x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Franchitti back on top after Toronto triumph

The Scotsman overcomes a slow first pit-stop to fight back through the field in his Ganassi car.

Dario Franchitti leads Ryan Briscoe's Penske  during Sunday's Indycar race in Toronto, which the Briton won for his third success of the season. He now leads the championship standings.
Dario Franchitti leads Ryan Briscoe's Penske during Sunday's Indycar race in Toronto, which the Briton won for his third success of the season. He now leads the championship standings.

Dario Franchitti put himself back on top of the title standings in the IndyCar Championship series with a composed drive to victory in Sunday's race in Toronto. The Scotsman, who had started from pole position, overcame a slow first pit-stop to fight back through the field in his Ganassi car, taking the lead of the 85-lap race for good on lap 65 when he passed the Penske of Helio Castroneves.

It was his third victory of the season and moves him back ahead of his Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon by two points, after the New Zealander could do no better than fourth place after suffering problems of his own. A delighted Franchitti, whose victory was his third in Toronto but first for 10 years, said: "It was a tough race. "In the middle of the race, I thought we were really going to struggle to get a good result.

"Through good strategy, a fast car and pushing like hell, we got to there." The drama had begun at the Canadian road course before the racing had even officially begun with the Penske of Will Power and the Newman/Haas car of Graham Rahal touching on the formation lap, leaving Power with a puncture and Rahal with a broken front wing, while Ryan Briscoe's Penske also picked up a puncture. Franchitti led the opening stint from the Canadian driver Alex Tagliani and pulled out a small advantage despite two full course yellow periods for minor incidents involving Dan Wheldon, Richard Antinucci and Ed Carpenter bunching the pack up.

A problem with one of the tyre changes at the first stop delayed Franchitti and saw him fall down the order, leaving the late-stopping Tagliani in front of fellow Canadian Paul Tracy, who had driven sensationally to move up from 15th at the start. Tagliani and Tracy looked well placed to challenge for a surprise home victory until a collision between Rahal and Carpenter brought out the safety car again, and both lost ground as they had to pit under yellow flags.

Castroneves led at the restart on lap 65 and Franchitti immediately passed him for the lead at the first corner. But there was no such joy for Tracy, who tried to follow through a lap later only to hit the Brazilian, breaking the rear suspension of the Penske and leaving his CV car in the wall. At the front Franchitti was able to cruise home, and he said his biggest concern had been not driving too quickly in the final laps.

"The track seemed to get a lot faster towards the end," he said. "I did my fastest lap on my second-to-last lap, and I wasn't pushing hard. I thought, 'I don't want to push any harder because if I do my fastest lap on the last lap of the race I'll get in trouble from the guys pushing too hard." Briscoe and Power recovered from their early problems to finish second and third, while Dixon passed Justin Wilson at the final restart to take fourth place after his hopes of victory had been wrecked by having to pit under yellow at the final pit-stops, thus losing track position.

Briscoe was relieved with his high placing after his early problems, and said that he had enjoyed battling back through the field. "That really put us back," he said. "We made some pretty dramatic changes to the car coming into the race. "We just had our fingers crossed going into it. The car felt awesome and we were able to put in some really good lap times. "It was a fun race with lots of passing going on."

Briscoe is now 13 points adrift of Franchitti in the standings. Danica Patrick was the highest of the Andretti Green cars in sixth spot, ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay's Foyt. The next race in the season is in Edmonton on July 26. gcaygill@thenational.ae