The Honda Indy Toronto is in the books. The race featured predominantly clean driving, push-to-pass rarely discussed and not much of a factor, a surprise podium, and then the usual end of race “lose your heads” type driving that tends to infect Toronto more than elsewhere. For more explanation on the officiating aspects in Toronto, check out our Q&A with IndyCar president of competition Beaux Barfield – otherwise, the other stories of note from the tenth round of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season are below.
FLYIN' RYAN, CHARGIN' CHARLIE - If the first two wins in this streak didn't assert Ryan Hunter-Reay as a legit championship contender, this one at Toronto did. Hunter-Reay's been good to begin with at Toronto for the last few years, if overlooked in the domination of the eventual winners and controversy that has been a major part of previous Toronto races.
Hunter-Reay leads the standings for the first time in his career by 34 points over Will Power. After Brazil, when Power had completed his own hat trick of victories, the Australian led Helio Castroneves in second by 45 points, and Hunter-Reay (fourth) by 59. Power has only one top-five finish (fourth at Detroit) since, and has now lost some 93 points to “RHR” over the last six races.
In this instance, Hunter-Reay got the lead on lap 49 and never relinquished it outside of one lap the rest of the way for his last pit stop. Hunter-Reay cycled back to the lead and put himself in the best position to survive the inevitable late-race chaos that was bound to break out.
Hunter-Reay then led through Turn 1 on the last restart, while Charlie Kimball's great run survived the final attack into the corner from Mike Conway. Kimball, stuck in the middle when Conway charged up the inside, skated into Sebastien Bourdais to knock him out of the race.
As he was able to avoid the dust-up, Kimball could count himself fortunate that his race didn't go for naught. Although he was a beneficiary of the first caution period that cycled the top seven cars back in the field once they pitted, Kimball by no means lucked into his first podium of his career.
In the balance of the race, Kimball was one of the more aggressive push-to-pass users (roughly the only time a graphic came up regarding usage, Kimball had used 18 of his allotted 100 seconds, while Takuma Sato in front of him had only used 8), but it seemed he was always hanging onto the car in front of him while legitimately in the top-10.
Once Simon Pagenaud and Tony Kanaan shifted into fuel conservation mode in the late stages, their push up through Turn 3 left enough room for Kimball to sneak through. It's a contender for pass-of-the-year, and it showed he could grab the opportunity presented to him.
He's still not a world-beater, but Kimball has been one of, if not the most improved drivers this season. To think that within 10 races, he's only one point behind his more heralded teammate Graham Rahal, has to be something of a surprise.
THE AMERICAN ATTACK ON THE PODIUM – Yes, I admit it. It would have been glorious to see an all-American podium, and the shame of the Pagenaud/Josef Newgarden contretemps at Turn 3 was that Newgarden got taken out of his chance. Still, back-to-back American 1-2 finishes is something that hasn't happened for more than a decade, and both Hunter-Reay and Kimball were basking in the glow of their results – as well as etching their names into the record books.
With RHR and Marco Andretti having been first and second last race at Iowa, this marks the first time in IndyCar since the IRL in 2001 that Americans have finished 1-2 in consecutive races. The last eight races of the 2001 IRL season, American drivers swept the podium.
From a CART historical standpoint, that drought of American 1-2s dates to 1996 – when Michael Andretti and Bobby Rahal finished 1-2 in consecutive races at Elkhart Lake and Vancouver. Earlier in that season, eventual champion Jimmy Vasser performed the feat with back-to-back wins in Surfers' Paradise and Long Beach, with Scott Pruett and Parker Johnstone second in those two races.
Vasser (CART, 1996) and Sam Hornish Jr. (IRL, 2001, '02, '06) are open-wheel's most recent American champions. There have been several back-to-back American wins in this time frame, but none where an American also finished second in the second race. Had Newgarden made the podium, it would have been the first American 1-2-3 since Hornish, Marco and Michael Andretti in the 2006 Indianapolis 500.