INDYCAR: Dixon takes opener in Toronto
TORONTO — Long after Scott Dixon raised the winner’s trophy for the second week in a row, controversy and comedy hung over the first of two races through the streets of Toronto.
What was certain was that Dixon’s win Saturday at Exhibition Place was the 31st of his career and moved him into a tie for seventh all-time with teammate Dario Franchitti, Sebastien Bourdais and Paul Tracy.
It was also official that Bourdais finished second for his first podium since the 2007 Champ Car season. He didn’t get much of a celebration, though: His trophy slipped off the pedestal and smashed into thousands of pieces.
So he raised the biggest chunk he could find in triumph on a podium shared with Dixon and third-place finisher Franchitti.
Then right before the traditional champagne spray, the party turned serious: IndyCar had stripped Franchtti of his finish for blocking Will Power on the final restart. Franchitti’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing appealed the penalty, and the driver was summoned before series officials at least an hour after the race.
It left the final finishing order undecided for two hours as the Ganassi team presented data from the incident.
The end result? Almost two hours after the race, Franchitti was returned to his third-place finish.
And to think, IndyCar gets to do it all over again today in the second of three doubleheader weekends on this year’s schedule.
Dixon will be trying to make it three in a row, just a week after picking up his first win of the season at Pocono. There’s a $50,000 bonus out there if he can sweep the Toronto doubleheader.
“Yeah, you know, it sounds simple, right?” Dixon said. “But it’s not going to be. There will be people trying to mix it up; people who had a bad day today will be trying to make it up in race two.”
Things got hairy right at the start of Saturday’s race, which was supposed to be the IndyCar debut of standings starts.
But race control aborted the procedure when Josef Newgarden’s car stalled on the track and the drivers couldn’t line up in the proper formation.
The drivers were pulled off the grid and brought back around the track for the traditional rolling start as the crowd howled its displeasure in being denied the highly anticipated standing start.
IndyCar wasn’t scheduled to try a standing start today to the delight of most of the drivers who feel they haven’t had enough practice to execute it correctly. But Marco Andretti said IndyCar should reconsider after Saturday’s failure.
“It matters what the fans want at this point, I think,” he said.
IndyCar announced after the Franchitti appeal that it will attempt a standing start today. It wasn’t high on the list of things to do for the drivers.
“I could take it or leave it,” Dixon said. “I have a feeling if they do do it, it may result in the same thing that happened today.”
Following the aborted start were warnings from race control to several drivers about jumping over the curbs. Told they had to keep two tires on the track at all times early in the race, race control later reversed the decision and said drivers could jump the curbs.
As the race continued, Tristan Vautier was penalized for avoidable contact with Graham Rahal, and Justin Wilson was penalized for his role in an accident with Charlie Kimball and Ryan Briscoe, who hurt his hand and went to a local hospital after the race for precautionary X-rays.
Dixon emphatically believed Bourdais jumped the restart with 16 laps remaining and demanded a penalty be called on Bourdais over his radio.
No penalty was called and Bourdais believed he did nothing wrong, hitting the gas when team owner Jay Penske told him the flag was green.
“Jay called the green and I saw it move, I just went,” Bourdais said. “He braked because he saw I was getting a run. He basically tried to get it aborted.”
Dixon team strategist Mike Hull implored the driver to stay composed. He pulled himself together and went on to pass Bourdais with nine laps remaining, but he still believed Bourdais had an illegal start.
“I hate dwelling on bad things, but I think it’s a point that needs to be addressed,” Dixon said.
Things really got interesting on the final restart of the race, with one lap remaining, as Power tried to pass Franchitti for third. The two cars bobbled as they raced for position, Power eventually got past Franchitti, but couldn’t make it stick as he hit the tire barrier after slipping ahead.
“It’s a load of crap, the call,” Franchitti said before winning his appeal. “There’s a lot of frustrations with IndyCar, and this says a lot.”
Before the penalty, he was certain he’d done nothing wrong and was defending his position. “It’s always someone else’s fault with Will,” he said.
His reaction upon being told about the penalty was immediate anger.
“Of all the stuff that went on, all day, anybody I raced against would protect the inside and the person trying to pass people would be on the outside,” Franchitti said. “I made my intentions very clear.
“Will shoehorned his way in there, out of control, I braked late, my car is dancing around. He bounced off the wall, bounced off of me and he proceeded to keep the thing locked up and headed into the tires. I don’t see how that has anything to do with me. I was defending the inside, I gave him the outside as was my right, and that was it.”
Power’s take wasn’t as detailed.
“Me and Dario just don’t like Turn 3,” Power said, referencing a 2011 incident here between the two.
“I’ve never driven so hard through a whole race. I’m kind of disappointed to have been sitting in the tires in Turn 3.”
Andretti, meanwhile, had been moved into third place and participated in the post-race news conference. He was directly behind the incident between Franchitti and Power and declined to give an opinion on the ruling.
“It could go either way, I wouldn’t want to be the one to comment,” Andretti said. “But if it moves me to third, that was definitely a block.”
But it was back to fourth for Andretti when the dust finally settled on a day that, most importantly, saw Dixon move up the wins list and Bourdais get a long overdue solid finish.
He just didn’t have the hardware to show for his effort.
“That’s OK, I’ve got plenty of trophies,” said Bourdais. “It’s not what makes your day.”