The close quarters of the the Exhibition Place circuit, combined with desperate drivers, proved a combustible mix at Sunday's Honda Indy Toronto. After 85 contact-filled laps, it was Dario Franchitti who emerged on top, taking a controversial victory to seize control of the IZOD IndyCar Series World Championship chase.
Contact occurred early and often on the 1.755-mile circuit on the streets of Toronto. Turn 3 proved to be the pivotal point on the course at the beginning and end of the race, with Tony Kanaan punted by Ryan Briscoe on Lap 3 in the turn, giving fans a preview of perhaps the biggest moment of the 2011 season 54 laps later. Kanaan's anger at Briscoe was evident as he pantomimed "Use your head" at the Team Penske driver, who was not penalized for ducking under (and into) the No. 82 Geico car.
Will Power, who qualified on the pole and sat 20 points behind Franchitti entering the race, was in control early before a wreck caused by his teammate, Helio Castroneves, gave Franchitti a much-needed break. Having already pitted, Franchitti inherited the lead, while Power was forced to work his way back through the field.
Power would pass Franchitti, only to see the No. 10 close on the No. 12 Verizon car in Turn 3 on Lap 57. In a move similar to the one that put Kanaan out of the race, Franchitti clipped the right rear of Power, spinning the Australian.
The move set off a powderkeg of emotion as Versus told viewers that Franchitti would be penalized for the maneuver; some wondered why Race Control would deem Franchitti's pass/contact impermissible while Briscoe's actions with Kanaan resulted in no penalty. However, with Franchitti challenging for the win, it was announced that he would not be penalized; in fact, Versus had misreported the incident, sending fans into a tizzy about the lack of a penalty and decrying Race Control.
Having moved to the rear of the lead lap following his spin and stall, Power's day would grow worse, as Alex Tagliani got underneath the No. 12, sending him into the barriers and ending his day after 66 laps. The frustration showed on Power's face as he laced into Franchitti and Tagliani after his medical evaluation, saying of his competition for the series title:
I’m not surprised he [Franchitti] didn’t get a penalty, he never gets a penalty. It was such a dirty move. I’m really disappointed in Dario, I always race him clean, he always races dirty. The guy that mouths off and whinges about everyone, he’s the one who’s dirty.
The 2010 series runner-up, Power followed up his post-race comments with a post-race tweet directed at Franchitti:
hey princess thanks for that nice tap today--appreciate it
In his defense, Franchitti explained his version of events after the race, his fourth victory of the year:
We had that incident with Will. He outbraked himself to outbrake me and opened up the door, I went down the inside, I held the wall and Will came down. I put my nose in there, I was trying to get my nose out, but ultimately he closed the door and paid the price.
The Power-Tagliani incident seemed to touch off a devolving of the race into a series of yellow flags, which only served to upset drivers following the race. Both Franchitti and Scott Dixon, who finished second, had sharp words for Graham Rahal, with whom they share an owner, Chip Ganassi. Ganassi, too, criticized Rahal's driving, seemingly backing up some cryptic comments from Rahal about the relationship between Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing operations.
Other notable incidents included a two-car tangle between Danica Patrick and Takuma Sato on Lap 8; while a local yellow flew for the incident, Patrick gave a "thumbs up" to Sato while leaving her pit stall after making repairs.
Late in the race, cautions continued to breed cautions, as Marco Andretti touched off a five-car incident late in the race. Caught up in the wreck, Oriol Servia commented post-race:
I have raced with Marco many times. He is an aggressive driver but he's always raced me clean. But today, I think he just had a bad sleep or something because earlier in the race at Turn 8, I'm turning in and I see him coming all locked up and I had to move or, if not, we were both going to crash. I passed him back after that and on this last restart he hit me. Listen, we all make mistakes, but I stopped at his car to ask him 'Dude what happened?' and he said "You turned in on me; I was on the inside.' I was on Justin's inside and there wasn't room for three (cars) and he punted me in the back. I'm sure when he sees the replay he will realize it was his fault
Ironically, it was the yellow touched off by Power that set Franchitti up to easily pass Rahal for the lead with 14 laps remaining. A three-car incident on the restart sent Tagliani riding the rail on two tires before landing on all fours; taking the green flag with nine laps to go, five more cars including both Newman-Haas cars of Oriol Servia and Canadian James Hinchcliffe, were caught up in a Turn 1 cluster.
Franchitti would not be truly challenged on the restarts and with Dixon behind him, there was no doubt that the Scot would cruise to the victory, which leaves him comfortably in control of the championship with eight races remaining. Franchitti leads Power by 55 points, while Dixon sits 83 points back.
Post-race, Race Control attempted to explain its decisions not to levy penalties in the race's two most high-profile wrecks, which only served to send some drivers' tempers flaring once more, with Kanaan sarcastically promising to do leave a parking lots' worth of space when faced with a two-wide race.
The IZOD IndyCar Series field will see wider spaces to race in two weeks, when the series heads to Edmonton for the Edmonton Indy on Sunday, July 24. Whether tempers will cool by then remains to be seen.
IZOD IndyCar Series - Honda Indy Toronto
TORONTO - Results Sunday of the Honda Indy Toronto IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.755 mile Streets of Toronto, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (3) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
2. (2) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
3. (8) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
4. (20) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
5. (14) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
6. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
7. (10) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
8. (22) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
9. (18) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
10. (17) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
11. (26) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
12. (6) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
13. (5) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
14. (13) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 84, Running
15. (11) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 83, Running
16. (24) Paul Tracy, Dallara-Honda, 82, Running
17. (12) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 81, Running
18. (23) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 81, Running
19. (21) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 79, Running
20. (19) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 79, Running
21. (25) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 77, Contact
22. (4) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 76, Contact
23. (9) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 71, Contact
24. (1) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 66, Contact
25. (15) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Honda, 43, Contact
26. (16) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 2, Contact
Winners average speed: 76.805
Time of Race: 01:56:32.1501
Margin of victory: .7345 of a second
Cautions: 8 for 32 laps
Lead changes: 3 among 3 drivers
Lap Leaders: Power 1 - 32, Franchitti 33 - 48, Rahal 49 - 71, Franchitti 72 - 85
Point Standings: Franchitti 353, Power 298, Dixon 270, Servia 232, Kanaan 221, Briscoe 219, Andretti 216, Rahal 208, Hildebrand 193, Tagliani 173.