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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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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”