Photo from Alexander Rossi’s Twitter feed
Summer break is over. The NTT Indycar series points battle returns this weekend in Toronto. This is the 34th running of the series on the streets of Exhibition Place. The event began in 1986 and except for 2008 has run continuously. The weekend has the feel of the Indianapolis 500 to it. The course layout has changed over the years due to construction. It is a narrow track which makes qualifying very important and perfect pit stops almost mandatory.
We are near the point of the season where a good points finish matters almost as much, if not more, than winning. Josef Newgarden leads Alexander Rossi by just seven points. Simon Pagenaud is 61points behind, and Scott Dixon trails by 94. Of the top four Rossi and Dixon are the two who most need to win Sunday. Rossi needs the victory to tie Newgarden with firsts this season. Rossi would then hold the tiebreaker with three second place finishes should he and Newgarden end the season tied.
Dixon’s only chance to defend his series title is to win as many of the seven races left as he can. A deficit of nearly 100 points is difficult to make up, but Dixon is known for his second half strength. Toronto was the last of his three victories last season. Dixon has won at Toronto three times. He swept the double header here in 2013.
Team Penske drivers Newgarden and Will Power have won three of the last four races and three of the last four poles. newgarden has won twice. Power, Newgarden, and Pagenaud have each won a Toronto pole since 2015. Dixon broke up the Penske pole party in 2016. Since 2009 only Dario Franchitti (2009), Dixon (2013), and Sebastien Bourdais (2014) have won the race from the pole.
The Honda Indy Toronto race has never been caution free. I don’t think Sunday’s race will break that tradition. Pit strategy will be a big factor in the race. Newgarden and Tim Cindric have won three times this season playing pit strategy perfectly. The breaks could fall their way again. In Rossi’s dominant win at Road America, his last pit stop was earlier than the first two. In other races Rossi had seemed to stick to a plan regardless of the situation. That early stop might mean the team is going to be more flexible should the situation warrant.
Qualifying is key at Toronto. The winner will likely come from the Firestone fast Six group. In 2001 Michael Andretti won from 13th, the farthest back the winner has started. Newgarden started from the pole last year and seemed to be in control of the race. He went wide on a restart and hit the inside wall, allowing Dixon to take the lead and the victory.
Spotlight on the Canadian Duo
A Canadian will triumph before the race begins. Robert Wickens, severely injured in a crash at pocono last August, will drive the parade lap in a modified Acura NSX. Wickens has worked extremely hard on his recovery. He is still a long way from competing again, but his progress has been amazing. This might be the most watched parade lap in series history.
Note to NBC: We’ve seen the crash; we don’t need to see it Sunday. Thanks in advance.
Hometown hero James Hinchcliffe, Wickens teammate, just missed the podium last year, finishing fourth. He has been on the podium here, but has had some mixed results. A Hinchcliffe win would cap an amazing day for the two Canadian drivers.
Don’t Bet Against the Front Runners
Newgarden has won two street races on strategy. Rossi has won one in a powerful statement race, although that turned out to be a preview of Road America. Rossi also has finished second on a street course. Toronto is similar to Detroit, where Rossi and Newgarden made up the front row.
I think the race comes down to a battle between these two, but I also wouldn’t count out Pagenaud or Dixon. Last year there were three full course yellows, all in the first half of the race. A late yellow coukld completely change the complexion of the race.
I’m going with Rossi to make it two wins in a row. In 2018 Rossi won back to back races at Mid Ohio and Pocono.