TORONTO — IndyCar ran two races in Toronto on Sunday, where rain wreaked havoc on both the schedule and driver strategy.
The series had planned to run one race Saturday and one on Sunday until rain washed out the first event.
It instead began Sunday morning, roughly five hours before the start of the second race, and won by Sebastien Bourdais. He broke a 52-race losing streak dating to 2007 in claiming a dominating win on the dry street course at Exhibition Place.
But the rain returned for the second race, and IndyCar officials moved the start up 10 minutes in an attempt to run as much as possible in dry conditions. The sky eventually did open, the track became slick and drivers darted to pit road for rain tires.
When the track began to dry, Mike Conway gambled and made an early stop to remove his rain tires. A caution minutes later sent the bulk of the field to pit road to change their tires, and Conway shot up the leaderboard.
Conway was fifth on the restart, but his dry tires were far superior to the drivers still racing on rain tires, and he quickly moved through the field and into the lead. The race, which had been scheduled to run 65 laps or 80 minutes, whichever came first, then became a timed race.
A multicar accident stopped the clock for a cleanup with 4 minutes, 32 seconds remaining, and set up one final restart. Conway pulled away on the restart and easily held off Tony Kanaan.
“It was really difficult conditions and we were kind of struggling for a bit,” Conway said. “As soon as I saw the path and a dry line, I knew it was time to come in (for dry tires). It was great from there and we just kind of took off and just controlled the race.”
It was the second win of the season for Conway, who walked away from IndyCar at the end of 2012 season because he no longer wanted to race on ovals. He was hired this year to split the seat with driver/owner Ed Carpenter, who was willing to give up his car on road and street courses.
Ed Carpenter Racing has three victories this season, including Conway’s win at Texas. But the car owner credited the driver for making the call to come in for dry tires.
“That’s Mike,” Carpenter said. “He was out there on the track and he said he was ready for drys. We probably thought it was a little early, so this (win) is definitely all him and he did a great job.”
Kanaan, third in the first race of the day, was the only IndyCar driver to finish on the podium in both events.
Will Power finished third as Chevrolet swept the podium in both races. Bourdais led points leader Helio Castroneves and Kanaan in the first race.
Bourdais, who scored his first win since returning to the U.S. in 2011, was ninth in the second race.
The rain during Race 2 caused one frightening moment when drivers began to slide on the track when the shower first started. Juan Pablo Montoya slipped off course into a tire barrier, and was hit from behind moments later by rookie Mikhail Aleshin.
The contact lifted Montoya’s car off its back wheels, Aleshin slid under the car, and Montoya’s car landed on top of Aleshin. Montoya’s car had to be lifted by a tow truck off of Aleshin, and it dangled in the air with the Colombian still in the cockpit.
An uninjured Aleshin returned to his pit stand and showed off his helmet, which was marred by visible tire marks.
“It was not nice at all because I was sitting under the car,” the Russian driver said. “It was getting so hot from (Montoya’s) car, I couldn’t breathe at all because the car is very hot. … It was not a nice feeling at all.”
Race 1 had its own harrowing moment. It came to an almost immediate halt when a multicar crash led to a red flag on the opening lap. After a long delay, racing resumed with Bourdais leading the field to green. He never really had to look back and led all but six of the 65 laps.
It was Bourdais’ first victory since the 2007 Champ Car season finale in Mexico City, but the 32nd of his career. That broke a tie with Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti to give the Frenchman eighth place on the all-time wins list.
“I’ve got a big smile across my face and I can’t seem to get rid of it,” Bourdais said after the victory. “The whole race I was stressed out, it felt too easy, it felt like it was way too much under control, and it felt like it was going to go wrong at some point.”
It was KVSH Racing’s first victory since Kanaan won the 2013 Indianapolis 500. Kanaan moved to Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of last season, and Bourdais replaced him in the car.
“Hopefully, there’s more of that to come,” said KVSH co-owner Jimmy Vasser. “When he gets on a roll, he’s unbeatable.”
It’s hard to know that in the IndyCar era. But in Champ Car, Bourdais won four consecutive titles (2004-07). But he left American open-wheel racing for Formula One following his fourth Champ Car title, and he never came close to posting the same success.
“It’s been quite a journey, but that’s the career of a race car driver,” Bourdais said. “You’re only as good as your car is and you get some ups and downs and you gotta fight through and hope you keep the motivation and that you keep challenging yourself.”