"This is awesome," said an elated Hunter-Reay. "There's a championship run going on right now. I'm a part of it as much as everybody on this team is and they did excellent pit stops. They gave me the car to win today. We had it when it mattered again - at the end. We don't need to win the beginning of the race. We need to win the end and it's been such a pleasure."
Kimball survived the late-race carnage to finish a career-best second, with Conway finishing a season-best third. Tony Kanaan rallied from late-race struggles to finish fourth, with Oriol Servia rounding out the top five. Hunter-Reay's victory gives him the point lead after Will Power, who led early, suffered a punctured left-front tire when he ran over his own broken front wing with 29 laps to go while Scott Dixon finished last, having suffered an engine failure.
At the start, pole sitter Dario Franchitti led from Power, who then had to fend off Justin Wilson for second. Wilson would pass him for the spot in turn three, but Power would pass him back at the same corner on lap four. He would then pass Franchitti two laps later to take the lead, which he held the rest of the opening stint.
Scott Dixon, who had been running the top five, became the first of the title contenders to hit trouble when his engine quit on lap six as he approached turn one. He pulled off course in the runoff area and climbed out of his car, his race over on the spot. "I think it was the engine," a dejected Dixon said afterward. "It was definitely something mechanical. I'm not very happy of course, but Team Target will do a lot between now and Edmonton."
Other drivers held position in the opening laps, with James Hinchcliffe the biggest mover early on, climbing up to 15th after starting 19th. Mike Conway was also an early charger, running as high as fifth after starting 11th. Meanwhile, teammates Graham Rahal and Charlie would get together trying to go side-by-side through turn three. Kimball was the big loser in the ordeal, nosing his car slightly into the tire barrier. But, he didn't damage the car and was able to back up and continue on without bringing out a caution.
The first sequence of pit stops began on lap 13, when E.J. Viso became the first to go off strategy. But, the race continued under green as many of the leaders began pitting, during which Tony Kanaan incurred a drive-through penalty for hitting a tire. He would recover quickly, though.
However, in the middle of the sequence, Graham Rahal locked up his front tires entering turn one on lap 24 and speared off into the outside wall. That brought a full-course caution, after the likes of Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Briscoe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, and Justin Wilson, among others, had already pitted. Power led the first seven drivers, including Franchitti, Sebastien Bourdais, Mike Conway, and Helio Castroneves, into the pits under the yellow, which dropped them back outside of the top 10. Franchitti's problems would get worse, though, when he did not stop close enough to the fuel hose, preventing the team from fueling the car. They eventually had to jack the back of the car into the air to move it closer to the pit wall. They did refuel him, but not after he dropped all the way to 21st.
Just prior to a 28 restart, hometown favorite Hinchcliffe suffered an engine problem and dove into the pits as the green flag waved. The issues proved terminal and he was done for the day. "We had a mechanical issue and started losing power in the engine and it's too bad," he explained. "It's a heart ache to go out early here. The whole weekend has been incredible - all the support from everybody here in Toronto. Like I've said, it's the best city in the world, I love coming here to race and thank you to everybody for the support."
The restart saw Pagenaud in the lead, with Hunter-Reay passing Briscoe for second, while Tony Kanaan made a a daring move on the inside in turn one and again in turn three to jump all the way up to third, ahead of Briscoe. Back in the pack, Power moved up to 11th after the restart, but was stuck there for much of the stint as he struggled to move through traffic.
Power's day would go from bad to worse with 29 laps to go. He made slight contact with the back of Josef Newgarden, damaging his front wing. Later that lap, Power's wing broke apart and he ran over the debris with his left-front tire. A subsequent puncture forced him to pit, first for new tires and then again for a new front wing. He fell off the lead lap during the exchange and ended the day 15th. "Today's finish for the Verizon car is certainly a shame because I felt we had one of the quickest cars," said Power, lost the point lead to Hunter-Reay. "We did a good job on fuel but unfortunately we stayed out and got caught. I really enjoy racing here, just a tough break. It is going to be a tight finish with only five races to go."
Up front, Pagenaud pulled out a small gap over Hunter-Reay and Kanaan, but would eventually have to pit ahead of them, having pitted eight laps prior to them during the opening round of stops. A problem getting the back tires secured also cost Pagenaud about four seconds when he pitted, allowing Hunter-Reay and Kanaan to jump around him during the sequence.
However, the second round of stops helped set up a frantic finish. Hunter-Reay pitted with 31 laps remaining, meaning he had more than enough fuel to make the finish. Behind him, though, things were much more complicated. Kanaan pitted four laps prior to Hunter-Reay, and put on scuffed red tires in the process, forcing him to save fuel over the final stint. His tires would eventually start going off as well. Pagenaud was also conserving fuel, having pitted on lap 49, 36 laps from the finish.
Meanwhile, Charlie Kimball, who had two laps in hand over Kanaan, both survived initial contact with Rahal and proved to be a big beneficiary of the race's first caution. Having already stopped when the yellow flew, he moved up into the top ten. When the second cycle of stops concluded, he was running fourth and closing on Kanaan and Pagenaud. Justin Wilson also benefited from the earlier caution and ran fifth with Ryan Briscoe in sixth, both though in fuel-save mode, and Josef Newgarden seventh, who was good to go on his fuel. Wilson's day would end, though, when he suffered mechanical issues with 20 laps remaining.
Wilson explained, "About half way round that last lap I started to lose power, but it was intermittent, so it would just die and accelerate, die and accelerate. Eventually I got to Turn 11 and it died as I entered. As I got to the apex suddenly it gave me full power back. It spun the wheels, the rear came out and clipped the wall and bent the suspension. So I'm very disappointed."
The battle for second would close dramatically when Kanaan's tires went off, allowing Pagenaud a chance to pass him in turn three with 13 laps to go. However, Pagenaud locked up his breaks and ran wide, allowing Kimball to sneak around both of them for second in what will arguably be one of the best passes of the year.
Kanaan continued to fall through the field, almost dropping out of the top ten, Ahead of him, Newgarden, now up to fourth, started pushing Pagenaud for third, with the Frenchman taking defensive lines every lap entering turn three. With seven laps remaining, Newgarden's strong run would turn sour when he shot up the inside of Pagenaud, who again took a defensive line, but overshot his breaking point and slightly nosed his car into the tire barrier. Newgarden didn't do any damage, but he did bring out a full-course caution. "The car was coming into its stride and we had a great strategy. Unfortunately at the end I attempted a pass on Pagenaud that l don't think I should have tried. I went into the tires and that was the end of our fantastic run today."
For his role, Pagenaud was handed a penalty for blocking Newgarden, which helped spark the incident. But did not understand the reason for it. "I have no doubt on what I did," said Pagenaud. "I think I respected the rule, which is to keep your line. I kept my line, but Newgarden went into a hole where there was no space. If I didn't move back, he was never going to stop. I had to move back to make sure he wasn't going to take me out. So, I don't see why I got penalized."
Under yellow, Pagenaud led Briscoe and Rubens Barrichello down pit road for splashes of fuel, allowing Bourdais, who had climbed back through the field after the opening pit stops, to run third on the final restart.
When the green flag came out with three laps to go, Bourdais actually cleared Kimball for second and even tried an outside pass on Hunter-Reay for the lead. But, it all went wrong for him when Mike Conway bumped the right-rear of Kimball, which pushed the American into Bourdais, who then went nose first into the tire barrier. Rubens Barrichello also spun in the aftermath, while Kimball and Conway continued on unharmed in second and third. Unaware that Kimball was bumped into him, a frustrated Bourdais initially blamed him for the contact. "I passed (Charlie) Kimball on the restart...I don't know what he did. Mistake...completely (lost his) mind," the the visibly upset Dragon Racing driver. "If I didn't give him the room, it was going to throw me in the tires, so I avoided the contact. I saw him coming so suddenly, I had to open the steering like super quick. I got on the marbles, and there was no way I could make the corner from there."
More carnage ensued in turn three when Ryan Briscoe squeezed Dario Franchitti into the wall, both crashing out on the spot. Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud, and Ed Carpenter were caught up in the melee. Franchitti took the blame afterward. There were massive amounts of marbles and cars going three-wide, and I went for a gap that closed. It was just one of those things today."
The chaotic restart brought a full-course caution and, with two laps remaining, there was not enough time to clean the track and go back under green. That left Hunter-Reay to lead home Kimball and Conway, with Kanaan avoiding both crashes to climb back up to fourth, and Oriol Servia coming out of nowhere to finish fifth.
An awe-struck Hunter-Reay was in disbelief over winning his third consecutive race. "I can't even believe - three races. This is going to take a second to settle in," said the American. "Now. I'm thinking we've got to do it again next weekend.We started seventh in Iowa, and it is a little bit harder to pass here but in IndyCar and these street races you just have to stick with it, no matter if you're fourteenth, you just have to keep giving 110 percent and sometimes it shakes out for you. Today we had the right strategy; we had the right race car; we had the good pit stops; and I did it on the track."
Kimball, despite not winning, was equally as thrilled with his result, by far his best IndyCar finish. "I know that there were only 25 of us out there, but the amount of times I passed people there felt like there were about 50 cars, so a lot of credit to the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing crew, the 83," said Kimball. "It was quick and all I had to do was turn and make a couple of moves when they were there. You really had to push. What they did on the repaving made for great racing. I don't know about everybody in the stands, but I sure had a lot of fun in the cockpit. And I can't wait to get back, not only here next year, but in Edmonton in two weeks."
Conway echoed the emotion of Hunter-Reay and Kimball, but was surprised he was able to be so fast from the getgo. "The guys at A.J. Foyt Racing have been working really hard all year. We've been getting in there, getting in there, and this weekend I felt like we started off better than we have before, so we just kept dialing in and come warm-up this morning, I was pretty happy with it," he explained. "I knew that we could walk a way forward, but I was surprised at how good we were on that first stint and we could just move our way forward and work our way out to the front."
Kanaan looked like he might contend for a win before strategy and tire wear dropped him back. "I think we're close," Kanaan said of the team's chances of winning. "We've got to do a better job in qualifying for sure, and a couple of other things that are happening during the races in our pit stops. Strategy-wise between me and my engineers, we've got to sort it out, but we're close. We've been knocking on the door. We've been in the top four for the past three races - two podiums and a fourth place. So close."
Servia, who acknowledged that his car lacked the outright speed to contend, capitalized on others' mistakes to collect his fourth top five of the season. "This Sunday wasn't the most spectacular day of the Panther/DRR 22 Valspar machine," said Servia, who now sits tenth in the overall standings. Honestly, we just didn't have the speed. I felt a lot better in the practices, but not during the race. We just didn't have the speed. Dennis has a great strategy. We were able to keep our nose clean. There were a lot of drivers that were not driving that smart out there. It was just a question of letting them make the mistakes. We'll take the fifth place."
Hunter-Reay's victory, coupled with his title rivals' problems, gives him a 34-point lead over Power heading to Edmonton in two weeks. Helio Castroneves sits third, 46 points out of the lead, while Scott Dixon dropped to fourth, 54 markers out. James Hinchcliffe sits fifth, 67 points in the rear, with Tony Kanaan sixth, 68 points out of the lead. Pagenaud is also still a part of tittle picture, sitting 71 markers out of lead in seventh. Dario Franchitti is eighth, but at 105 points shy of Hunter-Reay, the Scotsman appears unlikely to claim his fifth Izod IndyCar Series championship.
Full results of the race on Toronto
2012 Honda Indy Toronto - Sunday
Written 07-17-2012, 04:12 pm
Updated 07-17-2012, 04:12 pm
Photography Spencer Easton / OpenWheelWorld.net
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