Toronto IndyCar postscript
The unassuming Kiwi had good reason to think that.
The season had to that point been a forgettable one by the lofty standards of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Dixon had accounted for the team's lone podium finish (2nd, Barber). An engine change penalty Saturday evening meant the Kiwi would start the race 17th. Also, the team's performance on oval tracks had been woeful so far in 2013 with the best finish between Dixon and teammates Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball being sixth.
Further, two weeks before the team had one of the worst weekends in its history at Iowa Speedway, as Dixon finished16th, Franchitti 20th and Kimball 21st.
Fast forward to yesterday's second race of the doubleheader at the Honda Indy Toronto and the entire complexion of the 2013 Izod IndyCar Series, and worldview of Dixon and Ganassi Racing has changed. Dixon followed up the Ganassi one-two-three podium sweep at Pocono with two victories in this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader, which also earned him the $100,000 Sonax Perfect Finish Award.
Perhaps, most important, a championship run, which seemed inconceivable three weeks ago after Iowa, is suddenly very much alive. Dixon now sits a mere 29 points behind championship leader Helio Castroneves. And considering Dixon dominated at Toronto, a track in which he had previously never scored a podium, has to be concerning for the rest of the field. Remember, the next round is at Mid-Ohio, where Dixon has won four of the last six races.
Let's take a look at some of the other stories from this weekend's trip to Exhibition Place.
The Happiest Man in Toronto:
Although, Dixon dominated the proceedings, judging from reaction, no one seemed happier at Exhibition Place than Dragon Racing owner Jay Penske.
Of course, it’s been a tough go for Dragon in 2013. The team installed Tom Brown as engineer on Sebastien Bourdais’ car before the Pocono race. And strangely, prior to the Toronto round, Penske replaced all but two of the crewmen on Sebastian Saavedra’s team.
While Saavedra continued to struggle, Bourdais put the lead Dragon car on the podium both days, finishing second Saturday, and third Sunday. All the while, the typically more-muted Penske was fist-pumping, pounding the pit wall in delight, and seemingly displaying a little more spring in his step than usual, as Bourdais ran near the front all weekend.
Of course, it was when Bourdais earned his first Indy car podium finish in nearly six years that things really got interesting.
For us Indy car history dweebs, the victory podium of Saturday's race had the chance to be an iconic moment. With the win Saturday, Dixon had tied Paul Tracy, Sebastien Bourdais, and Dario Franchitti for seventh-place on the all-time wins list with 31. Plus, joining him on the podium were Bourdais in second, and Franchitti, who finished third.
Yes, there you had it: the three winningest active drivers, and three of the top-10 winningest drivers in IndyCar history sharing a podium, at a unique time when they were all tied on the all-time wins list. And for a generation of Indy car racing that has lacked iconic moments, this had all the makings of one.
Of course, it's never simple in the world of IndyCar.
Of course, that was only the beginning of the awkwardness that was becoming victory lane.
Franchitti, who managed to keep his trophy in one piece, would continue to take part in the post-race festivities as everyone, except seemingly Franchitti himself, learned the Scot had been assessed a penalty for blocking Will Power on the last lap.
While the penalty was rightly overturned a couple hours later, the Toronto Saturday race will not be remembered as a moment when three of this generation's greats, who were for that moment tied on the all-time wins list, happened to share a rostrum for the first time. Rather it will be remembered somewhat humorously for the SNAFU it became.
This, of course, leads us to the next point.
Friday morning (this was at least the time I first heard), news broke that Brian Barnhart would be replacing Beau Barfield for the weekend in Race Control. A release was issued by IndyCar noting that Barfield was gone for personal reasons, but would be back for Mid-Ohio. Apparently, Barfield had passport issues, and was unable to get into Canada.
However, that did not stop many from speculating that there was more to the story.
Remember, its been known for a few months that there has been some dissatisfaction with Barfield in the paddock. If you go back to the Detroit weekend there was a Jenna Fryer article saying that many in the paddock were displeased about Race Control. There was also the claim (some would call it rant) by IMS Radio announcer Mike King claiming he could not "think of a time, when so many people in the paddock have been so frustrated with Race Control."
While King's diatribe was dismissed as "unprofessional," "agenda-driven," and "embarrassment for the sport," amongst other things, it was clear there was discontent with Barfield. With Barfield unable to attend this weekend, Barnhart, who was removed from Race Control after the 2011 season stepped in.
Now, I do not want to turn this into a Barnhart-smashing session. The errors and mishaps of Barnhart's time in Race Control are well known. Plus, as we will see, I believe the issues with Barnhart are to the point that they transcend him.
And whether this is fair or unfair, it must be acknowledged that Barnhart is not merely disliked, but despised amongst a large, vocal segment of the IndyCar fan base. Without hesitation he is mocked for his "give me four good ones," type pep-talks to drivers, and seen as inextricably linked to another disliked figure amongst the masses, Tony George.
When it was announced he was returning for the weekend, the "here we go again," chorus was out in full-force. Then, when Barnhart assessed the penalty on Franchitti, the naysayers went apoplectic. Here, Barnhart was back for a few minutes and already ruining races.
In fairness, Race Control and Barnhart ultimately made the right decision, overturning the call on Franchitti. But again, whether fair or unfair, Barnhart is perceived as a symbol of incompetence amongst a large legion of the IndyCar fan base. This perception has created a climate, in which, I believe he is incapable of actually being right. Whatever decision he makes will be perceived as arbitrary, having an agenda, and linked to restarting an oval race in the rain, or any of the other infamous decisions he has rendered.
But again, my concerns about Barnhart being placed in Race Control are bigger than him.
Come on IndyCar:
I'm well aware that Barnhart is more highly regarded in the IMS/IndyCar offices and possibly in the paddock, than he is amongst many media and fans.
However, this again comes down to perception.
Fair or unfair, IndyCar is perceived by some as a detached, clueless organization with a narrow, provincial worldview. Part of this is perception is rooted in the people they hire/promote, who often tend to come from within their perceived cloistered organization. No matter what they think of Barnhart’s abilities, placing such an unpopular figure in Race Control, when there will clearly be negative push back, only confirms such thinking.
So, in short, it was a lousy idea to place Barnhart in Race Control. I am however more concerned, that someone with significant decision-making authority actually thought it was a good idea.
A Few Quick Things:
--I know the drivers hate them. I know they are taxing on the crews. But IndyCar might be onto something with these doubleheaders. The promoters seem to love them, and so do the fans. If a way can be found to lessen the wear and tear on the drivers and team personnel, it seems as though the series has found a way to energize their race weekends.
Brian Carroccio is an IndyCar Columnist for AutoRacing1.com. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.
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