Conway bags second Toronto win thanks to pit gamble, great restart (VIDEO)

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TORONTO – A race otherwise dominated by the Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing squads saw the single-car Ed Carpenter Racing steal a win in Toronto. Mike Conway won his second, and ECR’s third race of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season in the second of Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader races.

Perhaps it was fitting that tire strategy played a key part in Firestone’s 250th career victory in IndyCars.

Conway’s call to move the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet onto dry weather Firestone slicks on Lap 44, just prior to a caution flag, proved the deciding factor as the quiet but talented Englishman took control of the race in the waning stages when the previously damp track began to dry.

Conway started 11th in the race and was in fifth at the point of the second-to-last restart on Lap 49. But as he was on the dries with the top four in front of him – Justin Wilson, Josef Newgarden, Carlos Huertas and Luca Filippi – still gambling on wet weather tires and further cautions, Conway passed them all by Lap 51.

The ultimate winning move came when Conway passed Wilson exiting Turn 6, the sweeping right-hander. A caution on Lap 51 for a multi-car incident at Turn 3 stopped the race once again.

“I knew as soon as I could see part of a dry line I’d come in,” Conway told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast in victory lane. “From there we just took off. I knew we had to cover it. We had good fun out there.”

The race had one final restart after INDYCAR – which opted to utilize a timed race of 80 minutes instead of the scheduled 65 laps, as there was another scheduled support race just after 6 p.m. ET at the Exhibition Place street circuit – threw a red flag following the Lap 51 incident, which began following contact between Huertas and Charlie Kimball.

After the restart, which occurred on Lap 54, Conway streaked away from the rest of the field to the victory.

Despite the win, Conway’s team owner Ed Carpenter wasn’t a fan of the red flag call.

“I can’t say that I like it,” Carpenter told NBCSN. “It worked out. But how many times are you gonna go red. You don’t seem to know what’s going on as a competitor.”

Another of the drivers that had switched onto dries, Tony Kanaan, made it up to second in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, with Team Penske’s Will Power coming home third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Both races featured all-Chevrolet podium sweeps.

Kimball, who survived the Turn 3 fracas, finished fourth in the No. 83 Levemir FlexTouch Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Takuma Sato scored a desperately needed fifth place in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda. Sato broke a string of nine consecutive races finishing 18th or worse.

The four who gambled on wets fell to 10th or worse. Wilson was 10th, Newgarden 13th, Huertas 15th and Filippi 16th – the latter earning a 30-second penalty post-race for doing work in a closed pit.

Points leader Helio Castroneves struggled home to 12th and suffered late race wing damage. He’ll retain the points lead, but Power has closed after this result.

Meanwhile race one winner Sebastien Bourdais failed to make much headway from 10th on the grid, and ended ninth in race two.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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