Random Thoughts On Toronto

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Yesterday’s Honda Indy Toronto showed us just how fragile racing can be. From Juan Montoya practically destroying his car in Friday’s practice, to Scott Dixon narrowly snatching the pole away from Helio Castroneves on the last lap of qualifying and then to Simon Pagenaud losing a huge chunk of his points lead in the blink of an eye – simply because he chose to pit one lap late. That’s how fragile racing can be.

From the green flag through Lap 59, it looked as though the race was Scott Dixon’s to lose. By he and Pagenaud choosing to extend their stint by one lap, they were shuffled to the back when Josef Newgarden crashed and brought out a yellow just one lap earlier – just as Will Power had ducked into the pits for his final stop. The result was Will Power winning his third race in four tries, while Simon Pagenaud saw what was once a huge lead in the points whittled down to only a forty-seven point lead with five races to go.

I’d say this was a typical Toronto race. Tight turns and close racing brought out a full-course yellow before the first lap was completed, when Charlie Kimball and Ryan Hunter-Reay got together near the back of the field, with the help of Graham Rahal.

It was then that Josef Newgarden’s day started a downward spiral. After getting racy at the start, Newgarden’s rear pod (or whatever you call that thing behind each rear wheel) was sheered off when Juan Montoya made a move to pass him. Newgarden pitted and was lucky to make it back out on track before the field took the green flag. He had no time to get back around to join the back of the pack and spent a large part of his day running around by himself.

When the race finally restarted, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves pretty well checked out on the rest of the field. Simon Pagenaud was left with no one immediately in front of him or behind him. With things sort of boring up front, things were very racy in the middle of the pack.

Then Helio Castroneves had a puncture in his left front tire and was lucky to make it back without damaging his car. Remarkably, with the field now stretched out, Helio only dropped from second to sixth.

Still it looked like a race between Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud. It looked as if Dixon might make some gains towards Pagenaud, but Pagenaud’s seventy-four point lead would likely remain static or might actually grow – so long as he remained in second behind Dixon.

Josef Newgarden appeared he might even stay in second place in the points when he cycled back into contention with a well-timed yellow flag for pavement breaking up.

Everything changed on Lap 58, when Newgarden misjudged the Turn Five curbing and he crashed into the outside wall. Dixon and Pagenaud were trying to stretch their fuel window one more lap when the caution flag waved. They would be forced to make their stop under yellow with a bunched up field and rejoin the pack deep in the field. In the meantime, Helio Castroneves had already pitted and Will Power had just ducked into the pits when the yellow came out. What was unfortunate for Dixon and Pagenaud, was extremely good fortune for Castroneves and Power.

By the time things eventually cycled through, Castroneves was second with Power leading. A late caution and a one-lap shootout at the end sounded dramatic, but offered no real change at the front. The podium saw Power on the top step, with Castroneves second and popular hometown driver James Hinchcliffe on the lowest step for finishing third. Dixon and Pagenaud finished eighth and ninth respectively.

Had that last yellow flag for Jack Hawksworth and Juan Montoya in separate Turn Five accidents not come out; it’s conceivable that fourth-place finisher Tony Kanaan would have passed Hinchcliffe, who was in fuel-saving mode. The caution allowed Hinch to stay out and hold onto third place. Takuma Sato had a hard-earned fifth place finish to round out the Top Five.

TV Coverage: I guess it really doesn’t matter who sits in the anchor spot of the NBC broadcast, so long as Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy are in the booth. It seems that you can plug in Rick Allen, Brian Till or Leigh Diffey and it doesn’t really matter – there is no discernible drop-off in quality. Either those three are all as good as the other or Bell and Tracy are just that good.

There was nothing that really stood out at how good the broadcast was – there were just no real negatives. It’s really easy to get spoiled at this point in the season, with NBC doing the rest of the broadcasts. The only thing to complain about is that the race got booted over to CNBC, meaning I had to actually look in the guide to see what channel it was on. Will more causal fans go to the trouble to look for it? That’s the million dollar question.

For those hoping to get a bounce from the delayed broadcast on NBCSN after the NASCAR race; my brother who didn’t know the race was delayed, texted me about Newgarden’s crash from a sports bar in Virginia while I was writing this. So at least one sports bar audience experienced the bump from following NASCAR on NBCSN.

Biggest disappointment: The biggest disappointment of the day had to go to Josef Newgarden. He was the defending race winner and had tons of momentum on his side after memorable drives at Road America and Iowa. Newgarden was second in points entering the race, but he knew he had to have a big day to stay in contention, since he will not be allowed to race in the continuation of the Texas race.

Instead, Newgarden was in contention for only six laps before Juan Montoya collided into the rear of his car – forcing an early pit stop that put him in the back of the field. Newgarden was playing catch-up from there. On Lap 58, the Nashville native had an unforced error and crashed into the Turn Five wall. Newgarden finished dead-last, dropping him to a distant fifth in points with only four races for him to make up ground. Realistically, I’d say Newgarden’s championship hopes are gone.

Drive of the day: This may be a tossup. While Takuma Sato made up more positions by starting twentieth and finishing fifth, I’m going to give the nod to Marco Andretti. The entire Andretti stable was out to lunch for the second weekend in a row, and Marco started the race at the very back of the grid after struggling all weekend.

But Marco stuck with it all day and made up twelve places – including passing all of his teammates – to finish tenth.

Marco Andretti is having a horrible season, even by his team’s standards. Each of his teammates have had something to smile about at some point in the season. But Marco’s best finish all season has been a quiet ninth place finish in the second Detroit race. Tenth in Toronto would normally not be anything to smile about, but after struggling all weekend and starting last – I’ll bet Marco was feeling just a little bit better last night.

Man on a mission: Simon Pagenaud had one of the best starts to a season that I’ve ever seen. After five races, he had opened with two second place finishes before running off three straight victories. That set the stage for the rest of the field to play catch-up for the rest of the season. Over the next six races, Pagenaud has had only one podium. He hasn’t done anything wrong, but hasn’t been real spectacular either. In short, it appears that he is racing not to lose. You know what happens when you do that.

In the meantime, Will Power had one of the worst starts of his career. He didn’t even start the first race after suffering concussion-like symptoms which turned out to be an inner-ear infection. He made the podium in Phoenix, but had a very forgettable Month of May. After finishing twentieth in the first Detroit race, he won the Sunday race at Belle Isle and hasn’t looked back. After yesterday’s win at Toronto, Power has now reeled off three wins and a second-place finish in his last four races.

After starting out in what appeared to be an insurmountable hole in the points; Power has closed within forty-seven points of Pagenaud. For once Will Power is the hunter instead of the hunted. He has that focused look in his eye that should make Simon Pagenaud nervous. Power appears to be a man on a mission to hunt down Pagenaud and snatch away what looked like a sure championship just a couple of months ago. I’m betting that he does it.

On the move? It seems as if it is a foregone conclusion in the IndyCar media that Tony Kanaan will be moving on from Chip Ganassi Racing after this season. Where has all of this chatter started? I’ve heard Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee discuss it on Trackside, and the TV crew keeps trying to allude that the No.10 seat will be available next season.

I’m not so sure. I think many are trying to plug Josef Newgarden into that seat for 2017. Yes he has gone winless this season and has won only once while driving for Ganassi. But his legendary teammate, Scott Dixon, has only won once this year. Dixon is currently fourth in points and Kanaan is sixth. Kanaan is still fast and has had three Top-Four finishes and has finished out of the Top-Ten just once all year. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on Kanaan racing for Chip Ganassi next season.

All in all: Yesterday’s race at Toronto was pretty typical of most races there. The action up front is usually surpassed by what’s going on mid-pack. Last week, we were talking about all of the slicing and dicing on the track at Iowa. This week, all of the discussion is about an ill-timed caution period that took the win away from Scott Dixon and allowed Simon Pagenaud’s lead to be whittled away by Will Power. That doesn’t necessarily make one race better than the other – they’re both totally different.

The most curious thing was why Dixon was not pitted earlier. Pagenaud was probably just going to mirror whatever Dixon did, but why his crew risked laving him exposed like that is a head-scratcher.

Just as I would never question Roger Penske’s decision to leave Helio out too long at Belle Isle; I would never question anything that Mike Hull decided to do with Dixon. The two of them have two of the brightest minds when it comes to race strategy. Who am I to question either of them when something doesn’t go their way?

Yesterday’s race was entertaining and the results left plenty to talk about. It just wasn’t as intriguing as last week’s race was. Few races are.

George Phillips

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21 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Toronto”

  1. Toronto was Toronto. Random crashes create random yellows which create random results. That’s the nature of the street racing beast.

  2. Wanted to note something I heard last night, Lance McAllister, who is on 700 WLW here in Cincinnati, not sure if he is known nationally or not, but he had Juan Montoya on his show last night to hype up Mid Ohio. I was shocked to hear Montoya sounding completely jolly and friendly! They talked about a lot of things including Juan’s radio controlled airplanes he is into. His answers were short and he was a bit hard to get info from, which I think is just his personality, but he was far from the grumpy Juan we have come to know! I was shocked to hear him sounding happy to be talking!

  3. You are right, Will Power IS a man on a mission and I think he will win the Championship

  4. Will Power was on the KOI Racing Report on WLW 700 last night. They got talking about some of the great races Indycar had at Kentucky Speedway in the past. While he stressed Kentucky was not on the radar, he said their will be one new oval on the 2017 Indycar schedule. Anyone heard any rumors along that line, which track it might be?

  5. Yannick Says:

    It looks as if the championship is now a 3-way battle between the 3 Penske teammates of Pagenaud, Power and Castroneves.

    Can Pagenaud keep his lead and turn it into the title?
    Can Power hunt down 1st place in the standings to win the title?
    Can Helio win his 1st title?

    There are 5 races remaining: Mid-Ohio, Pocono, the completion of Texas, Watkins Glen and Sonoma.

    Whoever goes on a winning streak next is going to win the title.

  6. tonelok Says:

    I had the race on in the background while I was installing a basement window so hopefully tonight there will be some time to watch it. Thanks for the synopsis George. It was a bummer to see Newgarden crash.

  7. I was unimpressed with the race at Toronto. Just another Penske and Ganassi parade up front. I really hope the aero kits go away next season, because while last year was really good during the summer, this year even Road america and Iowa were less than exciting.

    • I think I’ve figured out your issue. When you say “less than exciting”, you mean “there wasn’t much passing for the lead”. There was, to use a technical phrase, a crapton of passing at Road America and Iowa, just not much for the lead (Power had RA figured out and circumstances meant that Pagenaud couldn’t mount a charge, same with Kanaan; Newgarden had a lock on Iowa like nobody has before). I’d suggest (like I think I have about a half dozen times before) paying attention to the battles between cars that aren’t running first and second. You might enjoy the races a bit more.

      • Yeah there wasn’t passing for the lead. That’s what interests me. Sorry I’m not as sophisticated race fan as you.

        • Ron Ford Says:

          I doubt if anyone here feels that they are a more sophisticated race fan than you. Just speaking for myself I always hope that you will find something to like and I can’t remember when you have. They all can’t be like the Hornish/Marco deal at Indy. For me, when I see bright shiny loud cars going fast, that’s exciting. Anything else is just a bonus for me, but I have never been accused of being any more sophisticated than say, Robin Miller, being from Wisconsin as I am. Never-the-less, everyone enjoys a hard-fought photo finish and I hope we all are treated to one yet this season. Glad to see you follow the sport.

        • Well, to add to Ron’s excellent take (I am similarly amused simply by the sight of loud cars going fast, and anything extra is simply gravy, in my eyes), I guess you could take somebody’s differing viewpoint and use it to calcify your own viewpoint, or you could use that different viewpoint and see if there’s a seed of experience in there that you could use for introspection, such that possibly you could figure out if you’ve been missing something. I guess that’s your choice.

          • One would think by now you all would’ve figured out that dylanpt24 is either a very young kid or a TROLL, or both. Don’t feed the trolls, people!

  8. Shyam Cherupalla Says:

    Mr Phillips, First great thoughts on the Toronto Race. One point I want to contend with you is, your mention of nothing negative about the race. While agree with all your remarks, my bone to pick with Indycar is the refusal to keep pits open during yellows in the name of safety. I think with the technology available there are multiple ways to freeze the drivers from racing back to pits and keep the pits open and be safe. I feel that a driver does everything right for a whole weekend and ends up not winning the race to due to a stupid lottery yellow, not pure racing. This has happened to Will Power multiple times, happened to Castroneves in Detroit 2 and now Dixon. I want writers like you to voice your opinion on this, so if enough people write/complain about it, perhaps Indycar will change this policy.

  9. Toronto, to me, looked like…a motor race. I enjoyed it.

  10. Pagenaud is following the pattern of other Penske drivers- build a big points lead early, then after Indy struggle to hold on to it. Helio and Montoya tried the playing not to lose game as well.

  11. billytheskink Says:

    I was surprised there wasn’t more contact, honestly, given how tight the reconfigured parts of the course were. Street racing is street racing, and the dicing behind the leaders was a lot of fun. Felt bad for Dixon, but he’s played this game long enough to know how it works.

    Without an ill-timed caution, getting extra laps out of a stint is usually a benefit on a road/street course. Such is the risk of picking strategies at these tracks.

    Recall Castroneves’ 3rd place finish in last year’s Toronto race. After being caught out before pitting by an early caution, Helio dropped out of the top 15. From that point, his strategy was to extend his stints between pitting as long as possible. While the leaders pitted the moment the fuel window opened to get to the end (to avoid the risk of being caught out by a caution), Helio stayed out and used the clear track and his light fuel load to reel off fast laps and shorten the fueling time of his final green flag stop. The late caution that would have spoiled this strategy never came, and Castroneves wound up on the podium as a result.

  12. typical Toronto. boring. Montoya continues to show hes done. if I hear one more story about will power im going to puke. I hope tony stays at gannassi. because if newgarden goes there his career is doomed aka alex Lloyd and sage karam.

    I think josef will prosper and only get better where hes at. unless Penske takes him.

  13. Edgar Emmitt Says:

    If I never see another street race again it would be fine by me.
    I ask myself if I were a casual fan and tuned into it on TV could I become an Indy Car fan.
    Frankly the answer would be no.
    The bloom of the 100 is already long gone and then to seat thru non exciting street racing evey other week is doing nothing for Indy Car and the future of the sport.

    I’ll step off my soap box,Edgar

  14. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I like that each race on the Indycar calendar is unique and I like TO.

    I’ve been a golfer most all of my life (since age 6) and I’m a big fan of “play it as it lies”. In other words, here are the circumstances, deal with them; tight pit lane, rough track, in the case of TO.

    However, I don’t particularly like that the track is rough as all hell to the point of becoming an impediment to the “game” or bordering on unsafe at racing speed. When I see issues like the racing surface being unfit for racing (Detroit, TO, et. al.), that affect the outcome of the race, I feel like the racing product (and by association, “event”) couldn’t help but be better.

    I trust the locals when I have no local knowledge and much of what I’ve heard is that the downtown is the ideal spot for a successful event, but Canadian Tire Motorsports Park is a much better racing venue albeit out the outskirts of the city, away from fan-friendly amenities. Ever thus to large metropolitan “events” vs. “races”.

    I hope the repairs (estimated in the $3 Million range) can be made to those glorified access roads by next year’s event, but if not, I have to wonder what the future of such a generally popular event would be.

    As a fan of racing, I dislike watching driver and equipment abuse and failures due to the poor condition of the racing surface.

    As a fan of the series, I hate to see any event lose what momentum it currently has.

    Steph over at RacingNorth has a great article about this event here: http://racingnorth.ca/2016/07/18/is-the-street-course-at-exhibition-place-nearing-its-expiry-date/

    Lots to consider for the future of TO. I hope it stays and I hope it improves.

    • S0CSeven Says:

      A million thanks for the link to RacingNorth. I had no idea it existed.

      And the article is spot on. I submit that CTMP has WAY more runoff than IMS!!

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