Toronto Preview

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.

 

 

 

Wickens to Drive Parade Lap at Toronto

Big news from Robert Wickens this morning.  It will be great to see him behind the wheel. I hope we don’t have to see numerous replays of the crash beforehand on NBCSN.  Back later with some thoughts on other things.

Latest from Wickens and Other News

The latest Robert Wickens video, posted just before 2 pm today:

 

 

Windom Added to Freedom 100 Field

Chris Windom will drive for Belardi Racing in the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race on May 24 at the Indiana[polis Motor Speedway. Windom entered the race last year, but a practice crash on Thursday prevented him from qualifying or racing.

Windom joins Jarrett Andretti in the race as a one off entry.

Long Beach Postscript

Rossi’s win was the 200th for Andretti Autosport across their various racing series.

Zak Brown of McLaren asked about Pato O’Ward’s availability for next year. That would be great pairing. Apparently McLaren’s performance in this year’s 500 will determine what the team does next year.

Look at the podium from Sunday. These are your main contenders for the series championship. Will Power might join the group, but he will need the same kind of May he had last year to get back in it.

 

Quick Thoughts – Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

A typical St. Pete race- action early then strung out the second half.  That’s not to say there weren’t some interesting things to watch. There was some good racing throughout the pack. It was fun to track the rookies, who did quite well.

Another huge crowd here. I talked to someone who has been to every St. Pete race who said this was the biggest crowd he’d seen.

What a great move by Rosenqvist to pass Power on the restart. He was a thorn in Power’s side all day.

Pit strategy once again determined the winner. Tim Cindric made the right call  by saving the new reds. Early in 2018, he made a couple of good calls on tires as well.

There were fewer cautions than I expected. One more could have changed the results.

Three rookies, Rosenqvist, Colton Herta, and Santino Ferrucci finished in the top 10. Marcus Ericsson ran in the top 10 a while before dropping out with mechanical problems. At COTA, Pato O’Ward joins the rookie crop. The battle for Rookie of the Year could be just as good as the championship fight.

Great drive by Jack Harvey to finish 10th.

Given the engine issues Bourdais and Hunter-Reay had, I hope we’re not seeing the Honda engine of 2017 return.

About a fourth of the cars had non functioning LED panels. I hope this is fixable.

It was great having Robert Wickens at the track. his presence electrified the atmosphere for the paddock and the fans. His absence on the track gives the series one less contender.

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Look for my full race wrap-up on Wildfire Sports tomorrow.

 

Quick Thoughts- The Season’s First Day

Robert Wickens returned to a race track for the first time since his accident. He spoke to the media. He is in good spirits and doing well.  Some excerpts:

“Being back at a race track makes everything a little better.”

“It was strange being on the smart side of the pit wall.”

“I’m getting some stuff back. Trying to utilize every day to get as healthy as I can.”

He called the fan support here at St. Petersburg “Amazing. I thought the fans would be more focused on the race cars.”  “Fan support has been a big motivation piece.”

“100%” he wants to race again. “I want tog et back into racing as I left off. I don’t want to just run at the back of the field.”

Wickens’ appearance was a great emotional lift for him. I think it was just as much as an emotional lift for the media. The press doesn’t usually applaud at the end of a conference.

A pleasant problem-Additional teams at a street course race means a more crowded paddock.

It’s not quite 10:30 and there is already a good sized crowd here.

The top six in Practice 1 were all Hondas. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist led the session with a time of 1:01.8215. Josef Newgarden was the fastest Chevy 0,35 seconds behind. The rookies I spoke with the other day are interested to see how the red tires work in today’s second session.

Dale Coyne announced a third car for James Davison for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500. Davison drove for Belardi in partnership with A. J. Foyt Racing last year. he finished 33rd. Davison becomes the official 33rd entry for this year’s field.

Max Chilton has the best looking car.

 

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