was good fun out there. I didn’t push too hard and I enjoyed those last few laps.”
Castroneves struggled in the final laps with a broken front wing, falling back to finish 12th, but he retained his championship lead, 13 points clear of Power. “I couldn’t do anything unfortunately,” Hélio said. “My car was on rails in the dry and it was good in the wet too. I made a small mistake and Will passed me but until that point we were looking good.
“At the end I got squeezed into the wall and it broke the front wing and I fell back. It’s a shame but we came here with a nine-point lead and now we’re a few more points ahead. For me, that’s a plus.”
Primary championship rival Power also enjoyed a useful weekend in Toronto. “I wasn’t ready to take a big risk after yesterday but we battled hard with Hélio and Tony,” Power commented. “It was a good day, a typical IndyCar race. It threw everything at you and you’ve just got to deal with it. The championship is going to be a fight to the end. I want it. Man, I want it!”
Simon Pagenaud ran into electronic problems in Toronto’s second race and eventually came home eight laps down in 22nd, thus falling from third to fourth in IndyCar points behind Hunter-Reay who finished the second race in 14th after a litany of adventures. “Nothing really went right for us today,” Hunter-Reay grimaced. “In the first race I was moving forward. I knew I had to make something happen. We’re fighting for every inch of real estate at this track and I just put my nose inside Tony there.
“In the second race, nothing went right. I got caught out one time when the pits closed and I got a drive-through penalty, then we missed the call for tyres that got Conway to the front. Nothing went our way today but we’re third in the championship and we can still make this thing happen.”
After four weekends and six races in a row IndyCar’s teams and drivers take a welcome weekend off before tackling the year’s final four races during the month of August. At this stage the championship battle looks like being an intra-team Penske contest between Castroneves and Power. If either Hunter-Reay or Pagenaud is going to beat them, they must put together a string of more consistently strong results than they’ve otherwise enjoyed this year.