Toronto Preview

The NTT IndyCar Series gets back underway this weekend after a three-week hiatus at the Honda Indy Toronto. I’ve never made it a secret that I don’t care for street races. But then again, there used to be a lot more of them than there are today. Now there are only four temporary street courses on the IndyCar schedule – St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Belle Isle and Toronto.

The only race on a temporary street circuit I’ve ever attended live is St. Petersburg, and that wasn’t until earlier this season. So I’m not really the expert on the onsite experience at street courses, but I’ve watched my share of them on television over the years. Most people will tell you that Long Beach is their favorite street race, but not me. For my money, the streets of Toronto provide the best racing of any street course – on television anyway.

I’ve been to Long Beach and I’ve been to Toronto, both a couple of times – but never on a race weekend. At the risk of insulting my west coast friends, I think Toronto is a much nicer city. It is clean, picturesque and has a world class feel to it. And when you put Indy cars on the streets of Exhibition Place, you would be hard-pressed to find a better backdrop for a race anywhere. The sight of the Princes Gate at the head of Turn One is one of the most impressive views in racing.

And it’s not just about how it looks. I think that Toronto produces the best racing of any of the four existing IndyCar temporary street circuits. There is the long straightaway along Lake Shore Boulevard as they race down to Turn Three. From there, the course becomes very technical as it winds around until it dumps out onto the main straightway on Princes Boulevard as it completes one of the 1.786 mile laps. There will be eighty-five of those laps to complete the 151.8 mile race.

Toronto is the second-longest tenured race on the IndyCar schedule that is not the Indianapolis 500. Long Beach has run continuously since it joined the IndyCar schedule in 1984, while Toronto has run for every year since 1986 except for 2008 after the unification of Champ Car and IndyCar. While Long Beach seems to be held in more prestige, the list of former winners at Toronto reads like a Who’s Who with very few “fluke” winners.

Names like Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Jr., Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Sébastien Bourdais, Alex Zanardi, Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden have all visited Toronto’s Victory Lane, many of them multiple times. Michael Andretti racked up seven wins in Toronto between 1989 and 2001.

Of course, one of IndyCar’s darkest days took place at Toronto in 1996. Rookie driver Jeff Krosnoff touched wheels with another car on the back straightaway and was launched. His spinning car struck volunteer corner worker Gary Avrin and both were fatally injured. As usual, I always ask that everyone keep those two and their families in your thoughts as we watch this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto.

This weekend will provide its own emotional moment as Robert Wickens will drive a car at the front of the field in his hometown of Toronto. Honda and Arrow Electronics have gotten together and modified an Acura NSX with hand controls. It should be an emotional moment for everyone, but probably no one more than Wickens and his fiancé Karli Woods, who will be riding alongside in the passenger’s seat.

But the race itself will also be filled with drama. Only seven points separate points-leader Josef Newgarden and pursuer Alexander Rossi. But Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon are not out of it yet. Even more dangerous threats to win at Toronto are those drivers that may not be in the championship battle, but are gaining momentum as the season goes and has nothing to lose – drivers like Graham Rahal, who has finished no worse than seventh since the Month of May. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished eleventh at Road America, but finished eighth, fifth, fourth and fifth in races prior to Road America. And although Will Power had a terrible stretch earlier in the season, he has had a podium finish in two of the past three races.

Practice One starts today at 11:05 am EDT and Practice Two will take place at 3:15 pm EDT; with both practices on NBC Sports Gold. Practice Three begins Saturday morning at 10:20 EDT, also on NBC Sports Gold. Qualifying will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:00 pm EDT. The race broadcast begins Sunday at 3:00 pm on NBCSN, with the green flag flying around 3:35 pm.

So will the winner come from one of the championship contenders, one of those that has gained momentum or will it be a complete surprise. History indicates it is usually a top driver that wins at Toronto and I think that will be the case on Sunday. Alexander Rossi was unstoppable at Road America and I think Team Penske left Elkhart Lake scratching their heads after being embarrassed. They have had almost three weeks to figure out what happened. Team Penske is not normally embarrassed two weeks in a row.

Josef Newgarden has won twice at Toronto, while Rossi has a best finish of second on those streets. I’m going with experience and history and will say that Josef Newgarden will win for a third time at Toronto this Sunday. I picked Rossi to win at Road America, so is it possible I can pick two in a row? We’ll see.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “Toronto Preview”

  1. I hope Rossi and Newgarden both have good days, hoping to see those two battling to the end of the season.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Toronto is consistently a good day for Dallara, we’ll see if that continues. This year has been relatively light on contact, which is nice, but Tornoto is fast and tight and often rewards aggression.

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    RIP Jeff and Gary.

  4. Ron Ford Says:

    Serve up some poutine for Simon. He is closing fast in the points race.

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