The crucial stretch arrives with a welcome return to Toronto


Welcome to Toronto.

If it feels like an eternity has passed since the NTT INDYCAR SERIES staged the Honda Indy Toronto at famed Exhibition Place, you almost have. Today marks the third anniversary. On Sunday, it will be 1,099 days since the green flag was last waved on the streets of Canada’s largest city. Since that race in 2019, Takuma Sato, Helio Castroneves and Marcus Ericsson have won the Indianapolis 500, and Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon and Alex Palou have won the series championship.

Much of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES looks different, too. The aerodynamic screen was successfully fitted to these cars. McLaren Racing joined the series. Roger Penske bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR. Popular Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe has become an NBC Sports broadcaster.

The series’ driver lineup has also taken on a new look. Simon Pagenaud, who won the 2019 race, now drives for Meyer Shank Racing. Felix Rosenqvist, who finished fourth that day, switched to Arrow McLaren SP. Colton Herta left Harding Steinbrenner Racing to drive for Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian.

Twenty-two car-driver combinations were in the 2019 race, but only 10 of those drivers will be in that 25-car field, and five of them changed teams.

Different ? Yes. Yet many things remain the same.

The circuit still has 11 turns over 1.786 km, and the course still runs clockwise in one of the most beautiful cities in North America. The Toronto skyline remains an impressive backdrop, and the racing on Lake Shore Boulevard West is still going strong.

And then there are the different types of surfaces offered by a street circuit adjacent to Lake Ontario.

Based on that, let’s take a look at the five elements that will come into play this weekend, for the 36th time the event has taken place at Exhibition Place.

The favorites are known

Arguably the favorites for any race in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES are Scott Dixon, Will Power and Josef Newgarden, who together won nine championships this season, and that’s true for this weekend as well.

Why ? Not only have they each won several series races at Exhibition Place, but they are among the few drivers entered this weekend with circuit experience. Simon Pagenaud is the only other driver to have won a series race there, and he has done so from pole.

Power’s first of three victories in Toronto came in Champ Car in 2007. Try to guess who came in second. It was Neel Jani, who after a season on the show went on to have a strong sports car career, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016. After joining Team Penske, Power also won Toronto in 2010 and 2016, and he has a pair of poles on the temporary street circuit.

“The track is just tough because there are so many different levels of grip,” said Power, who drives the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “You never feel at the top of the track (because the car) is slipping. The car never handles well, (so) it’s hard to tell your engineer what to do because there are so many compromises.

“It’s a track where it’s easy to make a mistake… maybe that’s a reason why you’ve seen champions win (most races). Yes, it is a difficult trail. Lots of things can happen there, lots of things. »

Dixon, the #9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda rider) is also a three-time winner in Toronto, sweeping the 2013 doubleheader and winning again in 2018, all for Team Ganassi. Like Power, he sat on the pole twice.

Newgarden’s victories came in 2015 and 2017 – the first with CFH Racing, the second with Team Penske – and he took pole in 2018.

Ganassi and Penske teams strong in the past

It’s not uncommon for NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams owned by Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske to have a history of winning races at a particular venue, and Exhibition Place falls into that category.

However, this circuit is unusual in that both The teams have enjoyed considerable success there, with Chip Ganassi Racing tied with Newman-Haas Racing for the most wins by a team – seven each – and Team Penske having won five, including three of the last four races.

Ganassi’s victories were taken by Dixon (three), Dario Franchitti (two), Michael Andretti (one) and Alex Zanardi (one). Andretti holds Toronto’s record with seven wins overall, including five with Newman-Haas, and they span three decades (1989-2001).

Pagenaud, who has finished fifth, second and first in his last three races in Toronto, now drives Meyer Shank Racing’s #60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda: “It’s a circuit that I like a lot. I like the rhythm of the track, and it’s a place where I feel very comfortable.  »

A word of advice: Don’t try to predict who will win the NTT P1 prize this weekend. In nine races this season, there have been nine different polemen. The modern record for the most different polers at the start of a season is 10 in 1952. The record for the most polers in a season is 12, set in the 1999 CART season.

« Just because it’s very competitive, » Power said of the nine different pole winners. “No one dominates, no one stands out. You could try to pick the pole-holder for the weekend, you just couldn’t. Even (among) the drivers, (they) couldn’t choose who could be on pole, which for me is a great thing. »

Toronto-area drivers Dalton Kellett (#4 K-LINE/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) and series rookie Devlin DeFrancesco (#29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport PowerTap Honda) are among 13 drivers make their Exhibition Place debut in this series.

DeFrancesco will pay homage to his native race with a special Sunnybrook Hospital livery to commemorate his « Racing for the Tiniest Babies » initiative.

The battle for points is on again

As a reminder, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES came to the halfway point on the July 4 weekend with the 80 laps of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, presented by the all-new 2023 Civic Type R. This race, the ninth on the calendar of 17 races, was won by Scott McLaughlin, who will drive the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet XPEL this weekend in Toronto. The victory is the second of the season for McLaughlin.

Eight drivers are within 100 points of series-leading Marcus Ericsson’s 321 points, and five of them have won races this season, led by the three from Newgarden (#2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet). Newgarden and McLaughlin are the only drivers to win multiple races.

Ericsson (Honda #8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing) leads Power by 20 points and Newgarden by 34 points. Defending champion Alex Palou (#10 NTT DATA Honda Chip Ganassi Racing) is 35 points off the lead, and he is still looking for his first win of the season.

The following drivers – Pato O’Ward (Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet #5), Dixon and McLaughlin are respectively 65, 67 and 69 points off the lead. O’Ward picked up one victory this season, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park.

Alexander Rossi (#27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda) of Andretti Autosport is 92 points behind Ericsson, but it could be a big weekend for the Californian who took the podium twice in Toronto, finishing second behind Newgarden in 2017 and third behind Pagenaud and Dixon in 2019.

A busy period ahead

It’s mid-July, not even mid-summer. Yet the time to win the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship is near.

Over the next four weekends, drivers and their teams will compete in five races, culminating in the Hy-Vee sponsored double event at Iowa Speedway on July 23-24. Next, the Gallagher Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course will take place on July 30, followed by the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville on August 7.

That means there are 270 points up for grabs by the Nashville race, which equates to 62.5% of the remaining points to determine the season champion.

After Nashville, the season concludes with an oval race – the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway on August 20 – and two road course races, the Portland Grand Prix at Portland International Raceway on September 4 and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 11.

In other words, the opportunity to seize this championship race is now.

Weekend program

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES begins with a practice session Friday at 2:30 p.m. (ET).

Saturday’s schedule includes the second practice session of the weekend at 10 a.m. (ET), followed by qualifying for the NTT P1 prize at 2 p.m. A pre-race warm-up will take place at 10:55 a.m. Sunday, the Honda Indy Toronto will be broadcast live beginning at 3 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.

Sunday’s 85-lap race will be broadcast live exclusively in the United States on Peacock Premium, the first race streaming in the history of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Peacock Premium will also host all of the series’ practice, qualifying and races, live and on-demand, this season.

Peacock Premium is also offering all races in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series this season, although the series is not racing this weekend in Toronto.

As NBCUniversal is a subsidiary of Comcast, Peacock Premium is included at no additional cost for eligible Comcast Xfinity X1 and Flex customers as well as Cox Contour customers. For all other customers, the price is $4.99 per month.

For more on Peacock Premium, watch this video with NTT INDYCAR SERIES Host Leigh Diffey. Sign up for the streaming service at www.peacocktv.com/sports.

In Canada, the race will be broadcast live on Sportsnet 360.

The action can also be heard on the INDYCAR Radio Network, which includes the INDYCAR mobile app, network affiliates, SiriusXM 160 and racecontrol.indycar.com.

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