After two weeks off, the NTT IndyCar Series drivers return to action for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto (3:30 p.m ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network). It will mark the 11th race of the 2019 season and be the final street course event of the year too.
That’s a storyline in itself. But, here are five more.
Starting Positions Matter
This seems to be a common theme this season. I mean, why not? Yes, the IndyCar Series has some of the most pure passing in all of motorsports. But, it’s getting tougher and tougher to pass up front. That’s not any different, especially for a street course race.
Nine of the last 12 Toronto winners have come from the Firestone Fast Six. Last year’s winner started second. In all 10 races run so far this season, all have come from the top eight.
Expect Sunday’s race to reward starting positions too.
Chevrolet The Favorites?
Chevy drivers have won five times already this season including four of the last six overall. On street courses, Chevy and Honda have split wins 2-2. But, as we head to Toronto, Chevy has won five of the last six trips to the Exhibition Place circuit.
Yes, Scott Dixon won in his Honda last year, but it was all Chevy prior to that. Will Chevy land in victory lane again? If so, that’s great news for Team Penske.
We discussed above how Penske can be the favorites. They’ve won half of the street course races in 2019 to go along with three wins in the last four years in Toronto. Also, they’ve won four of the last six races this season as well.
But, you can’t count out Chip Ganassi Racing either. They’re the defending race winners in Toronto with Dixon and combined with Penske, they’ve won five of the last six Indy Car races this season.
I wouldn’t bet against either of these teams on Sunday.
The championship race is heating up. Toronto is one of just seven races remaining in the season. When we leave Toronto on Sunday night, there’s just two months left in the season.
Currently, Josef Newgarden has a stranglehold on the championship lead. He leads Alexander Rossi by just seven points though. Simon Pagenaud is third (-61) while Scott Dixon (-94), Will Power (-108) and Takuma Sato (-110) are really the only other ones worth mentioning in this title hunt.
But, Toronto could be the place where this race either tightens up, or widens.
See, Newgarden has been feast or famine in Toronto. He’s won in two of the last four years but those are his only top five finishes on the street circuit. Seven of his nine Toronto starts have actually seen him finish ninth or worse. Contrary to that though, he does have two wins and a runner-up in four street course starts in 2019 too. So, which will it be on Sunday?
Rossi, has just one top five in three tries at Toronto but that was a runner-up in 2017. He was eighth last year while Newgarden was ninth. On street courses in 2019, Rossi dominated in Long Beach and was fifth (St. Pete), second (Belle Isle 1) and fifth (Belle Isle 2) respectively.
That then could open the door for Pagenaud who has three straight top 10 finishes at Toronto including a fifth place run in 2017 and runner-up last year. But, unlike the previous two, he’s struggled on street courses this season. Pagenaud, has finished seventh, sixth, sixth and 17th respectively.
Then, it’s the defending race winner Dixon’s turn. The CGR driver does have eight straight top 10 finishes in Toronto, three of which being wins, but his win last year is his lone top five in Canada since 2013. Dixon, does have three podiums in four tries on street courses this season.
Sato, hasn’t been the best in Toronto nor on street courses this year either. Power, won this race in 2016 but was 21st and 18th respectively since. The Penske driver also has two third place finishes on street courses in 2019 but also a seventh and 18th place run too.
Hunter-Reay hasn’t scored a top five in Toronto since his win in 2012. Seven of his last eight Toronto finishes are 12th or worse. He does have three straight top five finishes this season on street courses though.
See how this could go either way?
Last year, both James Hinchcliffe and his teammate Robert Wickens gave the home fans something to cheer for. Wickens, finished on the podium in his first ever start on his home track. Hinchcliffe, finished one spot behind him in fourth. It was the third straight year though that we saw a Canadian finish on the third step of the podium in Toronto.
Hinchcliffe, finished third in each of the two years prior in 2016 and again in 2017. Unfortunately, Wickens won’t be racing this weekend and Hinchcliffe is the only Canuck in the field. Can he carry the flag figuratively and literally to a fourth straight podium for a Canadian driver in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto (3:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network)?
Hinchcliffe, has three straight top four finishes and three top 10’s in four tries on street courses in 2019 too. The only reason he’s not 4-for-4 is because he was involved in a mid race incident in Belle Isle 2 while trying to defend his position on cold tires while coming out of pit lane.
See, at that point of the race, Hinchcliffe exit pit road in front of both Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi. If he could hold them off past the Turn 3 and 4 sequence, then he’d be in prime position to win the thing. Unfortunately, Newgarden and Rossi knew that too and both made a move to get by Hinch as well as each other.
All three tangled which sent Hinchcliffe and Newgarden into the tire barriers.
Hinchcliffe’s car that day was much better than the 18th place finish that he had.