By David Phillips
Dario Franchitti made a triumphant return to the streets of Toronto, scoring the second win of his Indy car win at the Canadian street circuit. Unlike his previous win, which came in ’99 in a Reynard-Honda Champ Car, this one came in a Dallara-Honda in the IndyCar Series’ maiden trip to the capital of Ontario.
Although Franchitti started from pole and lead handily early on, his was by no means a dominant win. After an early pit stop dropped the Scotsman down the order it looked for all the world as if Alex Tagliani would score a monumental win for Conquest Racing. But the French-Canadian was forced to pit during a full course yellow after the other leaders had made their final stops and so fell far back in the field.
Tagliani’s misfortune put Helio Castroneves into the lead from Paul Tracy and Franchitti; make that Franchitti and Tracy. Franchitti had been fortunate to pit just as the yellow flags waved and thus was able to get back on track before the field packed up behind the pace car. Although Tracy initially ran ahead of him, officials determined the Scotsman had crossed the blend line exiting the pits just ahead of KV Racing Technologies entry and Tracy was ordered to cede second place to his former Team KOOL Green teammate.
Two laps after the restart, Castroneves slid past his braking point at Turn One, handing the lead to Franchitti on a platter.
“It looked like (Helio) was in trouble,” said Franchitti. “Maybe my tires came up to temperature quicker, but it looked like he didn’t have any grip. When he slid wide I got by easily and from then on I was able to control the race.
However, when Tracy tried to follow through at Turn Three a couple of laps later, he and the Brazilian interlocked wheels, sending the Canadian’s car cannoning into the wall and out of the race. Castroneves made it as far as the pits and retired (to a chorus of boos from the partisan fans) after what both drivers agreed was a “racing incident.”
That left Franchitti leading from Ryan Briscoe and Will Power. After a final full course yellow – triggered when the luckless’ Tagliani’s ambitious effort to pass Tomas Scheckter in Turn Three went awry – he cruised to the win from the Penske drivers.
“When I went past Paul’s accident, he was standing beside the car and gave me the ‘Go’ signal,” Franchitti explained. “That gave me a little extra motivation.”
As for the two Penske drivers, they got all the motivation they needed earlier, when they were both unceremoniously bundled to the back of the field after suffering cut tires in the first-lap chaos.
“Unfortunately, on the first lap someone hit me in Turn Three and cut my rear tire,” said Briscoe. “I had to make an early stop and fell way down the order but we got lucky and caught an early caution and caught back up to the field.
“After that we went out of sequence on our pit stop strategy, had some good pit stops and were able to make up some ground. This is one of the few street courses I’ve been to where, if you have a fast car, you can make some passes.”
It was much the same story for Power whose right-rear tire was cut on the run to Turn One. Following the same strategy as Briscoe, he to clawed his way back to the front and, like the Australian, was full of praise for the Toronto circuit.
“When you have a long straightaway ending in a tight hairpin with heeps of room to pass it makes for great racing,” he said. “It’s what the fans want to see. All the other tracks out there start extending (their straightaways).”
Scott Dixon was another to fight his way back to the front after an early pit stop cost him positions, finishing fourth in part due to a late pass of Justin Wilson. Indeed the Watkins Glen winner was looking at a potential second place or even a win before a Turn One barging match with Briscoe cost him momentum onto the long Lakeshore Boulevard straightaway enabling Power to get by into third. A few laps later Dixon repeated the move and Wilson was relegated to fifth ahead of Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter Reay and Marco Andretti, while Tagliani was classified ninth ahead of Raphael Matos.
The results again flip-flop the IndyCar points standings, with Franchitti regaining the lead from Target/Ganassi Racing teammate Dixon . . . by all of two points.
“I don’t think it can be better than to be fighting with your teammate for the championship,” said Franchitti. “We have equal equipment, share technical information . . . I know Target is happy!”RESULTS:
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
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