Toronto Preview

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Once again, it’s time for the Verizon IndyCar Series to descend upon Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario. For the past decade, this has been a bittersweet date for me because after a one-year absence due to reunification in 2008, Toronto appeared on the IndyCar schedule in 2009 taking the date previously occupied by the Firestone 200 at Nashville Superspeedway – due to the ineptitude of that track’s management, but I digress.

Other than that bit of nostalgia, I’m a big fan of the Honda Indy Toronto. I’ve never attended a race held on a temporary street circuit. Of the four temporary street circuits (St. Petersburg, Long Beach and Belle Isle being the other three) currently on the IndyCar schedule, Toronto is my favorite to watch from the comfort of my den.

Long Beach may be a great party atmosphere for those in attendance, but the racing action is somewhat lacking for those of us watching at home. I think everyone is so happy to see the season start at St. Petersburg, that they tend to overlook the lack of a ton of passing. If it were not for the Rossi-Wickens skirmish near the end of this year’s race at St. Petersburg, I’m not sure there would be a lot to talk about from that race. Belle Isle? I think I’ve expressed my opinion several times on that venue.

Toronto usually doesn’t lack for storylines. With a long main straightaway that leads to a picturesque but tricky Turn One framed by the Princes Gates, and a massive backstretch on Lake Shore Blvd. alongside Lake Ontario – there are multiple passing zones for a street course. When there isn’t an apparent passing zone, many drivers have tried to force the issue with interesting results.

Emotions tend to run high at Toronto. When Will Power tangled with Dario Franchitti and then Alex Tagliani at Toronto in 2011, Power went on a rant against Franchitti on Versus while being interviewed by Kevin Lee. Then he gave the now-infamous quote when he said that Tagliani had “always been a wanker”.

Paul Tracy had several run-ins with several drivers at his home track over the years. Tracy won twice at Toronto, in 1993 and 2003 – the year that he finally won the CART championship.

There will be three two-time winners at Toronto in Sunday’s race – Sébastien Bourdais won in 2004 and 2014, while Scott Dixon swept the double-header at Toronto in 2013. Josef Newgarden is the defending champion at Toronto, having won there last year, as well as in 2015. There will also be a three-time winner competing this weekend. The aforementioned Will Power won in 2007, 2010 and 2016. Who has won the most at Toronto? That would be Michael Andretti, who won an astonishing seven times at Exhibition Place. If Al Unser, Jr. was the “King of the Beach” with his five Long Beach victories – what would that make Michael Andretti at Toronto?

This year’s points race has been a tough one to get a handle on. Just when it looks like someone is staking their claim on the championship, they hit a rough spot. In April, there was fear that Josef Newgarden would wrap up the title in August. Then he had a rough May and early June before he got back on track at Road America. Will Power had a horrible start to his season before a memorable Month of May that saw him head to Belle Isle as the points leader. But he had a disastrous day at Road America that was not of his making. He is now in fifth in points, but still a manageable fifty-three points out.

Alexander Rossi had a strong start to his season by being on the podium for the first three races, and winning at Long Beach, but he has finished twelfth, sixteenth and ninth in three of his last four races. Ryan Hunter-Reay has had a very inconsistently up and down season all year. One race he’ll finish fifth, the next twentieth followed by a second-place finish before finishing eighteenth. He’ll need to find more consistency if he wants to win his second title

Scott Dixon had a solid but unspectacular start to his season. His qualifying results were bad, but he usually raced his way to a respectable finish. He had a forty-five point lead heading into last week’s race at Iowa, but had his worst result of the season – twelfth. Still, his closest pursuers had worse days. Josef Newgarden finished fourth and jumped over Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi into second place in the standings, still thirty-three points behind Dixon.

Quite honestly, I have no clue who will win the championship or who even has momentum at this point. Any of the Top-Five could win, but after that it drops off considerably. Robert Wickens is in sixth, but is 107 points behind Dixon. It’s mathematically possible, but there would have to be some strange occurrences to get Wickens in a position to win the championship.

But Wickens and teammate James Hinchcliffe will have all eyes of Toronto on them this weekend. The two grew up together in the Toronto area and are both coming off strong finishes last week in Iowa. Hinchcliffe won the Iowa Corn 300, while Wickens finished fifth after throwing away a certain podium finish, when he pitted for fresh tires near the end of the race. Wickens is sixth in points, while Hinchcliffe is eighth – still smarting from missing the double-points available in this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Neither is a threat to win the championship, but the crowd will be strongly behind both of their hometown heroes. Fellow Canadian Paul Tracy was to sit and interview the two on Thursday and will present highlights during either Saturday’s qualifying show or the race broadcast on Sunday or both. Saturday’s qualifying will be shown delayed on NBCSN at 4:30 EDT. Sunday’s race coverage begins at 3:00 EDT on NBCSN with the green flag dropping at 3:35 EDT.

There has been one curious change for this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto. In order to evaluate who might be a good fit for a second car next season, Harding Racing has decided to pull Gabby Chaves out of the car for now and have a revolving door of auditioning drivers. This week’s driver is Conor Daly. While I’m happy for Conor, I find this approach unique if not baffling. Gabby Chaves is still under contract through the end of 2019, but there s no word if he’ll return to the cockpit at any point this season. Supposedly, if they expand to two cars next season, Chaves will be back in his car alongside whoever they choose for a second car. I’m not saying this approach is wrong. It may be revolutionary. But it is certainly unconventional to evaluate a driver at the expense of another driver you plan to keep.

So who will win Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto? That would be anyone’s guess and it would be just that – a guess. Who is my guess? The same driver I picked to win last week, who dominated until the end. He is frustrated that he couldn’t make it two wins in a row, and will channel that frustration into winning three out of the last four races at Toronto – Josef Newgarden.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “Toronto Preview”

  1. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    George…I think you got things a bit wrong when you said that Dixon’s closest pursuers in the points race finished worse than he did. Actually if you take the top five in points going in, only Hunter-Reay finished worse than Dixon. Newgarden, Rossi and Power all finished better than Dixon and gained points.

  2. BrandonWright77 Says:

    Hoping Wickens finally gets his first win this weekend, I think it’d be really neat to see him get it in his hometown. That guy has really taken to IndyCar, seems like a natural fit and can drive the hell out of a race car.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I believe this is traditionally Dallara’s favorite race. I kid, I kid. Toronto is usually a good street show, 2011 being why I said “usually”. Hondas look to have the advantage after Practice 1.

    If Little Al is the “King the Beach” (not to be confused with EA’s late 80s volleyball video game), then Michael Andretti is the prime minister at Toronto. He earned that title by “riding” around… hehe, Canadian politics pun.

  4. Ron Ford Says:

    I would like to see Wickens win. Certainly he is capable of it. Rossi has become a bit of a wanker.

  5. James or Robert winning would be ideal. Hope Cleman de Melo does well too this weekend.

  6. Br!an McKay Says:

    Several racers I’d like to see win. I can’t predict who will. On a whim I chose D.C.N. in the poll as I did last week, as Bourdais and Hampson are capable.

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    I believe there are some up and coming young open wheel racers on the radar from Saskatchewan.

  8. S0CSeven Says:

    Black hats in Pro Mazda.

    Pro Mazda went from 14 to 6 cars in 2 laps with drivers blocking on the back straight and assuming the ‘It’s my corner’ attitude in corner 1.

    Dummies.

    This is Harrison Scott ……………..

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