By Frank Santoroski
When IndyCar announced in 2013 their intent to double-header race weekends at selected street courses, I was unsure what to make of it. Yes, I understood that it was a clever way to expand the amount of races on the schedule without adding additional travel and transportation costs to the team. At the same time, I felt that it was also putting IndyCar into fewer markets as a live product.
I pondered the effect it may have on the crews and drivers running two full races in a little over twenty-four hours. It seemed like a heavy workload, compressed into a tight schedule.
After watching these twin-event weekends for the past two seasons, I have come to the conclusion that like the double-headers. In fact, I am fully sold on them.
We have also seen how the double-headers can be a game-changer in the Championship. In 2013, a textbook weekend for Scott Dixon sweeping the two Toronto races, combined with two poor finishes by Helio Castroneves on the streets of Houston swung the championship momentum to Dixon who ultimately took the crown.
The double-headers have also produced some surprise winners, like Mike Conway at Detroit last season, who was a one-weekend fill-in driver at Dale Coyne Racing. Simon Pagenaud took his first career win at 2013 Detroit, and rookie Carlos Huertas surprised everybody by taking the win at 2014 Houston.
The attendance at the street races has also been encouraging, especially when compared to the dismal turnout at some of the oval events. With a festival-like atmosphere and special two-day pricing on ticket packages, these events are a win for the fan.
While some fans dislike the street races, the fact is that these events have become the bread and butter for the series. In addition to the existing doubles at Detroit, Houston, and Toronto, I strongly believe that the markets of St. Petersburg and Long Beach could also support double-headers.
Fixing the attendance at the oval tracks is an entirely different story for another article on a another day.
This past weekend, The Verizon IndyCar series contested the ’2 in T.O.’ at Exhibition Place in Toronto, the final double race event on the 2014 schedule. Unfavorable weather on Saturday resulted in a new format. Both races were run on Sunday. The first was a mid-morning event, with race two becoming a late afternoon affair.
There were things that could have been better about the revised format and IndyCar made itself look entirely indecisive on Saturday. A poorly communicated last-minute switch in the television coverage from NBCSN to CNBC likely caused a lot of fans to miss race one.
In retrospect, despite the bumbling, I feel it was a successful event, much the same as the other five double-headers run prior.
We saw two races on the same day run in remarkably different weather conditions, with totally different strategies and different outcomes.
Race one saw Sebastien Bourdais dominate the race and take the win. It was a long road back to the winner’s circle for the four-time champion of the now-defunct ChampCar Series following a brief and unsuccessful career in Formula from 2008-2009. It was a very satisfying win for the Frenchman and the entire KVSH Racing team. I’m sure this is the first of several wins for Bourdais in the series.
Race two started in dry conditions, followed by rain showers and ending in drying conditions. We saw a number of different strategies being employed, and some serious bonehead moves as well. Josef Newgarden attempted to stay in front of the field on slick tires as the rains began, anticipating that the shower would be brief. Later in the event, he attempted to stay out on rain tires as the track was drying in an effort to gain track position. Both calls were wrong, and, with a couple of spins on the day, he ended up thirteenth.
Hitting the strategy correctly, Mike Conway was amongst the first to switch to slicks as the track began to dry. He was essentially a non-factor most of the day, but the clever pit work put him out front for the closing laps. With clear track ahead of him, the Englishman held off a charging Tony Kanaan for the win, his second on the season and fourth of his career.
Penske teammates, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, who split the wins at the Dual in Detroit earlier this season, had a see-saw battle over the championship.
Will Power’s championship hopes took a beating on Sunday morning with points-leader Helio Castroneves taking the second spot as Power started from the back of the field and ended up ninth.
It was a total reversal of fortune in the afternoon. Castroneves experienced problems late in the race and ended up thirteenth as Power took the third spot, keeping the battle close. Behind them, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud both lost ground as this is becoming closer to a two-man fight to the finish. Of course, they can’t be counted out just yet.
All of this championship drama played out over the course of one day, and that’s why I like the double-headers.
The Verizon IndyCar Series will take this coming weekend off and return to action on August 3rd at the Mid Ohio Sports Car Course for the Honda Indy 200. Television coverage will be provided by NBCSN beginning at 3:00 PM Eastern. You can also catch the action on Sirius XM radio channel 209 or on the IndyCar 14 app provided by Verizon.