Scott Dixon sweeps Toronto Indy doubleheader
Canada's Alex Tagliani finishes 10th, James Hinchcliffe struggles
Championships aren't made in a week. They are spread out through a season that involves poor finishes, mechanical problems and collisions.
But if Scott Dixon wins the IndyCar drivers' championship this year, he can point to an outstanding week that was capped with Sunday's dominant performance at the Honda Indy Toronto.
Dixon started from the pole and led for all but four of the 85 laps to win on the 1.75-mile street course at Exhibition Place, sweeping both races at the weekend doubleheader.
The victory was also the 32nd of his career, good for seventh all-time, and made Dixon the winningest active driver in IndyCar. Dixon said he never would have expected to have that many wins when he made his debut in 2003.
"I was probably trying to think of where to go that night instead of what my future was holding," he said. "No, I tried to just concentrate on it on a day-by-day basis, week-by-week. ... I would have wished some of those were a couple more 500s and a few more championships. But that's the way it's gone. We'll keep digging, trying to improve on that. It's cool to be on that list and moving up it."
Dixon now has three straight wins after he won at Pocono last week and is second overall in the overall standings just 29 points behind Helio Castroneves.
Curse continues for Hinchcliffe
The Honda Indy Toronto curse continues for James Hinchcliffe.
Plagued by a throttle problem before the start of Sunday's second race, the 26-year-old from Oakville, Ont., was never in contention, falling four laps behind the leaders and taking last among the 21 finishers. A day earlier, Hinchcliffe was a career-best eighth over the 11-turn, 1.75-mile street course at Exhibition Place.
Hinchcliffe finished 11th in 2011 before being forced out last year with engine trouble.
"I was surprisingly calm," Hinchcliffe said of sitting in his car while his crew worked feverishly to fix it. "I was thinking, 'Yes, it seems about right. It's Toronto so something had to happen.'
"It's even more depressing that it happens before the race even starts so you never even had a chance. If it happened halfway through at least you were having fun for a while but it's not a lot of fun when you're driving around [four] laps down and you know you're not in contention for anything.
"It's a disappointing weekend, eighth and last is nothing to brag about. But I still get the privilege of coming here and racing in front of my home crowd. I'm sorry we couldn't give them a better show."
— The Canadian Press
History suggests Dixon is well on his way to a third IndyCar championship — last year Ryan Hunter-Reay won his third straight race at Toronto en route to the championship. The next race is at Mid-Ohio, where Dixon won last year.
Dixon, who won a $100,000 US bonus cheque for sweeping the doubleheader, is expecting a tough battle to the end.
"Helio has had a pretty stress-free year as far as not being involved in accidents or having mechanicals," said Dixon. "Ryan Hunter-Reay, every time I kept seeing him this weekend, he was in some kind of altercation. He lost a lot of points over the weekend."
Castroneves, who has never won a championship or won in Toronto, finished second followed by Sebastien Bourdais. He said he never really had a chance to catch Dixon, who at times led the Brazilian by as many as 15 seconds.
Castroneves has one win and six top-5 finishes so far this season. He said his route to a championship will continue to involve staying out of trouble and the occasional podium.
"Our approach is the same. That's what got us here. Hopefully with that same kind of consistency, mentality, when we have a car to go for it, we go for it," he said. "I think with that kind of thinking, it's going to take us there, as well."
Bourdais, meanwhile, earned his second podium in two days after finishing second Saturday. He won at Toronto in 2004 and hadn't been on the podium before the weekend since 2007.
Bourdais started Sunday in seventh, and moved into third after the final restart on Lap 84 when Hunter-Reay bumped into Will Power on Turn 1 after the restart and Takuma Sato crashed into the back of Hunter-Reay, wrecking all three cars. Dixon went on to win under the full-course caution.
Bourdais managed the result without the push-to-pass option, which wasn't working on his car.
"It was good. But, man, we did a lot of things in order to get front grip," he said. "The steering wheel got pretty darn heavy. The last pit stop when you put the last set of tires, full tank, the track is rubbered up, the steering effort, you earn your paycheque around here.
"It's tough when it's the second race of the weekend. Pretty happy it's over."
Dixon sounded like he would have been happy with a third race in Toronto. His Target Chip Ganassi car was so strong that there was a 22-second gap between Dixon and then third-place Power at the halfway point of the race.
The emphatic performance was punctuated by a pitstop on Lap 57 in which Dixon returned to the track still well ahead in first place. Dixon's lead over Castroneves was increased to an incredible 15 seconds 61 laps into the race.
The thought of slowing down, even in the event of an eventual restart, never occurred to Dixon.
"Yeah, funky things can happen if you try to slow down too much. You miss your points, you'll end up in the fence. You try to maintain what the car is doing."
That lead was finally nullified with 20 laps to go when James Jakes went into the wall and brought out the race's first full-course caution. On the restart six laps later Dixon held the lead. When Ed Carpenter went into the wall for another caution on Lap 80, Dixon again stayed in front on the ensuing restart.
James Hinchcliffe wasn't even on the starting grid when the race began.
A stuck throttle peddle kept Hinchcliffe's car from getting on the track, pushing him to the back of the field. By the time the fix had been made the Oakville, Ont., native was four laps behind the leaders and had to settle for a 21st-place finish, a major disappointment for the hometown favourite who had qualified 12th and finished Saturday's race in eighth place.
Hinchcliffe dropped from fifth to eight in the overall standings following the doubleheader.
Alex Tagliani of Lachenaie, Que., tied a season-high 10th, one spot down from his ninth-place start.
One day after Josef Newgarden's stalled car nixed the anticipated standing start for Saturday's race, IndyCar officials tried again Sunday.
Carpenter, who had never done a standing start before, stalled in the back of the grid. But while the first standing start since 2008 was still a success, the first turn was costly for Dario Franchitti. The Scottish driver had qualified second but ran into the back of Power's car and needed to pit for a new nose.
It was the second incident of the weekend between Franchitti and Power. On Saturday, Power tried a late pass on Franchitti but went into a wall. Franchitti was initially penalized for blocking, but the decision was later reversed and he finished the race third.
The doubleheader also appeared to show a substantial improvement in attendance for the race, which has struggled to revive itself since taking a one-year hiatus in 2008. Attendance figures weren't released, but the grandstands appeared nearly full Sunday.
Dixon has no complaints about the points he's earned — he had two fourth-place finishes at the first doubleheader in Detroit — but he still doesn't know where he stands on the benefit of doubleheaders to IndyCar.
"Doubleheaders are kind of hard to read because it spreads it over two days. I think some people only come for one day. I don't know statistically. But even on the back straight in the trees, there was a ton of people sitting on the grass," he said.
"I hadn't seen that for a long time. I really think that the crowds this weekend, whether it was due to the weather being so nice, most of the stands were packed. There were people everywhere."