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IndyCar: Honda Indy Toronto Preview

Josef Newgarden leads the field into Turn 1 during the Honda Indy Toronto. [Joe Skibinski Photo]

Josef Newgarden leads the field into Turn 1 during the Honda Indy Toronto.  [Joe Skibinski Photo]

 

by Paul Gohde

It’s fitting, that as the Verizon IndyCar Series heads north to Ontario Sunday for the Honda Indy Toronto, the field should include, for the first time, three full-time Canadian drivers. James Hinchcliffe, who won last week’s Iowa Corn 300, will be joined by Robert Wickens and Zachary Claman De Melo as the Indy cars take to the streets of Toronto for the 34th time.

Race Facts: The 11-turn, temporary street course around Exhibition Place, runs for a short 1.786 miles near the shores of Lake Ontario. The tight track puts passing and pit strategy at a premium as the field competes for 85 laps (151.81miles). Last year’s race winner, Josef Newgarden, holds the event record: 1:35.05.352/ 95.790 mph. Simon Pagenaud, Newgarden’s Penske Racing teammate, set the qualifying mark, also in 2017, at 58.9124 sec/109.912 mph.

Past Toronto Races: The Honda Indy (once the Molson Indy), is the second-longest-running street course event (behind only the Long Beach GP). Bobby Rahal edged Danny Sullivan and Mario Andretti to win the first Toronto street event in 1986. CART sanctioned here until 2004 when first Champ Car, then the IRL and today IndyCar took over. Will Power has won three times among current drivers while Chip Ganassi Racing leads active teams with six wins. Josef Newgarden won last year on his way to the series’ championship. In Toronto he took advantage of a fortunate pit stop call as he came in just before a full-course caution slowed the field and brought them into the pits after Newgarden left. He took the lead at that point and held it for 58 of the final 61 circuits. Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi was just 1.87 seconds behind the winner while teammate Marco Andretti was fourth. Popular Canadian native Hinchcliffe was third.

2018 Season So Far: There have been seven winners in the first 11 races. Newgarden has won three, Power and Dixon two each. Sebastien Bourdais, Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe have each won once with Hinch’s win coming last week on the Iowa oval. Honda has six wins to Chevrolet’s five. Standings: 1. Dixon (2 wins/411 points). 2. Newgarden (3/-33). 3. Rossi (1/-41). d: 4. Hunter-Reay (1/-52). 5. Power (2/-53).

The Field: Twenty-three cars should take the green flag Sunday compared with 21 a year ago. The biggest change finds Conor Daly replacing Gabby Chaves at Harding Racing. It is reported that Harding is looking to audition several Indy Lights drivers in some remaining races, with possibilities for 2019 employment. Jordan King replaces Ed Carpenter at Carpenter and Juncos returns to the grid with Rene Binder.

Notes: TV: NBCSN-Race, Sunday, 3 p.m.ET (Live); Qualifying, Saturday, 5 p.m. ET (same day delay)…Much of the bumpy Toronto course has been repaved since last season…Thirty-nine drivers have taken the green flag in at least one IndyCar race this season. Some of those were one-off entrants at Indianapolis…Indy Lights drivers who may fill a cockpit for Harding Racing as an audition for a 2019 seat include Colton Hera, Santiago Urrutia and Patricio O’Ward…Canadian Paul Tracy won here twice (1993 and 2003)…Spencer Pigot has won here in the Indy Lights series…Six drivers who have not raced here in Indy cars are entered: Claman De Melo, Wickens, Binder, Matheus Leist, King and Zach Veach…Four USAC Indy car races were held on the nearby Mosport road course (1967-1978) with Bobby Unser, Dan Gurney, AJ Foyt and Danny Ongais winning…With only five races remaining after Toronto, no series naming-rights sponsor to replace Verizon has been announced for 2019 and beyond. Perhaps it will be revealed at the Sonoma closer…Next race: Mid-Ohio, July 29.

Our Take: As stated before, Toronto is a short, tight course that can be easily blocked if a driver spins in front of you. Race plans and pit strategy can be forgotten in short order and a crew that can adapt to sudden changes stands a chance to win even if not a strong contender. That said, we’ll look for James Hinchcliffe to become a Canadian winner, but wouldn’t it be neat to have Robert Wickens grab his first win in front of the home crowd?

Final Words: Spencer Pigot (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service/ Ed Carpenter Chevrolet)It’s one of the most challenging street courses that we go to. It’s very unique in the number of surface changes we encounter during a lap. In some cases, you drive over three different surfaces in one corner. So, it’s difficult to find a set-up that is compliant around the entire circuit.”

 

 

 

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