A dramatic weekend that featured a postponed race, plenty of rain and enough collisions to fill a junkyard was won by a pair of unassuming drivers who held their nerve as others cracked.
Sébastien Bourdais and Mike Conway entered the Honda Indy Toronto overlooked in favour of a championship duel and the return of a hometown driver.
They shouldn’t have been.
Bourdais, who hadn’t won a race in six years but previously conquered the 11-turn, 2.81-kilometre track at Exhibition Place in 2004, led all but seven laps in the morning race Sunday to win from pole. He was initially angered when he thought the Saturday race was cancelled by a slippery car track.
The race was merely postponed, and Bourdais returned to his car Sunday waiting for his luck to run out. It never did.
“I’ve got a big smile across my face and I can’t seem to get rid of it. It’s just really cool,” Bourdais said. “The whole race I couldn’t stop thinking. I was very stressed out. It felt too easy, it felt like it was too much under control and it felt like it was way going to go wrong at some point. I don’t know, it didn’t. I was surprised about that because that’s what happened all season long so far.”
Conway, who only competes on road and street courses but won at Long Beach in April, didn’t have the pace of his rivals. That showed in the opening race with a 15th-place finish. But Conway saw something no one else did in the second race of the doubleheader.
Rain fell once again and caused multiple collisions. Yet, unlike Saturday, the weather eventually showed some mercy and Conway spotted a drying track before almost anyone else.
Usually, a team tells a driver when to make a tire change. Conway told Ed Carpenter Racing, however, he was coming in on Lap 43 of the 80-minute race.
“I knew I had to make a call at that moment because my wet tires were kind of going off and we were only going to go slower, and I knew the slicks would be for sure quicker,” Conway said. “So yeah, worked out, worked out really well.”
The afternoon race had been a fight for the lead between Penske teammates and championship contenders Helio Castroneves and Will Power. But both went to the pits for new tires, allowing Conway and several others to the front of the pack for the first time.
Conway took the lead on Lap 51, while Castroneves dropped off the pace. Conway benefited from yet another delay when another collision collected several cars and triggered a red flag.
As he waited for the race to resume with less than five minutes remaining, Conway tried not to get too excited.
“For sure I sat there in pitlane, I was like, could be another win in the cards,” he said. “But I couldn’t tell anyone that. For sure you think it but you’ve got to put it in the back of your mind.”
For Bourdais, the victory was vindication.
The 35-year-old Frenchman finished over three seconds ahead of Castroneves, while Tony Kanaan finished third. Bourdais won’t challenge for the IndyCar championship this year, he finished the afternoon race ninth, but the comfortable win was reminiscent of his four Champ Car titles between 2004 and 2007.
Champ Car and Indy Racing League merged in 2008 to form IndyCar. Bourdais took a hiatus from open-wheel racing until his return in 2011, but he’s yet to find himself in the title race.
He didn’t seem to care after winning his first race since November, 2007, in Mexico City.
“To be back on the top step in the way we’ve done it today, pretty much like the good old days. It’s very special,” Bourdais said.
Last year, Bourdais finished second and third, respectively, at Toronto. But his weekend was marred by an embarrassing moment when he accidentally dropped his second-place trophy and smashed it.
This year Bourdais held onto his trophy with both hands.
James Hinchcliffe never had a chance of winning – or dropping – a trophy.
The Oakville, Ont., native was eighth in the opening race, matching his career best in Toronto through four years in IndyCar. But he slid into a tire barrier in the afternoon race and had to settle for 18th. It all amounted to more frustration for Hinchcliffe, the lone Canadian left in IndyCar.
“It’s one of those things, we’re sitting up here, talking, saying, ‘What do we have to do to catch a break, here or anywhere this season …,’” Hinchcliffe said. “The guys gave me a solid car, I’m just sorry we couldn’t turn it into a result.”
The biggest winner of the weekend who didn’t take a checkered flag was Kanaan. The Brazilian finished third in the first race and second in the afternoon.
Castroneves appeared to be set for a breakthrough when he finished second in the morning while Power was ninth.
Castroneves entered the weekend nine points ahead of his Penske teammate, and he started the afternoon from the pole expecting to pad that advantage as the 39-year-old chases his first series title.
But IndyCar leaves Toronto with the championship still up for grabs with four races remaining. Power, also hoping to win his first title, is just 13 points back after overtaking Castroneves en route to a second-place finish.
Castroneves dropped off the pace and finished 12th.
“I was very determined,” Power said. “Starting on the front row together, so I thought I’ve got to beat him otherwise this points lead is going to get too big. I've got to finish ahead of him. Worked very hard on that.”
He still has work to do.Report Typo/Error