Conway: I had to be calm and seize my moment

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TORONTO – He only led seven laps – one less than he had combined this season – but Mike Conway nailed his timing Sunday en route to his win in the second race of the Honda Indy Toronto weekend for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Conway started 11th in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet but made the call on Lap 43 to switch from wet weather tires onto slicks. That ultimately proved the winning call as the quiet but talented Englishman delivered his second win of the year for Ed Carpenter Racing.

“The conditions today were really tricky, with the rain and dry in places,” Conway said post-race. “I knew I just didn’t want to push too hard or risk anything at that point and I knew people were going to try to get by me, and I was going to fight as much as I could but not have the chance of going off.

“So I had to play it smart and make the moves when I could and you could see the cars going off and making mistakes, so easy to do here in a tenth of a second too late on the brakes, something can easily go wrong. So I had to be calm and seize my moment.”

Few drivers might have been better prepared for a single day doubleheader quite like Conway, who along with his open-wheel duties this year is Toyota Racing’s official reserve driver in the FIA World Endurance Championship. He hasn’t raced much this year due to his planned FIA WEC race program, an LMP2 effort with Millennium Racing, was halted preseason due to funding woes.

But Conway could have looked at Sunday’s pair of races in Toronto as separate stints in an endurance race, as he’s dovetailed sports car racing along with his road and street course starts in IndyCar since 2013. Essentially it was one full stint, a four-hour or so break, and then back in the car for race two.

“I suppose with having a seat in an endurance car, maybe it’s pretty helpful, the changing conditions, but IndyCar is the same thing. And these races are so tricky,” he said. “The first half of the race you’ve got to be smart really and it’s so true, you’ve got to not make any mistakes and let the race come to you a little bit, and it seems to happen that way.”

If ECR has been opportunistic, they certainly haven’t missed their chances to win. Combined, the team’s third win between Conway and Ed Carpenter equals them with Andretti Autosport for the second most number of wins this year. Only Team Penske, with four wins between its three drivers, has more this season in IndyCar.

“We had won before as a team, so I personally felt like we had better cars on road and street courses than what I was able to show,” Carpenter explained. “The cars were better than I was.

“We’re trying to grow this for the team and get results for our partners, and it’s been nice to be able to do that more consistently so far this year,” he added. “Mike’s one hell of a racer. It’s about him leading races. When you get him in position, when we do a good enough job or today him making the right call, when he gets in those positions he elevates his game and rises to the occasion.”

They did that to cap off the Toronto weekend.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden
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MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2015. Next up on the heels of another breakout year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently re-signed with CFH Racing for 2016.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 13th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 20 Laps Led, 10.7 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

Josef Newgarden’s fourth year in the Verizon IndyCar Series was firmly, and without question, the year he arrived as the series’ biggest rising star. It followed on nicely after three prior years where he seemed to hit almost all the high points at various stages, but didn’t put together a fully complete season.

Perhaps some of that was due to having a teammate for the first time in his career, although it was not the same driver throughout the year – it was split between Luca Filippi and Ed Carpenter depending on the circuit. Still, there was always a second set of data to study and analyze. Even better, there was a Chevrolet in the back of his car for the first time, and that likely helped matters a bit. And retaining Jeremy Milless as his engineer continued to pay dividends; you can’t teach chemistry and it’s apparent these two have it.

It spoke volumes that in qualifying, Newgarden was the single fastest driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi camps all season. An average starting position of 8.4 was not only a career best, but best in the field behind six combined drivers from the two established “super teams.” Only at Detroit, where he had a nightmare weekend and at Texas, where Carpenter admitted the team missed the setup, did he start outside the top 12.

Yet it was in the races where again, he shone brightest. The Barber win was as dominant as it was overdue and deserved. The Toronto win – if a bit lucky due to when the cautions and pit stop cycle fell – was also well executed. Then the drives on the ovals at Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono were excellent.

Far too often though, still, pit stops proved Newgarden’s undoing. Mid-Ohio was a sore spot again, and Sonoma in particular was the nadir. The other tough results races, notably at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at Fontana, came through mistakes not of his own doing. Really only Detroit was a weekend he’d like to have back.

But he led the most laps in the field, he finally broke through to win, and firmly lived up to the hype and potential that’s been building for years. If you’ve been paying attention more than just this year though, Newgarden’s 2015 season will have come as no surprise.