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Honda Indy live blog Sunday: Conway wins Race 2

Published July 18, 2014

Hello from the Honda Indy Toronto. For a complete weekend blog, scroll down to the bottom – way down to the bottom – where the Friday blog starts. Saturday’s blog follows and here we are on Sunday.

Mike Conway has won the Honda Indy Toronto 2, with Tony Kanaan second and Will Power third. Conway, who drives the road courses for Ed Carpenter Racing while Carpenter runs the ovals, won the team’s third race of 2014.

When the checkers fell, the order was: Conway, Kanaan, Power, Kimball, Sato, Hawksworth, Dixon, Andretti Bourdais, Wilson, Briscoe, Castroneves, Filippi, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, Huertas, Munoz, Hinchcliffe, Montoya, Rahal, Saavedra, Pagenaud and Aleshin.

The key to the victory was a decision late in the race by Conway to duck into the pits and have his team put on four slick tires rather than the wet tires many of the others were using.

The gamble paid off when the road and street expert swept past four cars still running with wet tires and then opened up such a gap that nobody could catch him.

With the conditions in the wet, we were kinda struggling, he said. I knew as soon as I could see a dry line that it was time to come in. The guys were up for it – I wasnt sure what they were going to say – but they put the dry tires on and from then on I just controlled the race.

I was a little nervous with the red flag there but with Justin (Wilson) behind me, I knew I would be able to cover it (the field). It was good fun out there.

Hinchcliffe, as is becoming a habit for him in Toronto, was terribly disappointed.

I was all over Sebastian, he said. It was only a matter of time before we got him and as the rain started to fall there I saw a car in the wall in Turn 8. I slowed up a ton, to avoid anything, but that concrete, which had just a little bit of water on it, I mean its like ice, and the thing was backwards before I could even correct.

And then, obviously – Im glad Mikhail is okay – because of the severity of that incident, instead of me being maybe one lap down, it wound up being four because I sat there as they rightly attended to Mikhail.

The car was good in the wet, it was so tough not racing with those gys at the end – I didnt want to mix it up too much – I mean, Montoya was in our lap.

Man, its just such a bummer. We had a really strong car and I think we could have been up there. Especially you see how the carnage played out; if we had kept our nose clean we might have been up there.

Were sitting up on the timing stand and were saying to ourselves, what do we have to do to catch a break here – or anywhere – this season. The guys did a really good job on the car; I was having so much fun out there. Éven in the wet, we could have been quick. The guys gave me a solid car. Im just sorry it didnt turn into a result.

We didnt quite have the pace this morning but we took a really big swing at it this afternoon and it paid off.  So we will tuck it away. No more street courses for the year, fortunately. We will come back next year. I have to thank the fans again. With all the carnage we put them through, the weather, the stands were still packed right to the end and it speaks volumes to the fans in the city. The support was great all week. Thank you guys so much; you are the best.

EARLIER

The race is under way again and Conway is leading with Kanaan second and Wilson third. The white flag is out and  MIKE CONWAY wins the Honda Indy Toronto 2!

EARLIER

The clock has been stopped with 4 minutes and 32 seconds remaining. The idea is to get the wrecked cars removed and back to the pits and the course ready for a last-gasp shootout.

Conway is first, with Wilson second and Kanaan third. Will Power is fourth and Josef Newgarden is fifth. James Hinchcliffe is back out there but is running for the benefit of the fans; he’s in 21st place.

EARLIER

Nearly 10 cars have crashed in turn 3. Most are not that badly bashed up but the race has been red-flagged with eight minutes left.

EARLIER

Heading for the restart, it’s Wilson and Newgarden on wets, then Huertas, Filippi and Conway in the top five. Ten minutes remaining in the race.

EARLIER

IndyCar has now declared this a timed race. It will be over in 20 minutes or so. Cars are still spinning as the rain has continued. Some drivers have opted for dry tires but others are staying with the wet. This is the fifth yellow flag period in the race.

Will Power is the leader, with Castroneves second and Kanaan third.

EARLIER

It is now raining heavily and cars are spinning. Saavedra went down an escape road, Huertas spun as did Josef Newgarden. Newgarden went around after going past pit entrance. He drove backwards on the circuit to reach the pit entrance and went in to get wet tires. Legal? We’ll find out.

EARLIER

A few rain drops have played havoc with the Honda Indy Toronto race 2 and while James Hinchcliffe was not eliminated, his race has been lost.

It started with Juan Pablo Montoya losing control on a suddenly wet track and flying into a tire wall at Turn 8. Several cars – including those driven by Charlie Kimball and Carlos Huertas – went down the escape road while Hinchcliffe tried to take the turn and spun into the tires further along the wall.

Moments later, Mikhail Aleshin went right under Montoya’s car, which landed on the Russian driver’s open cockpit with him in it. Aleshin wasn’t hurt, but was quite uncomfortable in his car with the weight of Montoya’s car on top of him.

Some drivers went into the pits for rain tires while others stayed with slicks as the rain is expected to pass.

EARLIER

Helio Castroneves, who started from pole (the order for race 1 was because of qualifying, the order for race 2 was based on order points), will lead the field into a restart. He is being followed by Will Power and Simon Pagenaud.

And they’re off!

EARLIER

The race is on and everybody got off except Justin Wilson, who stalled his car. Tony Kanaan was bunted into the tires at Turn 3 as the field thundered into the tight, right-hand, turn. It’s a full-course yellow.

It’s another race against the weather. A front is moving in, so IndyCar has opted to start the race about 10 minutes early. This will be a standing staqrt, which is always more dangerous. The rolling start this morning worked well.

EARLIER

While we wait for the run-up to the second race to start – and yes, despite all sorts of erroneous information out there, the start time will be 4:15 p.m. – let’s take a moment to slot in a few other stories that may or not be of interest.

Nico Rosberg won the German Grand Prix today, with ease. Valtteri Bottas was second for Williams-Mercedes and Rosberg’s Mercedes F1 teammate, Lewis Hamilton, finished third. The crowd was down, which resulted in concern being expressed from several drivers.

Pete Aaron died today. He and Scott Stoddart were the stars of the 1967 racing movie Grand Prix. Okay, I’m being cute: Aaron was played by James Garner (Stoddart by Brian Bedford) it was ol’ Rockford and Maverick who passed at the age of 86.

Garner discovered auto racing as a result of making that movie (as did Paul Newman when he made the 1968-69 movie Winning) and followed the sport religiously afterward.

In fact, he drove the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 three times. As the late Chris Economaki used to write at times like this, RIP James.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS won the first Honda Indy Toronto this morning. Helio Castroneves finished second and Tony Kanaan was third. Canadian James Hinchcliffe came home eighth.

“This is really sweet, man,” Bourdais said in Victory Lane. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Now, all the teams will retire to the paddock. The drivers will try to relax and the mechanics and engineers will prepare the cars for Honda Indy Race No. 2, which will go to the post at 4:15 p.m.

Here is the final order of finish of Race No. 1: Bourdais (he’s won this race previously when it was sanctioned by Champ Car and was second here a year ago), Castroneves, Kanaan, Pagenaud, Dixon, Rahal, Kimball, Hinchcliffe, Power, Wilson, Aleshin, Briscoe, Hawksworth, Huertas, Conway, Andretti, Munoz, Montoya, Saavedra, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, Filippi and Sato.

EARLIER

The Honda Indy Toronto races 1 & 2 weren’t the only ones held at Exhibition Place this weekend and two young Canadian chargers, in particularly, had the fans talking.

Scott Hargrove of Vancouver won the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada race Saturday and finished second in the race on Sunday but could have won if it had been a few laps longer.

Hargrove, who won the USF2000 title last year and is currently second in  the Pro Mazda series, quotes here.

More quotes here, saying that he’s won four of the six Porsche GT3 races to date.

Wittmer, driving a Dodge Viper SRT GT3, won the Pirelli World Challenge race Sunday after finishing second on Saturday.

“It’s definitely an extremely special feeling to win a home round,” said Wittmer, of Hudson, Que. “It doesn’t come close to anything else. The race  was super exciting; the fight we had with Nick was really really good. It was kind of boring if there wasn’t paint exchanged! Here we are, first ahead of everyone.”

In the Formula 1600 race – in which 28 cars started – Tristan DeGrand of Eureka, Mo., was the winner, with Jack Mitchell of Clarendon Hills, Ill., second and Chase Pelletier of Brampton, third.

In the Pirelli World Challenge, Nick Tandy, of Bedfordshire, England, was the winner, with Kuno Wittmer of Montreal second and Johnny O’Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga., third.

Wittmer, who finished second last week in the GT Le Mans class in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, had this to say afterward about his car.

“We wouldn’t be on this podium if it wasn’t for the awesome prep by the team. SRT Motorsports prepped a really, really nice Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R and the car was consistent the entire time.

“Even with the full course yellows we had, the tires had time to cool down and then bring them back up to temperature. It was quite simple because the machinery is just really nice to drive. Hats off to them. Without the prep work, I couldn’t have done it.

“During the race,  it was tough to catch the Porsche or at least stick to him. He was easily half a second quicker and on a blistering pace. At least I could gap, a little bit, the Cadillac, but barely. So, it was tough to hang on to [P2] today.

“I think that tomorrow, we have a pretty good chance for a race. I think a podium will be good, but a win will be better.”

Scott Hargrove of Vancouver, B.C., is another in a long line of really talented young Canadian racing drivers who are attracting attention.  He won the USF2000 series last year, is at the top (or near) it of the Pro Mazda Series – which is not racing at the Honda Indy this weekend, but should be – and won his fourth of five Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin Series races at the Ex this afternoon.

Marco Cirone of Toronto finished second and Santiago Creel was third.

Early in the race, when trying to pass leader Chris Green (driving, incidentally, for Pfaff Motorsports), Hargrove was balked and it took him another lap or two before he got past and into the lead, which he didn’t relinquish despite spinning at some point. I asked if the apparent block was fair.

“In that situation, when you come onto the main straight, you come out of the corner on the right and he stayed on the right; he didn’t move to go over there (to the left, to set up for Corner One). That’s where he was. I thought that was okay.

“Where it got really hairy was where the pit wall ended and I pulled out (from his slipstream) and he hit the brakes kinda before I pulled out. I shot out from behind him and pulled to the right and there must have been about a half an inch between us. That was the closest I’ve ever been in a GT3 car without hitting anybody. It was pretty hairy.

“I got beside him but he was able to hold onto the lead on the outside. I believe it was the next lap coming onto the backstretch. I was able to get the lead. Again, he came over as far as he could – I had a lane and an inch. That was all I needed to get by.

“We’re racing hard out there. We all trust each other and he’s going to leave me enough room. I would have done the same to him. I was happy with the way he raced. I was being as aggressive offensively as he was defensively.”

EARLIER

There are 10 laps to go in the first Honda Indy Toronto and Sebastian Bourdais continues to lead. Castroneves is second, Kanaan is third, Pagenaud fourth and Dixon fifth. Highcliffe is eighth.

EARLIER

There are 20 laps remaining in this 65-lap race. Here is the running order:

Bourdais, Castroneves, Kanaan, Pagenaud, Dixon, Rahal, Kimball, Hinchcliffe, Wilson, Power, Hawksworth, Aleshin, Andretti, Newgarden, Saavedra, Montoya, Briscoe, Conway, Huertas, Munoz, Hunter-Reay, Filippi, Sato.

EARLIER

Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan got together in Turn 3 and Hunter-Reay ran into the wall, damaging his wing and perhaps his front suspension. It looked, to me, like one of them racin’ deals but is “under review.” Good news: no action taken.

EARLIER

Race control has signalled that this first race is half over. There are, officially, 29 to go: the top ten running order:

Pagenaud, Bourdais, Huertas, Castroneves, Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, Dixon, Rahal, Kimball and Hinchcliffe.

EARLIER

They are racing again in Toronto and the top ten running order after 20 laps is Bourdais, Hunter-Reay, Castroneves, Kanaan, Dixon, Wilson, Rahal, Hawsworth, Hinchcliffe and Saavedra.

EARLIER

I was just about to post the running order after 15 laps of reasonably good racing – yes, they actually got an Indy car race going in Toronto – when there was action.

Luca Filippi brushed the wall exiting Turn One and ruined his suspension. He was struggling to get down the back straight (Lake Shore Blvd. W) and around to the pits when Carlos Huertas lost control going into Turn 3 and hit the tire wall, bringing on a full-course caution.

Drivers are ducking into the pits for fuel and tires.

EARLIER

Bourdais has led the opening laps, with Hunter-Reay second, Castroneves thid, Kanaan, fourth and Filippi fifth. Hinchcliffe is eighth.

EARLIER

The cars have been fired up and are on the pace lap – again. No penalty to anyone in that crash (although Pagenaud squeezed Filippi) and Bourdais was given a warning for blocking (when he should have been warned about jumping the start).

They are racing again in Toronto!

EARLIER

After rain wiped out Saturday’s entire Honda Indy Toronto race No. 1, the Indy car drivers managed to get through three turns today before yet another red flag was thrown because of a multi-car crash. This is kinda getting a little tiresome.

This is supposed to be 65 laps or 80 minutes, but there is no way they can now run all 65. Having said that, IndyCar insists that one way or another, this will be an 80-minute race.

James Hinchcliffe managed to avoid the carnage. Takuma Sato, driving for A.J. Foyt, who was profiled in Saturday’s Toronto Star Wheels, appears to have suffered the most damage. His No. 14 was taken off on the hook.

The Foyt team has tried everything to change their luck. Team PR rep Ann Fornoro even brought a horseshoe from Foyt’s ranch near Houston and taped it to a tool box in the Foyt pit.

Back to the drawing board.

EARLIER

HUGE CRASH. Race red-flagged. Luca Filippi got into the back of Simon Pagenaud and spun him around and chaos erupted. This happened just after Corner 3. Three or four other cars were involved, blocking the track. All cars stopped.

EARLIER

Pole-sitter Sebastien Bourdais is leading the field around for the start. James Hinchcliffe of Oakville is going off eighth.

Asked how he felt, Hinch said: “Ask me at noon.”

AND THEY ARE RACING IN TORONTO!

EARLIER

Although originally announced to be two 75-lap races, the two Verizon IndyCar Series full points races will be 65-lap affairs and both will have 80-minute time limits.

They should not have to go to timed races today, however, because the weather is dry and the sun has even peeked out on a couple of occasions this morning.

The first race goes to the post at 10:30 a.m. The second is now scheduled for 4:15 p.m.

The reason the races are being held to 65 laps each is because of a meeting between IndyCar and the leaders of a drivers committee, who pointed out that 150 laps of racing in one day could prove so fatiguing for the racers that it could prove dangerous.

It was suggested that a total distance equal to the distance the drivers will race at Sonoma, Calif., later in the season would be satisfactory (Sonoma total 202 miles, approx.; Toronto total 210, approx.) and that’s how the 65-lap races were determined.

EARLIER: THE SATURDAY STORY

Weather depending, the Verizon IndyCar Series will try to run two complete races through the streets of Exhibition Place Sunday after the first of two weekend Hondy Indy Toronto races called on account of rain.

And if they can’t get the races in on Sunday, they might even try to run one or both of them on Monday, according to a senior IndyCar official.

Persistent drizzle, and impending darkness, forced officials to cancel the race at about 6:15 p.m. It had been scheduled to start at 3:45 p.m.

At 7 p.m., IndyCar announced that the two races Sunday would be 75 laps in length, five laps short of the advertised 80-lap distances. The morning race, which will start at 10:30 a.m., will be a rolling start and the afternoon race – both full points-paying races, by the way – would be a standing start and start at 3:45 p.m.

This is uncharted territory for both the series and the Toronto promoter, which had sold “Saturday only” tickets and “Sunday only” tickets in addition to weekend tickets.

Honda Indy Toronto president Charlie Johnstone said that all tickets would be honoured on Sunday.

“A kiosk will be set up at the main entrance where ‘Saturday only’ ticket holders can exchange their tickets for ‘Sunday only’ tickets. We will guarantee a seat for everyone; they might not be the same seats but they will be close.”

Johnstone said his company is determined to get a complete program in on Sunday. “Our aim is to run those two complete races in one day.”

He did not comment on Walker’s musings that in case of inclement weather that a race or races could be held on Monday. And it’s understandable why he didn’t want to go down that road: Lake Shore Blvd. W., which has been closed to traffic in both directions between Strachan Ave. and British Columbia Dr., is scheduled to be reopened by midnight, if not before.

Derrick Walker, director of competition for IndyCar, said he expected the first of the two races would start around 10 a.m. The second would be held at the regularly scheduled time of 3:45 p.m.

“Whether the first race will be a full 80-lap race or something different is still being discussed,” he said.

THE RUNNING BLOG

Good afternoon from the Honda Indy Toronto, Saturday edition.

If you’re looking for the Friday Live Blog, please scroll down. Way down. Okay, end of Friday references.

BULLETIN – The race has been called off. No Honda Indy Toronto today. Tomorrow? Stay tuned.

IndyCar media personnel said: “Today’s track activities have been cancelled. Updates as they are received.”

EARLIER

As it looks more and more as if this race won’t happen, I went to ask fans what they thought of the situation.

“It’s sad,” said Bob Freeze of Etobicoke. “But safety first.”

Todd Wilkinson of Peterborough said, “It’s the weather in Canada, isn’t it? We came to enjoy the day and we enjoyed it. The safety of the drivers is the most important thing. We expect the series to be professional, so we as fans have to be professional.” Wilkinson said that he and his friend had weekend passes but would go home and wait to see what the weather looks like in the morning before deciding whether or not to come back.

Brad Schinkel of Toronto and his father, Rick, of Waterloo, were soaked but not unhappy.

“If Will Power hadn’t crashed coming out of turn 11, before the race started, they would have kept going and the (racing) line would have dried up and the race actually could have been run without the water building up again.

“Rather than waving the red flag, they should have kept them under caution to at least clean some of the water off the track rather than letting it build up. If this was Formula One, they would have raced but these drivers aren’t as prepared for it.

“But safety first.” They have weekend tickets and plan to return.

EARLIER

FLASH: Derrick Walker, director of competition for IndyCar, just told Bob Varsha, anchor of NBC Sports Network, that if they can’t get the race going by 6 o’clock or shortly thereafter, they would consider cancelling it.

“We are talking with the promoter” about possibly running the race Sunday or at another time, he indicated.

EARLIER

Michael Andretti just said that it might be best to not run the race and hold it on Sunday, which really would be a double, double-header.

He also questioned IndyCar’s decision to let Team Penske repair Will Power’s crashed car while the other teams weren’t allowed to touch theirs.

He suggested there would be protests. “We’re not the only ones worried about this.”

EARLIER

My goodness, the rain delay has been long enough for Team Penske to repair Will Power’s car that he crashed earlier in this rain delay. I’m sure this is just coincidence.

But I’m not the only one around here who’s a conspiracy theorist. TV reporter (and IndyCar journalist) Robin Miller asked A.J. Foyt if IndyCar was showing favouritism. “I’d rather not comment on that,” said the great man, but you know what he’d like to say.

EARLIER

The first Honda Indy Toronto race that was supposed to get the green flag at 3:45 p.m. has still not started. It is nearly 5:15 and although they have trundled around at various times behind the pace car, they have not actually started this race.

They just announced that when the race starts, it will now be 65 laps (instead of the scheduled 80) or 90 minutes (instead of two hours) if it should be a timed race.

Way down in this blog, I suggested these are club racing decisions. This is professional racing and professional entertainment and IndyCar has made a botch of things.

Nobody wants anybody to get hurt but you can’t have it both ways, in sport or in life. You either race in the rain, or you don’t. Formula One races have been held in monsoons. It is what racing is all about.

If you don’t want to do that, then adopt an oval-racing philosophy. If it rains, don’t race. Simple.

EARLIER

The yellow flag is out again. Power just said his crash was his fault. “My bad,” he said. “Not even the start of the race. Bad deal, man.”

Race control has just called another red flag. Who ARE these people?

You either race in the rain, or you don’t. Call the thing off, if everybody is too scared to start this race. Otherwise, people have paid money to see this race and want a race. Get on with it.

Apparently, the people in Race Control think they see a clear patch on the radar that might allow them to clear off some of the water. So they will wait.

EARLIER

The race is now more than an hour late starting. They keep rolling around behind the pace car – 13 laps under yellow – but the race has not gone green, so laps are not being counted.

The lights on the pace car are out, so next time around (fingers crossed) it will be green. Several cars – Marco Andretti, who’s starting last in the 23-car field among them – have ducked into the pits to top up on fuel. Smart move.

EARLIER

The cars are on the track and rolling. Ryan Briscoe just went into a tire wall but didn’t damage his car. (It was the same tire wall he hit last year, at speed, when he broke his wrist.)

The pace car, being driven by 4-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, just went out of control at turn 3.

They just waved off the start as Will Power has crashed coming onto the main straight.

EARLIER

The start of the race is delayed because of weather:

Believe it or not, the last time rain had a negative effect on the Honda Indy (then known as the Molson Indy) was in 1990. They didn’t hold up the start then and  the drivers adapted just fine.

The race was stopped after 94 of the scheduled 103 laps, not because conditions were any more dangerous that they are today but because it was just miserable.

CART, the sanctioning body at the time, radioed leader Al Unser Jr. and asked if he wanted to keep going. Unser, who was ahead by more than 30 seconds, said not particularly. So then they radioed Michael Andretti, who was running second, and asked him. “Did you ask Al?” said Andretti, and when told Unser didn’t mind stopping, Andretti said he was fine with that too.

So they threw the checkers and the race was over.

EARLIER

Michael Andretti, who owns four of the cars in the race, said he’s happy they have held off on starting it. He said the spray is so bad that his son Marco, who’s starting last, can’t see the front of his own car and that it’s too dangerous to start.

Race Control just announced that the planned standing start has been scrapped and the race will start with the cars lined up single file and rolling.

Once again, IndyCar is thinking of itself. This is not a club race, it is a professional racing series selling excitement and danger. They are taking away most of the danger with decisions like these and how exciting is a rolling, single-file, start?

As Tracy said, these drivers are paid the big bucks. Get going.

EARLIER

The race was red-flagged during the pace laps and the cars and drivers are sitting in the pits, waiting for IndyCar to decide what to do.

Ryan Briscoe just said that if they started the race now, with the drizzle, that there would be carnage. And then they just showed a weather radar. Said Paul Tracy:

“I don’t see conditions improving for the next four or five hours, so they are what they are. This is what the drivers get paid the big bucks for, so they should get at it. If the spray is so bad that a driver can’t see in front of him, he should slow down and open a gap so he can see,”

EARLIER

Director of Competition for IndyCar, Derrick Walker, just told TV (there are more than 100 reporters and photographers here but they always go to TV first) that the cars will be held in the pits for 10 minutes in hopes that conditions will improve.

After that, who knows? Oh, he did say that this will not be a complete 40-lap race but will now be a two-hour timed race. He also said that since the race had not started, the teams could work on the cars.

Meantime, the grandstands, that had been full, have pretty much emptied out. People were sitting with their raincoats or panchos on and their umbrellas open, waiting for the race to start. Whether they will return to their seats is the question.

EARLIER

Although the field has started on pace laps, the race control people have called for a red flag because of standing water on the course. The cars have gone to the pits.

This is typical of the IndyCar series and the people who are in charge. They just discovered this? It’s been drizzling for an hour. They just saw the puddles?

It’s a street course. There are going to be puddles. This is a surprise?

The teams have rain tires. It is raining. Does somebody have to tell them to put them on?

Jimmy Vasser, who runs KV Racing, says he doesn’t think the red flag is so much for the puddles but for the spray.

Tim Cindric, who runs Penske Racing, doesn’t know why the warmup was stopped. “Let’s get racing,” he told a TV interviewer a few moments ago.

EARLIER

We are less than 10 minutes away from the start and the rain that was supposed to be here at 10 this morning has finally arrived. It is not a downpour; it is a steady drizzle, however.

Paul Tracy just said on U.S. television that the circuit is a skating rink and that the drivers really have their work cut out for them.

This race is the first of two, full-points-paying races this weekend. Tomorrow will be a whole new program, with qualifying for the second race scheduled for 10 a.m. and the second race, as today, scheduled for 3:45 p.m.

There have been two “double-header” weekends previously – at Detroit and then Houston. This is the last of the double-headers.

Today’s race will feature a standing start. Tomorrow, they will go with the traditional rolling start.

By the way, congratulations to Tracy and Townsend Bell – colour commentators on
American TV - for putting on their seatbelts properly for a “lap of the track” segment recorded a day or two ago. Both were guilty at various times earlier in the season of  appearing not to be wearing seatbelts.

EARLIER

There are other races going on at the CNE today in addition to the headline Honda Indy.

In the Formula 1600 race – in which 28 cars started – Tristan DeGrand of Eureka, Mo., was the winner, with Jack Mitchell of Clarendon Hills, Ill., second and Chase Pelletier of Brampton, third.

In the Pirelli World Challenge, Nick Tandy, of Bedfordshire, England, was the winner, with Kuno Wittmer of Montreal second and Johnny O’Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga., third.

Wittmer, who finished second last week in the GT Le Mans class in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, had this to say afterward about his car.

“We wouldn’t be on this podium if it wasn’t for the awesome prep by the team. SRT Motorsports prepped a really, really nice Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R and the car was consistent the entire time.

“Even with the full course yellows we had, the tires had time to cool down and then bring them back up to temperature. It was quite simple because the machinery is just really nice to drive. Hats off to them. Without the prep work, I couldn’t have done it.

“During the race,  it was tough to catch the Porsche or at least stick to him. He was easily half a second quicker and on a blistering pace. At least I could gap, a little bit, the Cadillac, but barely. So, it was tough to hang on to [P2] today.

“I think that tomorrow, we have a pretty good chance for a race. I think a podium will be good, but a win will be better.”

Scott Hargrove of Vancouver, B.C., is another in a long line of really talented young Canadian racing drivers who are attracting attention.  He won the USF2000 series last year, is at the top (or near) it of the Pro Mazda Series – which is not racing at the Honda Indy this weekend, but should be – and won his fourth of five Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin Series races at the Ex this afternoon.

Marco Cirone of Toronto finished second and Santiago Creel was third.

Early in the race, when trying to pass leader Chris Green (driving, incidentally, for Pfaff Motorsports), Hargrove was balked and it took him another lap or two before he got past and into the lead, which he didn’t relinquish despite spinning at some point. I asked if the apparent block was fair.

“In that situation, when you come onto the main straight, you come out of the corner on the right and he stayed on the right; he didn’t move to go over there (to the left, to set up for Corner One). That’s where he was. I thought that was okay.

“Where it got really hairy was where the pit wall ended and I pulled out (from his slipstream) and he hit the brakes kinda before I pulled out. I shot out from behind him and pulled to the right and there must have been about a half an inch between us. That was the closest I’ve ever been in a GT3 car without hitting anybody. It was pretty hairy.

“I got beside him but he was able to hold onto the lead on the outside. I believe it was the next lap coming onto the backstretch. I was able to get the lead. Again, he came over as far as he could – I had a lane and an inch. That was all I needed to get by.

“We’re racing hard out there. We all trust each other and he’s going to leave me enough room. I would have done the same to him. I was happy with the way he raced. I was being as aggressive offensively as he was defensively.”

EARLIER

Rant No. 1: Weather forecasting is great entertainment but you can’t believe a word of it.

Thursday, the forecast for Friday through Sunday was ffor three great days of summer sunshine. Friday morning, there was a suggestion there might be a sprinkle late Saturday. By Friday night, there was going to be two days of rain.

At 8 this morning, the weather guy on CP 24 said rain by 10. It’s overcast, but it’s now nearly noon and nary a drop a drop has fallen around Toronto.

Suggestion: if you’re leaving the house (or apartment), look out the window. If it’s raining, take an umbrella; if it’s overcast, put one in your bag or purse. If the sun’s out, leave the umbrella at home. Never, repeat never, believe what the weather  people tell you.

BULLETIN! Canada’s most famous race-car driver, Paul Tracy, is going to take Toronto Mayor Rob Ford for a spin around the Honda Indy course this afternoon before the race.

That sounds like fun!

Meantime, Sebastien Bourdais has won the pole for today’s Honda Indy Toronto at Exhibition Place. Will Power will start second , Helio Castroneves third, Ryan Hunter-Reay fourth, Simon Pagenaud fifth and Tony Kanaan sixth.

The race will start at 3:45 p.m. Pre-race ceremonies will start at 3. Among the celebrities will be Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

EARLIER

James Hinchcliffe has missed IndyCar Racing’s Fast Six. The Verizon IndyCar Series uses a “knockout-style” method of qualifying, in that all 23 cars entered go out and set a time and that whittles the field down to 12. Then the 12 go out and whittle the field down to six, called the “Fast Six.” “Hinch” was eliminated in the second session, only able to set the ninth fastest time.

EARLIER

Qualifying to set the field for today’s (Saturday) first of two races this weekend is under way and Canadian James Hinchcliffe has survived the first cut and will now go out as one of 12 remaining in contention for the pole.

Hinchcliffe was third fastest, with Scott Dixon – who won both of these races a year ago, fastest in the first session.

FRIDAY LIVE BLOG: TWO CANADIANS HAVE WORK TO DO

Two Canadians know they have work to do if they hope to be successful in Saturday morning’s hour-long qualifying session to set the field for Saturday afternoon’s first of two Honda Indy Toronto races this weekend.

James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, the only Canadian driver in the 23-car field, finished fifth fastest in Friday afternoons practice session – which was not shabby – but he dropped two positions from the morning session in which was third.

Hinchcliffe turned a lap of the 1.755-mile circuit in 60.0937 seconds, a fraction behind the session’s fast time of 60.0084 set by Simon Pagenaud. Everybody’s dancing favourite Helio Castroneves was second fastest at 60.0218 seconds and Scott Dixon, who won both of these races last year, was third at 60.0769.

“(The car) is a handful,” said Hinchcliffe, who won three races in the series in 2013 but has been shut out so far this year.

“This track is always such a challenge for us setup-wise, and we’re seeing that again here today — even though we’re less than a tenth off the pace. It’s hard work out there trying to get that (fast) lap. The bumps, the surface changes… it makes it difficult to nail the set up.”

In true race-car driver fashion, Hinchcliffe then gave his sponsor - United Fiber & Data – a plug before saying the car needs work.

But from where we’re sitting, ya know, drivers are never happy at this track. You’re always looking for a little more.”

Pagenaud, who looked delighted with his pace at a post-practice media conference, said it’s always a challenge for drivers in Toronto because of the surface changes around the circuit.

“It’s difficult,” he said. “You go from asphalt to concrete in the corners – which can be like driving on ice – and back to asphalt and you have to be on your toes to keep control of the car. But it’s no different than it was last year so it’s no problem.”

The other Canadian who’s hoping for improvement is Lee Bentham of Richmond Hill, who’s employed as a driver coach by Ed Carpenter Racing, whose driver, Mike
Conway, finished 22nd.

Bentham won the Formula Atlantic Championship in 1998 and when his racing career stalled, he turned to coaching where he has tutored a number of drivers, including a certain James Hinchcliffe.

Like just about everybody on the Carpenter team, Bentham was somewhat down in the mouth after the second practice. Conway was 12th fastest in the morning session but slid seriously backwards in the afternoon – the last practice before qualifying and when teams and drivers are usually right down to the nitty-gritty.

“We can’t seem to find the car that Mike is satisfied with,” Bentham said in an interview. “I think he’s driving fine. It’s just a matter of finding the right combination.”

For his part, Conway pretty much said the obvious.

“We are not very competitive right now,” he said. “We haven’t got the car dialed in. We’ll have to try out a few things in qualifying on Saturday morning. We know where we need to improve with the car but we haven’t been able to do it just yet. We’ll work hard tonight to get a better setup.”

The Carpenter team is unique, in that it is the first team in the history of Indy car races to employ two drivers, Conway and team owner Ed Carpenter. Carpenter, whose background is oval racing, is more comfortable turning left. And Conway, an excellent road racer. was badly injured at Indianapolis three years ago and has refused to race on ovals since.

The arrangement suits them both but presents even more of a challenge of Bantham, who has to switch gears from coaching an oval race-driver like Carpenter at Iowa Speedway last weekend and a road racer like Conway this weekend in Toronto.

“But I can draw from my background,” Benthem said. “I was lucky enough in the Atlantic series to have raced at all the different venues – street, road course and ovals. It was a good blend of the schedule and I got experience on them all and I had success on them all.

“I understand the cadence, the difference, of how you go into a weekend and how you view doing a lap on a street course – where you have to attack, attack – vis-a-vis a lap on an oval, where you try to be as smooth as possible. I can draw from all that.”

Bentham said he’s very methodical when getting to a track and deciding how to coach.

“I usually break down down a track by sections of importance,” he said. “ Obviously getting into and out of turns one and two is a huge chunk of the track. And getting the speed down Lake Shore to be able to be in a position to pass.

“The rhythm section – turns 8 to 10 – are also crucial for a good lap time. It’s a real give-and-take track so you have to come in very methodical and understand where you’re going to get your speed from and try to capitalize on that.

“At the same time, it’s a street course so it takes just short of a brute force mentality as well to go fast. ”

Bentham said that because the Carpenter team is a small operation with just one car, he thinks of himself as the “second car.”

“Obviously being with Ed since the beginning - I got to know his nuances and what he needs out of me and there’s a good information flow there – he’s very good on the ovals. I’m the second-car program in the team; we don’t have a real second car but I try to provide as much information as I can and draw from that to help Ed out on the ovals and then switching gears again with Mike.

“It’s been interesting getting to know him for the course of this year and again it’s a totally different personality so I find myself – I guess the best way to put it is in order to deal with all the different drivers I don’t have any one specific way that I come in and do things.

“I think some coaches have heard in the past that their way would be, ‘This is the way it’s done; this is the way you have to do it and that’s it.’ Whereas when I’m dealing with different drivers I find it’s better if I come to the table with a completely open mind and basically analyze the driver, what is their strong suits, what are their weaknesses, what do they need the most from me.

“It kind of helps generate a direction for us to go.

“Some drivers may need more help discussing things with engineering, or bridging that gap. Sometimes it’s just needing help with the car, how it’s doing out on the track. Sometimes it’s with the line – and that changes from driver to driver quite a bit so I find if I keep an open mind I can generate a program that best suits the driver. ”

The first of two Honda Indy Toronto races will go to the post at 3:45 p.m. (TV at Sportsnet Ontario), with the pre-race show and ceremonies starting at 3. Qualifying will be held at 10 a.m.

The entire program will be repeated Sunday, with qualifying at 10 a.m. and racing at 3:45. Support races – Formula 1600, Pirelli World Challenge, USF2000 and Indy Lights – start at 9 a.m. both days.

 EARLIER

Good afternoon from the Honda Indy Toronto. It’s Fan Friday – or Free Friday – and as the photo at the top of this blog reveals, there are thousands of people on the grounds of the CNE.

No admission was charged but those who entered were asked to make a donation in support of Make-A-Wish Canada. The total raised will be matched by the Honda Dealers of Ontario.

As happens with live blogs, you have to read them from the bottom, so down you go.

Simon Pagenaud was fastest in second practice with Helio Castroneves second and Scott Dixon third. Dixon won both these races a year ago. Will Power was next and James Hinchcliffe, our hometown hero from Oakville, was fifth.

EARLIER

Breaking News: Paul Tracy, arguably still Canada’s best-known racing star, is on the grounds and being followed around by an army of autograph hunters. Tracy will be working for the NBC Sports Network as a colour commentator this weekend but more important, it was announced awhile ago that he will be driving a truck in the Stadium Super Trucks races Saturday and Sunday. Not a lot of speed, but the trucks ride up over ramps and bounce around and it’s pretty spectacular and great fun.

Speaking of TV, Sportnet will be televising both Honda Indy races Saturday and Sunday – pretty much on the full Sportsnet network, making the coverage nationwide.

Sportsnet will have Rob Faulds anchoring with retired racer Bill Adam doing the colour. Todd Lewis will be in the pits. Coverage begins both days at 3 p.m. with the pre-racing show. The green flag will start the race at or about 3:45 p.m. both days.

By the way, the race Saturday will feature a standing start while a traditional rolling start will be used Sunday.

EARLIER

Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe finished third in the speed department when the cars and stars of the Verizon IndyCar Series first went out on the track this morning. First practice is also a bit of a crapshoot, however, and not really an indication of how well everybody is performing.

Why? Because first practice is a reconnaissance session to make sure all hoses are clamped on correctly (the revolutionary Delta Wing sports car was badly damaged by fire at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last Friday after a fuel line pulled loose) and all belts are working properly. The car’s balance is checked. And so-on.

The drivers will get down to business this afternoon to prepare their cars for the first qualifying session Saturday morning to set the field for the first Honda Indy
Toronto race of the weekend, which goes to the post at 3:45 p.m. Saturday.

For the record, Josef Newgarden set fastest time Friday morning with Will Power second and Hinchcliffe third.  Helio Castroneves was fourth and Carlos Muoz fifth. Carlos Huerta, who won the first race of the Houston double-header three weeks ago, was slowest of the 23 cars that took time.

The Honda Indy Toronto, which started in 1986 as the Molson Indy and has been held every year since except one, has always been run in July.

But in 2015, because of a conflict with the Pan Am Games that will kick off on July 10, the race will be held in June.

Exactly which weekend in June is the question.

“Everybody has been aware of this, and working on a solution, for three years,” Honda Indy president Charlie Johnstone said Friday. “We can’t push into August because there wouldn’t be enough time between the end of the games and the opening of the Exhbition to build the facility, hold the event, and tear it all down. Pushing back into June is our only option.”

This year’s schedule had three race weekend in June – Detroit, Fort Worth, Tex., and Houston with two open weekends between Forth Worth and Houston. The Toronto race could be inserted there.

But schedules change, usually,  from year-to-year and there are suggestions – completely unconfirmed – that the race will win up being promoted on the same weekend as the Grand Prix du Canada in Montreal. The GP traditionally is held on the first or second weekend of June, depending on how the calendar falls.

One way or another, the Honda Indy Toronto will be held.

As race co-owner (with Kim Green) Kevin Savoree said: “Toronto is too important a market for IndyCar not to find a place for it.”

There are a number of unemployed Indy car drivers on site (Nelson Philippe, for one) and among them is Buddy Rice, who is coaching Team Penske president Tim Cindric’s son Austin on the finer points of race-driving.

Rice, of Phoenix, is an Indy 500 winner and it is appalling that he is walking when there are some marginal talents employed in the IndyCar series and out on the track because they either have sponsorship or family money to pay for their rides.

“I have some sports car races coming up, but there’s nothing for me here,” Rice said. Which is a real shame.

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