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Toronto race ends in controversy, Dixon victory

The SportsXchange

TORONTO -- The storyline for the first race in the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader weekend was supposed to be the introduction of standing starts for the first time in IndyCar Series history.

Instead, the standing start was aborted at the last second and Scott Dixon's 31st career Indy-car victory was overshadowed by a controversial blocking penalty assessed against his teammate, four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, that appeared to cost the Scotsman his third-place finish after he had already celebrated the result with the top finishers.

Franchitti crossed the line in third place behind Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais, but as he was spraying champagne on the podium, temporary race director Brian Barnhart announced that Franchitti would be penalized by 25 seconds for blocking Team Penske's Will Power on the last lap, dropping him to 13th place.

Andretti Autosport's Marco Andretti inherited third place. However, IndyCar released a statement 2 1/2 half hours later reinstating Franchitti's third-place finish.

"After the race, IndyCar officials met with Dario Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi Racing team members to further review the blocking penalty issued on the final lap of today's Honda Indy Toronto," the statement read. "The team presented car data showing steering trace and braking points from the Lap 85 incident with the No. 12 car driven by Will Power. The group also viewed additional video. Upon further review, IndyCar has reinstated No. 10 Franchitti to his original third place finishing position."

That put the spotlight back on Dixon, who celebrated with Franchitti and Bourdais on the podium on a day when he moved into a tie for seventh in career wins with 31 in the series.

A.J. Foyt is Indy-car racing's career leader with 67 victories.

"I'm excited about that," Dixon said. "It's kind of crazy because I respect those guys on the list so much. I watched them when I was younger and to be on list with names like Unser, Andretti and Foyt is pretty humbling.

"It's exciting, but I think the time to look back on those things is when you're done with your career. We've got to focus on today and tomorrow and what's ahead."

Coming on the heels of his July 7 win at Pocono Raceway, Dixon is the first IndyCar driver to post back-to-back race wins in 2013. More important, he trimmed 22 points off championship leader Helio Castroneves' advantage after the Brazilian finished sixth in the race.

Castroneves extended his lead to 39 points in the standings over defending IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had a frustrating day in Toronto that included two stalls during pit stops and a late-race incident with his Andretti Autosport teammate EJ Viso that dropped him to 18th place at the flag.

Dixon is now third in the standings, just four points behind Hunter-Reay and 43 points behind Castroneves.

"That was an afternoon of waiting patiently trying to get the most we could get out of it," Dixon said. "The car was fantastic.

"It was exactly what we needed. Now we need to keep this momentum going."

After months of hype, the introduction of standing starts was delayed seven weeks from IndyCar's Detroit event to Toronto, then aborted Saturday when Josef Newgarden's Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing entry stalled on the grid. A hearty chorus of boos erupted from the crowd when the switch to a rolling start was announced.

However, most of the drivers admitted to being relieved that the experimental procedure was waved off, citing a lack of time to practice getting their cars off the grid using a tricky hand-operated clutch.

"I think it's been a bit rushed and I don't think the system has been built for it," Dixon said. "The cars are pretty tricky, it's easy to stall, and hard to set the (clutch) bite point. I'm on the fence, but I think it was probably a pretty good decision.""

Once the race got under way, Franchitti led from pole and pulled out to a 1.5-second gap. But by Lap 15, Bourdais started to eat into Franchitti's slim lead, and Franchitti suddenly dropped to fourth place in the space of three corners on Lap 21 as he was slowed by worn rear tires.

After the first round of scheduled pit stops, Power emerged in the lead. Power, who was trying to end a 22-race winless streak, led the most laps but fell to a 15th-place finish when he crashed trying to pass Franchitti on the penultimate lap.

Franchitti appeared to hold a steady line on the slightly curved back straight of the 1.75-mile Toronto street circuit, but Power's car touched the inside wall and glanced off Franchitti's car before sliding into a tire wall at the exit of Turn 3.

Dixon had avoided contact with Power when Power tried to make a similar move on him at the same place earlier in the race.

"I don't know where (Power] thought he was going on that late brake pass he tried to pull off," Dixon said. "Luckily, I saw him coming and I gave him a bit of room so he didn't take us out."

Barnhart, who was filling in for race director Beaux Barfield after a personal issue prevented Barfield from traveling to Canada, assessed the controversial penalty to Franchitti about 20 minutes after the finish of the race.

Franchitti was furious after learning of the penalty.

"It's a load of crap, the call," he said. "Will was out of control, he bounced off the wall, then bounced off me and went straight on. He did the same to Scott earlier in the race and I didn't defend the corner any differently that anyone else did all day. It's just very frustrating."

Most observers believed that Franchitti did not deserve a blocking penalty, pointing out that Takuma Sato was not sanctioned after making far more blatant blocking moves in the final laps of IndyCar's race in Sao Paulo, Brazil in early May.

"You could call that a block, but it's so minute," former Indy car star Paul Tracy, who was calling the race for Canadian television. "It's a tough call. It's controversial, but Barnhart is no stranger to controversy at all."

Barnhart, who was the IndyCar Series' top race official from 1997 to 2011, gained notoriety for micromanaging the rules and making controversial calls. Those include mandating a restart on a wet track at New Hampshire International Speedway and calling a borderline blocking foul on Castroneves that cost him a win at Edmonton during his final season as chief steward.

Barnhart was already under scrutiny on Saturday for a Lap 70 restart when Bourdais took the lead from Dixon as the New Zealander appeared to hesitate approaching the green flag. Barnhart reviewed the restart and chose not to impose a penalty on Bourdais.

It was a moot point, because Dixon passed Bourdais for the lead a few laps later.

"(That) restart was a complete joke in my view," Dixon said. "Bourdais definitely jumped. It was the same thing Hunter-Reay did on [Ryan] Briscoe last year at Baltimore. We've discussed it so many times in meetings that the leader crosses the line first. Obviously the flagman isn't watching either.

"I hate dwelling on bad things, but it's a point that needs to be addressed."

Toronto is the second of three doubleheader weekends for the IndyCar Series this year. At Detroit in early June, the twin races were won by Mike Conway and Simon Pagenaud.

Dixon will win a $100,000 bonus from Sonax car care products if he wins the Sunday race in Toronto. He'll bhe starting from the pole based on a qualifying session held Saturday morning before Race 1.

The final doubleheader of the season occurs Oct. 5-6 in Houston.

"That's kind of the tough part of these doubleheaders," Dixon said. "If you had a bad day, you're going to try and take it out on someone tomorrow.

"It's going to be typical Toronto -- a lot of action, a lot of passing, and probably a lot more aggression."
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