A new Verizon IndyCar Series track record at Toronto? The odds are definitely in our favor this afternoon. Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Alexander Rossi all clocked laps faster than the current track record, set by Simon Pagenaud in 2017. Since practice laps can not be record-holding times, we have to wait for the qualifying efforts this afternoon.
Pagenaud’s streak of speed was good enough for the pole position last year, but it was his Team Penske teammate, Newgarden, that found victory at the end of the weekend. They both have something to prove with Newgarden fighting to take back the points lead from Scott Dixon and Pagenaud trying to find consistent results in this season that’s been challenging for him from the start. Newgarden has also won at this track twice and he’s looking to tie his other teammate, Will Power, for three wins at Toronto.
Obviously the full-time Canadian drivers James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens, both racing for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, want to have strong showings at their home track. Wickens has been on a tear this year, almost winning so many races. He’s earned a pole and two podiums along with a slew of Top 5’s and Top 10’s. Wickens runs P6 in the championship hunt with Hinch just behind in P8. That’s huge, considering that Hinch didn’t even run in the Indianapolis 500, worth double points. I mean, wow. He’s ahead of the aforementioned Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, and Takuma Sato. The win at Iowa Speedway this past Sunday helped out a bit with that total, but more importantly that win lights a fire within Hinch to keep the momentum going on the streets of his hometown. He’s podiumed at Toronto the past two seasons – P3 both times, his best result at this course.
It would be very cool to see the Canadian besties up on that podium tomorrow but let’s not jump the gun. We still have qualifying to get through! Qualifying order is very important at Toronto, with the polesitter winning 6 times over the 19 contests held here in this millennium. The configuration has changed over the years, but the difficulty level of fighting through traffic, and timing things ‘just right’ has remained the same or even increased on these Canadian streets.
The furthest back that anyone has ever won (in recent history), was Michael Andretti from P13 in 2001. The CART race was branded the Molson Indy Toronto and half the field retired that year, over the course of 11 full course yellows. Other than that, and the wins from P11 in back to back years from Mike Conway in Race 2 and Josef Newgarden in 2014 and 2015 respectively, the winner has normally come from the first four rows.
If I were a betting woman, and I’m not, I would suggest you put your money on qualifiers P1 – P7 tomorrow for the Honda Indy Toronto.
Who will fill those roles, you ask? I would go with a whole bunch of Hondas and maybe a couple Chevys from Team Penske. But there is one thing that could change everything with the holders of those positions – something that doesn’t care about past performances determining future behavior – and that thing is rain. And it’s headed this way for qualifying.
I for one, don’t mind that at all. Nothing better to create parity on track than a rain storm.