Toronto’s hopes of seeing James Hinchcliffe earn a hometown win in the single Canadian IZOD IndyCar stop of the year were dashed by a sticky throttle pedal before the race even started Sunday. But the city was treated to an extraordinary showing by another driver, as Scott Dixon swept back-to-back races on Toronto’s tricky road circuit.
After taking the checkered flag in the first race of the Honda Indy Toronto on Saturday, Dixon, the veteran driver from New Zealand, did it again on Sunday, keeping a healthy lead from pole to finish, holding off hard-charging points leader Helio Castroneves of Brazil.
It’s been a dramatic turnaround for the 32-year-old Dixon, who had been winless on the season until a week ago, when he began this three-win streak with a victory at Pocono.
“Toronto has always been a place I’ve wanted to win, and it has eluded us many times,” said Dixon, who earned a $100,000 (U.S.) bonus cheque with the two wins, which moved him to second in the overall points standing from fourth, behind Castroneves.
“It’s been a hell of a swing over a seven-day stretch. We were 92 points out and now we’re 27 points out, so it’s nice to put a little pressure on Helio and hopefully we can keep that going,” Dixon said.
But Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., finished 21st, thanks largely to a sticky throttle pedal. Bad luck has troubled the Canadian in years past on his home track, and it happened again Sunday. As the drivers were headed around the track to get in position for the standing start, Hinchcliffe’s green GoDaddy car was still in the pits, his crew working furiously on the fluke malfunction.
He missed the grid for the start and therefore began the race three laps behind the rest of the field.
The grounds were peppered with Canadians in bright green Hinchcliffe GoDaddy shirts or waving “Go Hinch” signs. It’s been a feast-or-famine season for the 26-year-old Andretti Autosport driver, who has three victories in 2013 but also a handful of finishes outside the top 10. Going into Toronto, he had crashed out of his previous race, in Pocono, and finished dead last. But there was optimism for the Canadian after he placed eighth on Saturday, the best finish of his career in Toronto.
Hinchcliffe dropped to eighth from fifth in the overall standing following the doubleheader.
Canada’s other entrant, 39-year-old Alex Tagliani of Lachenaie, Que., finished 10th Sunday, besting his 17th-place showing on Saturday.
The last Canadian to win the Toronto race was Paul Tracy in 2003.
Castroneves took second place Sunday, while Sébastien Bourdais of France was third, another trip to the podium after he finished second on Saturday.
Dixon was so dominant, he often lead by double-digit seconds on the tricky 85-lap, 2.8-kilometre street course at Exhibition Place.
“He was the class of the field all weekend,” Bourdais said.
The race, which utilized its first standing start since 2008, was caution-free for most of the day, but several drivers were taken out late. There was a late collision involving Japan’s Takuma Sato, Australia’s Will Power, and American Ryan Hunter-Reay, the defending series champion and last year’s Toronto winner. Britain’s James Jakes and Brazil’s Tony Kanaan both hit the wall earlier in the race.
It was the second of two full-length races in Toronto on consecutive days, the second of three double-headers debuting this season on the IndyCar schedule. Thus, many drivers battled Sunday with badly blistered hands, dehydration and mental fatigue.
“You really felt it,” Castroneves said. “For two hours, you’re pushing and pushing and pushing, it was certainly fatiguing.”
Dixon won under caution, earning his 32nd IndyCar victory, to have the most wins of any active IndyCar driver. He overtakes Dario Franchitti, Bourdais and Paul Tracy for seventh on the career list. The names ahead of him include greats such as Michael and Mario Andretti, A.J Foyt and Bobby Unser.
“It does feel amazing, moving closer to some of these guys. Years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever be in this position,” Dixon said. “To be on that list is amazing to be among those names, and all I can hope for is that we can win a few more.”