Sur­pris­ing twist sparks New­gar­den

Se­cond win on Toronto streets leaves top con­tender fum­ing, Oakville’s Hinch­cliffe third again

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - NOR­RIS MCDON­ALD SPE­CIAL TO THE STAR

It was a case of be­ing in the right place at the right time for driver Josef New­gar­den, win­ner of Sun­day’s Honda Indy at Ex­hi­bi­tion Place — his se­cond vic­tory in Toronto in three years.

The turn­ing point came on the 24th of 85 laps when ri­val Tony Kanaan left the pits with fresh tires and drove straight into a tire wall at cor­ner one. At that time, He­lio Cas­tron­eves, Si­mon Pa­ge­naud and Gra­ham Ra­hal — the fastest qual­i­fiers — were lead­ing the 31st run­ning of the Indy.

When the call went out for a full-course cau­tion — so IndyCar’s safety team could ex­tri­cate Kanaan and his car from the tires — the pits, as per the rules, were im­me­di­ately closed. But New­gar­den, who’d been sum­moned for tires and fuel by his Team Penske crew, had crossed the pit en­try line be­fore the yel­low cau­tion pe­riod.

That gave him a big leg up on the top three, who had to wait for the pits to open again be­fore stop­ping for ser­vice. None of them man­aged to re­cover and crack the podium.

Alexan­der Rossi, the one-time For­mula One driver and the sur­prise win­ner of last year’s In­di­anapo­lis 500, fin­ished se­cond, about two sec­onds be­hind New­gar­den.

And lo­cal favourite James Hinch­cliffe of Oakville raced to third place for the se­cond con­sec­u­tive year, fol­lowed by Marco An­dretti.

Ra­hal, in par­tic­u­lar, was bit­ter about the turn of events af­ter qual­i­fy­ing se­cond. He wound up ninth. Pole-sit­ter Pa­ge­naud fin­ished fifth, while Cas­tron­eves, who qual­i­fied third, was eighth in the end.

“The three best cars didn’t win the race or even fin­ish 1-2-3,” Ra­hal said.

“There was no­body that was a match for the three of us all day. The way the of­fi­cials have de­cided to close the pits these days, luck plays a huge fac­tor and to­day it bit us. I’m dis­ap­pointed, and rightly so.”

New­gar­den, who won this race in 2015 with Ed Car­pen­ter Racing — whose driver, Spencer Pig­ott, fin­ished18th Sun­day — wasn’t hav­ing any of that.

“Twice I’ve had good calls in T.O., get­ting into the pits at the right time, so thank you to the guys, thank you Tim (Cin­dric, Team Penske pres­i­dent) for mak­ing that call. We got it right — but af­ter that, you’ve got to go on and win the race.”

Cin­dric praised the way the driver han­dled him­self af­ter tak­ing the lead, which he never re­lin­quished en route to the check­ered flag.

“He did a great job all day man­ag­ing the (lead) and man­ag­ing the fuel,” he said.

Hinch­cliffe, who emerged from his team trailer and signed au­to­graphs in the last hour be­fore the race — not a fa­mil­iar sight — drove a steady, con­trolled race.

“Our race was al­most a car­bon copy of last year,” Hinch­cliffe said. “We re­ally strug­gled on the reds this time (a soft com­pound that ev­ery car has to have for at least one lap). The rears just went off. I was looser than I’ve ever been on a street course. It took ev­ery­thing I had to keep (other rac­ers) be­hind me.”

Hinch­cliffe had pit­ted be­fore New­gar­den, so he also ben­e­fit­ted when the yel­low cau­tion came out for Kanaan’s ac­ci­dent.

“I feel sorry for those guys (who couldn’t get into the pits) — but not too sorry,” Hinch­cliffe joked. “I’ve been there be­fore. But once we got on the blacks (a harder com­pound), the Ar­row Elec­tron­ics car (his spon­sor) was amaz­ing.”

Hinch­cliffe said he felt like he was gain­ing on the top two fin­ish­ers late, but wound up more than three sec­onds be­hind Rossi: “I wish the race was like, maybe, 10 or 15 laps longer and it might have been a bet­ter race there at the end.”

As for Rossi, the run­ner-up said he hopes his se­cond ca­reer podium in IndyCar marks a break­through.

“It’s been a long time com­ing (af­ter his vic­tory at In­di­anapo­lis),” he said. “Hope­fully we can use this as a foun­da­tion to go look­ing for wins. I’m re­lieved that we kind of got the mon­key off our back. I want to thank the fans for all com­ing out. It’s amaz­ing com­ing here.”

It was an in­ter­est­ing race with plenty of twists and turns through­out the 85 laps.

The first full-course cau­tion of the day came on the open­ing lap when Scott Dixon went wide to set up for cor­ner three at the end of the Lake Shore Blvd. straight and ran into de­fend­ing cham­pion Will Power, who was on the out­side. The col­li­sion dam­aged the left rear of Dixon’s car and broke the steer­ing arm on Power’s car.

Power’s racer was taken to the garage for re­pairs, while Dixon’s team made tem­po­rary fixes in the pit be­fore send­ing him back into ac­tion. Dixon re­turned to the pits (which were closed) for more re­pair work and was handed a drive-through penalty, which he served. Af­ter all that, Dixon re­mained on the lead lap as the race pro­gressed, even­tu­ally fin­ish­ing 10th, a classic ex­am­ple of how a race driver can ben­e­fit by re­main­ing cool and never giv­ing up.

Power, a three-time win­ner in Toronto, never did re­turn to ac­tion and seemed to blame him­self for the col­li­sion, even though it wasn’t his fault.

“I should know bet­ter on the open­ing lap to do any­thing other than keep­ing out of ev­ery­body’s way,” he said.

Pro­moter Kevin Sa­voree — who, with part­ner Kim Green, owns the Toronto IndyCar race as well as the race in St. Peters­burg, Fla., and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course — said he was de­lighted with the race-day turnout, which he said was a seat sell­out.

“You have to love Toronto race fans,” he said. “There’s a 70 per cent chance of rain (other than the odd drop, it didn’t rain at Ex­hi­bi­tion Place all day Sun­day) and what do they do? They show up here in the tens of thou­sands. It’s just won­der­ful.”

STEVE RUS­SELL/TORONTO STAR

Third-place James Hinch­cliffe, in black, and run­ner-up Alexan­der Rossi photo bomb Josef New­gar­den’s win­ning selfie.

STEVE RUS­SELL/TORONTO STAR

IndyCar vet­eran Tony Kanaan loses con­trol and winds up in the tires on the 24th lap of Sun­day’s Honda Indy at Ex­hi­bi­tion Place. The re­sult­ing cau­tion was a turn­ing point in the race.

STEVE RUS­SELL/TORONTO STAR

Young Haylie Wood­bury blocks out the roar of the engines and catches a nap dur­ing Sun­day’s Indy fes­tiv­i­ties.

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