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Two-race weekend forces Indy crews desperate for points to adapt on the fly

Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe passes Princes' Gates during the practice session for the Toronto Indy in Toronto on Friday July 12 , 2013.


When Indy car drivers step out of their machines after a race, muscles are throbbing, elbows are bleeding, hands are blistered. The drivers are hot, dehydrated and mentally drained.

Usually, they have at least a week to recover. But this weekend at the Honda Indy Toronto, they're going to get right back into those cars and race for big points the very next day.

The "2inTO" will be the second of three doubleheaders making their debut this season on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule. Drivers will compete in a pair of 85-lap races – one Saturday, one Sunday – on the technically gruelling 2.824-kilometre street circuit snaking around Exhibition Place, with all of its tricky concrete patches and complex turns. In theory, it should provide a jam-packed weekend of racing and double the opportunity to score points toward the overall series title. But drivers and their crews say it also poses unique challenges.

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Teams have already experienced a two-race weekend this season, in Detroit. The third will be later this summer in Baltimore. If a driver wins both Toronto races, that car would collect a $50,000 bonus.

"In Detroit, it seemed like in Race 2, there were a lot of guys making mental mistakes, and that's a side factor of fatigue," American driver Josef Newgarden said. "It's the mental side you really need to watch out for. When you get dehydrated, that affects your mental side. There were almost no mistakes in Race 1, but then in Race 2, people were hitting each other, going to the wall, lots of silly stuff. If they mess up the first race, often drivers get crazy aggressive in the second. You have to watch out for people who had a bad race. It's a whole different story in Race 2."

James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., said rehydrating properly between races – especially on a hot Toronto weekend – is a challenge. He said there was extra emphasis on physical training before this two-race weekend, and many drivers have trainers and physiotherapists to help with recuperation between races.

"In Toronto, this is a particularly physical street circuit and you're very beat up on Monday typically," Hinchcliffe said. "You're dehydrated, you have blisters because of the bumps [on the course], and you would normally have at least a week to recover, but in this case, you have a matter of hours."

The crews usually have a week to tear apart a car and rebuild it for the next race, and now they have to do it overnight. They need enough equipment to carry them through two races. They must also manage the allotment of tires given to them for the entire weekend, which includes Friday's practice and qualifying run, Saturday's practice session (which also serves as a qualifier for Sunday) and the races on both Saturday and Sunday.

"We don't have decades worth of experience on how to deal with this, so there will be a lot of guys in this race trying to figure out what to do and you're going to see a bunch of different tire strategies," Hinchcliffe said. "It will be interesting on Sunday to see who nails that."

A big crash or equipment failure in the first race was a common concern.

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"We hope things go smoothly on Saturday because there isn't much time to solve any big problems," said Larry Foyt, team director for the car of Japanese driver Takuma Sato. "In Detroit, everyone drove quite gentlemanly on Saturday, but on Sunday all hell broke loose, so I'll be curious to see if everyone is more conservative on the Saturday. You just really want to get through Saturday's race. You could look at is as, 'Hey, let's try to win one and just get a decent finish in the next one,' especially when it comes to managing your tire strategy."

Saturday's race will also feature IndyCar's first standing start since 2008, while Sunday's will feature the traditional rolling start. The doubleheader offers many points to help a driver move up the packed scoreboard, which has Brazil's Helio Castroneves on top, followed closely by Americans Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti. Hinchcliffe is fifth.

"Two races is very draining on everyone involved," Hinchcliffe said, "but if it puts on a good show for the fans and they like it, we're going to do it. Because they are why we're here."

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Sports reporter

Based in Toronto, Rachel Brady writes on a number of sports for The Globe and Mail, including football, tennis and women's hockey. More


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