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What to watch for at the Toronto Indy double header this weekend

Scott Dixon won both races of the double header at last year’s Toronto Indy.

Michelle Siu/THE CANADIAN PRESS

On tap this week:

  • Ganassi looking to repeat 2013 2inTO success
  • Hinchcliffe needs to be loose
  • F1's policemen get it wrong
  • Toronto's danger zones
  • Quote of the Week: Dixon praises sneakiness
  • Young guns on display in Toronto

With four IndyCar wins in the past six races in Toronto, the Ganassi team heads to the streets of Exhibition Place hoping past success will help deliver its first victory of 2014.

The twin bill in Toronto comes a week after the team came agonizingly close to breaking its 14-race winless streak in Iowa, where Tony Kanaan dominated but lost the lead with two laps to go to eventual winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. The Andretti driver pitted for tires during a late caution and used the new rubber to sweep past on the penultimate lap for the win.

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"We dominated the last two races – for one reason or the other, we didn't win – but to win a race, you got to be up front and that's what we've been doing," said 2012 Indianapolis 500 winner Kanaan, who joined Ganassi this year.

"A win is around the corner, for sure. We're going to Toronto, a race that [Scott] Dixon dominated last year, both doubleheaders. We have high hopes there, trying to finish the season on a high note."

It was a crushing end for the team that is mired in its longest winless drought in a decade. The team went 24 races spanning the 2004 and 2005 seasons in the old Indy Racing League campaigns without tasting victory.

That certainly wasn't the case last year, where Toronto played a huge role in Dixon securing his third IndyCar title after the New Zealand native swept both ends of the inaugural "2inTO" doubleheader. He went from fourth in the title standings going into Toronto to second by the end of the weekend, and began a run that saw him finish the year 27 points ahead of the Brazilian.

The loss of Dario Franchitti may be the reason for the recent troubles at Ganassi, which for the first time since that disappointing 2005 season, doesn't have a driver in the thick of the IndyCar title fight.

The four-time IndyCar champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was forced out of the cockpit after a horrifying crash in Houston last season that left him with a severe concussion and a badly broken ankle.

Although he has taken on a new role with the Ganassi outfit as an advisor, many inside the team wouldn't mind having the talented Scot back in the car for Toronto where his three career win record is second only to Michael Andretti's incredible seven.

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By the Numbers: In his four starts at home in IndyCar, Andretti driver James Hinchcliffe has posted an average finish of 16th. Not exactly the kind of numbers the 27-year-old from nearby Oakville wants to celebrate.

"Toronto is probably the big question mark," Hinchcliffe said. "Historically even though we have been strong on street courses, Toronto has not been the strongest track for our team. I think we have made some gains in the past 12 months that will definitely help us there."

The good news is that Hinchcliffe is coming off a strong sixth-place outing in Iowa on Saturday, he's put in strong performances on street circuits this year, even if the results haven't always come, and the doubleheader format gives him two shots to put in a good finish at home rather than one.

The bad news is that Hinchcliffe always seems to be the driver who always gets caught out by an untimely caution or is taken out by another driver when things are going well.

And he would love more than anything to reward his hometown fans, Hinchcliffe must also not let the circus that is Toronto get into his head and take over his weekend. He will be leaning on the team and his family for support and to help keep things in check.

"It's so easy to let that stuff get to you," Hinchcliffe said.

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"As an athlete who gets so much support from Canada, I just want so badly to deliver a good result for all the people who cheer for you and support you and show you that kind of love. It's tough to block that out, but you really have to because there's no doubt that a loose driver is a fast driver."

Random Thoughts: When a kid wants to do something really dumb because everyone else is doing it, parents often ask their offspring if they would jump off a bridge after all their friends.

Turn that idea on its ear and blindly let your kids emulate dangerous behaviour and you likely won't win any parenting awards, unless the trophies are being given out by Formula One's governing body.

In what can only be described as a dangerous precedent, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) ruled that Ferrari's Kimi Räikkönen should not be punished for causing an opening lap accident in the British Grand Prix a week ago because all his driver friends would have done it too.

According to Autosport, the FIA decided not to punish the Ferrari driver because it believes that any other driver would have rejoined the track in the same manner.

The decision flies in the face of article 20.2 of F1's Sporting Regulations that allows a driver to rejoin after leaving the track limits, but "this may only be done when it is safe to do so" among other things.

Räikkönen ran wide at the Aintree Turn and into the grass on the first lap of the British Grand Prix before literally leaping headlong into danger when his car hit a rain gulley alongside the track as he attempted to rejoin the action.

Although Räikkönen's car did slow from 230 km/h on its trajectory through the grass, it had enough speed to get air and cause him to lose control. The Ferrari spun into an Armco barrier at to 160 km/h before bouncing onto the track directly into the path of Felipe Massa's Williams car.

Only a razor sharp reaction by Massa — the Brazilian threw out an anchor and intentionally spun his car to avoid a massive accident — prevented serious injury. Nevertheless, the end result was a red-flagged race to repair the barrier, Massa and Räikkönen retiring, and several other cars damaged after being showered with debris from the accident. The front suspension of Max Chilton's Marussia was hit by an errant tire and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean reported damage to his visor after it was struck by something flying off the Ferrari.

Technically Speaking: Although the temporary street circuit at Exhibition Place only has four hard braking zones, each comes right after a high speed section, which makes executing them well critical to success.

Coincidently, two of the hard braking zones — Turns 1 and 3 — are also prime passing zones on the 11-turn circuit, meaning they are often the scene of mangled cars and shattered carbon fibre. In the past four IndyCar tilts at Exhibition Place, a total of 28 cars have been involved in accidents in these two turns.

And that kind of carnage goes for all the racing series on track this weekend in Toronto, not just the top flight IndyCars.

Like most accidents, speed is always a factor. The start-finish straight before the first turn sees the drivers hit almost 260 km/h before they need to get on the brakes to negotiate the sweeping right-hand corner. Complicating things are some nasty bumps in the barking zone and an ice-like slippery concrete patch right in the middle of the turn that threatens to send drivers sliding into the wall. Get the first corner wrong and you'll find yourself tumbling down the leaderboard on the long and fast Lakeshore Boulevard straight that follows the kink called Turn 2.

Things don't get any better in the run to Turn 3, the prime overtaking area where much of the action happens in Toronto. Drivers trying to outduel a rival often find their car's nose buried in the tire barrier on the outside of the turn. But it's the deceleration that makes Turn 3 difficult, because the cars slow from about 280 km/h on the straight to 70 km/h for the 90-degree turn in about less than 1.5 times the length of a football field with four times gravity pushing them forward in their seat.

There is one heavier braking zone at Turn 8 where the cars go from 240 km/h mph to about 100 km/h mph in less than two seconds, but passes aren't common there.

Quote of the Week: "Sneaky little buggers they are. I couldn't believe it. Good strategy and credit obviously to Andretti and [Ryan] Hunter-Reay taking the win there."

— IndyCar driver Scott Dixon, commenting on Ryan Hunter-Reay's gamble to pit for new tires under caution with 16 laps to go at the Iowa Speedway, a move that allowed the Andretti driver to go from 10th to first and steal a win from Dixon's Ganassi teammate Tony Kanaan, who led 247 of the race's 300 laps.

The Last Word: While often overlooked during the Honda Indy weekend, race fans might want to keep an eye on the undercard of the big race, which features one of Canada's up-and-coming talents, Scott Hargrove.

The Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin points leader Hargrove has three wins in four starts this year. But the Porsche series isn't even the 2013 USF2000 champion's day job. The 19-year-old's real job is in the "Road to Indy" program with his seat in the Pro Mazda Series, partially funded through a prize earned by taking the F200 title last year. Hargrove has not disappointed, with the Pro Mazda rookie lying second overall in points after nine races, with three wins, seven podiums and one pole. With five races left in the season, Hargrove is 17 points behind leader Spencer Pigot, 20, of Orlando Fla. Drivers get 30 points for a win.

In addition to Hargrove, several promising young Canadian drivers will be featured in the Toyo Tires F1600 Championship race, including 18-year-old Chase Pelletier who is second overall in the points standings coming into Toronto. Pelletier has been racing with diabetes since he was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 10.

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About the Author
Motorsports columnist

There's an old saying about timing being everything in racing and Jeff Pappone's career as a motorsport correspondent shows that it also applies to journalists covering the sport too. More

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