GAPS OF GLORY
Dealing with the Toronto heat, a track filled with marbles and tires that were either cold or worn ended up playing a significant role in how the 2 In T.O double-headers were decided.
“I think if you look at the first race and how the guys in the top three or four tried to maximize their in and out laps, it made a much bigger difference than I think some people realize,” said Ganassi Racing general manager Mike Hull, who also serves as the strategist for Toronto dominator Scott Dixon.
Not only did wickedly fast in-lap performances by Dixon on tired Firestones help to pad his lead in Rounds 1 and 2, but his cold-tire laps when exiting the pits were completely outrageous. Scorched track…tires out of their operating window…Dixon can't be beaten in those circumstances, as his engineer can attest.
“The first stop yesterday with Sebastien Bourdais saw him go a little bit longer than us,” said Eric Bretzman. “But Scott recovered to quickly when he did pit that we managed to extend the gap a bit to Bourdais. I think it was a great out lap, really. Normally it's the guy who runs longer on low fuel that can pull the gap, but Scott did the opposite and still came out with an advantage. It was pretty remarkable; he did that today, too, and I think pushed that in and out laps even farther than yesterday. We knew we needed three or four seconds to feel comfortable about dealing with Helio, and that's what Scott got us. Pretty amazing.”
Dixon's pace on the less durable Firestone Reds was unmatched, as was his speed on Blacks. The extra effort coming into and leaving the pits probably wasn't necessary on Sunday — the No. 9 Target Honda looked like it was stuck on fast forward all day — but the display of talent and car control was a perfect fit into the Kiwi's winning performance.
He and the team won every phase of the event on Sunday, leading away from a standing start into Turn 1, controlling 81 of the 85-lap race and pushing out to a lead of 15 seconds. Throw in the cold tire/worn tire demonstration, and you might say Dixon was actually showing off…
Carlos Munoz's phone rang at 7 p.m. on Saturday night with an invitation from John Barnes to drive his No. 4 Panther Racing Chevy. Less than 24 hours later, and with only a 30-minute warm-up session to get to grips with the Dallara DW12 chassis in street course trim, the 21-year-old Colombian was able to turn a no-win situation into a mightily impressive road racing debut.
Deputizing for the injured Ryan Briscoe, Munoz set foot in an Indy car for the first time since finishing second at the Indy 500 in May, and acquitted himself rather well during the lone pre-race session he had in the Panther car.
“I just worked up to things, but I've never used carbon brakes so this is the big area where I leave the most time on the track,” he told RACER. “All I can really do is take things easy at the start of the race and try to bring the car back safe for the team.”
Panther engineer Tino Belli made the time-honored call to load the rookie's car up with ridiculous amounts of downforce to inspire confidence, and it worked. Munoz made a strong getaway when the start lights went out and spent the early stages of the race feeling out the car and Firestone's street course tires.
Once he settled into a rhythm, Munoz picked up the pace and, despite losing a lap, raced among some of the bigger names in the series without issue. He even managed to set a number of remarkable sector times during the race, using the downforce to post the fourth-fastest elapsed time in one section of the infield.
And he did one other thing that stood out on Sunday — he knew his role, knew he was a lap down, and didn't impede the leaders.
“That was on purpose,” he said after improving from 24th to finish 17th. “I raced as hard as I could with the guys I was around, but I didn't want to get in the way of the guys who were trying to get a good result. You must respect their position, and this was important for me to do.”
We learned one thing about Munoz at Toronto: He appears to be as good as advertised.
It's far too early to make any proclamations about being a future IndyCar champion, but it was hard not to notice how rapidly the kid went from being over his head to throwing an Indy car around — lap after lap in Turn 1, for example — looking like he was a Scott Dixon in training.
Munoz's next IndyCar appearance could come in a fifth Andretti Autosport entry at Sonoma in August, which should be confirmed one way or the other by the end of the week.
INDYCAR, WORLD CHALLENGE TALKING
With more questions than answers right now about the 2014 United Sports Car Racing calendar, one closed-top series isn't waiting to forge stronger links with the IndyCar Series as planning for next season continues.
The Pirelli World Challenge series — an entertaining assembly of brutish GT beasts, commuter cars and midget machines — has been a fantastic addition to IndyCar events at St. Pete, Long Beach, Detroit and again this weekend at Toronto, and according to one PWC series official, active conversations have been taking place with the open-wheel leadership on the topic of forging closer bonds for 2014, if not longer.
Having a strong sports car-style opening act at as many IndyCar rounds as possible needs to happen, and if there's a way to split road and street course events between PWC and the USCR, road racing fans will be the recipients of some incredibly good racing at a reasonable price.
And as a championship that's placed as more of an outlaw series than a major name-brand product, PWC is a great for IndyCar, which is also stuck out in the wilderness as an alternative racing product… Two series with great products in need of capturing bigger audiences…seems like they need to formalize something, and quickly.