Random Thoughts On Toronto
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.