08 July 2011

IZOD IndyCar Series Hits the Mean Streets of Toronto

As the IZOD IndyCar Series returns to the road and street courses for the next month, nine races remain on the 2011 schedule. With Dario Franchitti holding a 20 point lead in the standings, it is beginning to get desperate in the IndyCar garages.
A pit road incident at Iowa cost Will Power dearly, as he was never a factor in a race that saw Franchitti open the largest lead to this point in the season. However, just as an artist works in oils or watercolors, Power works in street/road circuits. With six 'twisties' left on the schedule, the Australian will need to be better than Franchitti starting on Sunday.
While road and street circuits are often maligned for a lack of exciting racing, Toronto has consistently proven to be the exception to the rule during its 25 years on the open-wheel schedule. Close quarters make for thrilling side-by-side racing as the drivers seemingly play chicken over entry points into several turns. Last year's event saw six car drop out due to contact, while it was Power who avoided the carnage to collect the checkered flag.
Expect more of the same out of the festive atmosphere this year. With Power looking to catch Franchitti in the points, qualifying will be key for both drivers, as Power will not want to have to make up ground during the race if he can avoid it. Similarly, Franchitti will not want to risk being caught in an incident by starting anywhere other than the front.
What to Watch: After five consecutive races on ovals, we may have forgotten how treacherous double-file restarts on the street circuits can be. Power lost valuable ground at Long Beach when taken out, while contact between cars at St. Petersburg, Barber and Brazil left tempers short.
Midway through the year, you mix in the emotions of drivers who are beginning to feel the pressure, whether to move up through the pack in order to possibly save a job or to challenge for a podium, and toss in the close-quarters of Toronto, it's a recipe for flared tempers and choice words.
Who to Watch: If you're not watching Will Power on a road/street circuit, you're missing the boat. The defending Mario Andretti Trophy winner, Power is among the top drivers in the world (including Formula One) on the twisties. 
Aside from Power, driving in one's native country is always a special occasion. So for Paul Tracy, Alex Tagliani and James Hinchcliffe, the Streets of Toronto hold extra meaning. Tracy is from just outside Toronto and is always a crowd favorite, while Hinchcliffe is holding his own in his rookie season with Newman-Haas Racing. 
Championship Race: After nine races, it has become a two-man race for the IZOD IndyCar Series World Championship (barring an unforeseen occurrence). After Iowa, where he finished fifth, Franchitti climbed into first in the standings, holding a 20-point edge on Power. At Toronto last year, the two went one-two, with Power beating Franchitti to the line.
A third-place run at Iowa has Scott Dixon up to third, but he is 73 points in back of his teammate, Franchitti. Oriol Servia continues his strong season, just 16 points behind Dixon, while Tony Kanaan closed the gap with a runner-up finish at Iowa. The Brazilian is three points behind Servia. 
Picking a Winner(s): After spending the last two races picking Tony Kanaan to win, we'll go with chalk this time around. Will Power has to earn points back after a disastrous run at Iowa; the desperation pushes him to a dominant run at Toronto, where he will close the gap on Franchitti as the series crosses Canada over the next two weeks.
On the TV: IZOD IndyCar Series continues on Versus this week, with qualifications airing at 5:30 p.m. ET Saturday night. Versus will bring the festive atmosphere of Toronto to life on Sunday afternoon, when coverage starts at 2 p.m. ET for the Honda Indy Toronto.

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