On Tuesday, Mike Conway was in his native England, keeping fit for his European sports-car racing program, with no firm plans to return to the IZOD IndyCar Series. But on Saturday, Conway was in Victory Circle, heading a 1-3 finish for Honda and Dale Coyne Racing in the Indy Dual at Detroit, the first contest in a two-race “doubleheader” IndyCar race weekend on the Belle Isle Park circuit in downtown Detroit, Michigan.
A phone call from team owner Dale Coyne, looking for a new driver for his #18 Honda-Dallara, brought Conway back to IndyCar competition, and the veteran British racer grasped the opportunity with both hands, leading 47 of 70 laps en route to his first victory since Long Beach in 2011, and Honda’s second win of 2013. In addition, earlier on Saturday, Conway qualified on the pole for Sunday’s second 70-lap race of the weekend.
Starting on the outside of the front row, second, Conway jumped into an early lead over pole-starting E.J. Viso. But it was Viso’s Andretti Autosport teammate, defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who provided the strongest challenge to Conway’s hopes for victory. But after the final round of pit stops on Lap 52, Conway was able to extend his advantage over Hunter-Reay, at one point opening up a 19-second lead before backing off in the closing laps for a comfortable, 12-second victory.
Behind his Dale Coyne Racing teammate, Justin Wilson rapidly moved up from his 16th starting position in the opening laps, taking sixth place by Lap 27. Once among the leaders, Wilson’s Honda also proved to be as quick as Conway’s, and a second-place finish seemed possible, until a dropped wheel gun duringhis last pit stop cost him several seconds, and dropped him to third behind Hunter-Reay.
The Target Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti also produced strong races, with Dixon recovering from 15th on the starting grid to challenge Wilson for third in the closing laps and finishing fourth.
Although Franchitti qualified on the pole, an unscheduled engine change at Indianapolis and resulting 10-position penalty left him 11th on the starting grid. But the four-time series champion had one of the best opening stints, moving all the way up to fifth in the first five laps. He went on to finish sixth after battling Wilson, Dixon and Helio Castroneves in the final laps.
Qualifying for Sunday’s “Dual 2” race was held this morning, with Conway securing Honda’s third pole of 2013 – and the first pole for Dale Coyne Racing in the 30-year history of the team. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s James Jakes qualified second, making it an all-Honda front row for Sunday’s second 70-lap race in this road-racing doubleheader race weekend.