Welcome back, Toronto.
If it seems like it has been forever since the NTT INDYCAR SERIES last staged the Honda Indy Toronto at storied Exhibition Place, it nearly has been. Today marks the three-year anniversary. On Sunday, it will have been 1,099 days since the green flag last waved on the streets of Canada’s largest city. Since that race in 2019, Takuma Sato, Helio Castroneves and Marcus Ericsson have won Indianapolis 500s, and Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon and Alex Palou have won series championships.
Much of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES looks different, too. The aeroscreen has been successfully fitted to these cars. McLaren Racing has joined the series. Roger Penske has purchased Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR. Popular Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe has become an NBC Sports broadcaster.
The series’ driver lineup has taken on a new look, as well. Simon Pagenaud, who won the 2019 race, now drives for Meyer Shank Racing. Felix Rosenqvist, who finished fourth that day, has moved to Arrow McLaren SP. Colton Herta left Harding Steinbrenner Racing to drive for Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian.
Twenty-two car-and-driver combinations were in the 2019 race, but only 10 of those drivers will be in this 25-car field, and five of those have switched teams.
Different? Yes. Yet, much remains the same.
The circuit remains 11 turns over 1.786 miles, and the route still travels in a clockwise direction in one of North America’s most beautiful cities. The Toronto skyline remains an impressive backdrop, and the racing down Lake Shore Boulevard West is still breathtakingly fast.
And then there are the different types of surfaces offered by a street circuit adjacent to Lake Ontario.
With that, let’s examine the Five Things that figure to come into play this weekend, the 36th time the event has been held at Exhibition Place.
The Favorites Are Proven
It can be said that the favorites to win any NTT INDYCAR SERIES race must include Scott Dixon, Will Power and Josef Newgarden, who have combined to win nine season championships, and that is true of this weekend, too.
Why? Not only have they each won multiple series races at Exhibition Place, 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 did so from the pole.
The first of Power’s three Toronto victories came in Champ Car in 2007. Try guessing the second-place finisher. It was Neel Jani, who after one season in the series went on to 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 at the temporary street circuit.
“The track is just difficult because there’s so many different levels of grip,” said Power, who drives the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “Like, you never feel on top of the track (because the car) is sliding. The car never handles well, (so) it’s kind of difficult to tell your engineer what to do because there’s so much compromise.
“It’s a track that’s easy to make a mistake on … that might be a reason that you’ve seen champions win (most of the races). Yeah, a tough track. A lot of mayhem can happen there, a lot of mayhem.”
Dixon, the driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) also is a three-time Toronto winner, sweeping the 2013 doubleheader and winning again in 2018, all for the Ganassi team. Like Power, he has twice sat on the pole.
Newgarden’s victories came in 2015 and 2017 – the first with CFH Racing, the second with Team Penske -- and he won the pole in 2018.
Ganassi, Penske Teams Strong in Past
It is 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 teams have had considerable success there, with Chip Ganassi Racing tied with Newman-Haas Racing for the most wins by a team – seven each – with Team Penske winning five, including three of the past four races.
Ganassi’s victories have come with Dixon (three), Dario Franchitti (two), Michael Andretti (one) and Alex Zanardi (one). Andretti holds Toronto’s record with seven wins in all, five with Newman-Haas, and they spanned three decades (1989-2001).
Said Pagenaud, who finished fifth, second and first in his last three Toronto races but now drives the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing: “It’s a racetrack I really enjoy. I love the rhythm of the track, and it’s a place I feel very comfortable.”
Word of advice: Don’t try predicting who will win the NTT P1 Award this weekend. In nine races this season, there have been nine different pole winners. The modern-day record for most different pole winners to start a season is 10 in 1952. The record for most pole winners in a season is 12, set in the 1999 CART season.
“Simply because it’s so competitive,” Power said of the nine different pole winners. “There is no one that is dominating, no one stands out. You can try to pick the pole sitter for the weekend; you simply couldn’t. Even (among) the drivers, (they) couldn’t pick who might be on pole, which to me is a great thing.”
Toronto-area drivers Dalton Kellett (No. 4 K-LINE/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) and series rookie Devlin DeFrancesco (No. 29 PowerTap Honda of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) are among the 13 drivers making their Exhibition Place debuts in this series.
DeFrancesco will pay homage to his home race with a special Sunnybrook Hospital livery to commemorate his “Racing for the Tiniest Babies” initiative.
Resetting the Points Battle
As a refresher, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES reached its halfway point during the Fourth of July holiday weekend with the 80-lap Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the All-New 2023 Civic Type R. That race, the ninth on the 17-race schedule, won by Scott McLaughlin, who will drive the No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet this weekend in Toronto. The win was McLaughlin’s second of the season.
Eight drivers stand within 100 points of Marcus Ericsson’s series-leading 321 points, and five of those have won races this season, led by the three of Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet). Newgarden and McLaughlin are the only drivers with multiple race wins.
Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) leads Power by 20 points with Newgarden trailing Ericsson by 34 points. Reigning series champion Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) is 35 points out of the lead, and he is still seeking his first victory of the season.
The next batch of drivers – Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet), Dixon and McLaughlin are 65, 67 and 69 points out of the lead, respectively. O’Ward has one win this season, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park.
Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda) is 92 points in arrears of Ericsson, but this could be a big weekend for the Californian who has twice finished on the podium in Toronto, finishing second to Newgarden in 2017 and third behind Pagenaud and Dixon in 2019.
Busy Stretch Ahead
It’s mid-July, not even the midpoint in the summer. Yet, the time to win this NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship is at hand.
Over the next four weekends, drivers and their teams will compete in five races, highlighted by the doubleheader sponsored by Hy-Vee at Iowa Speedway on July 23-24. After that, the Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course will be held July 30 followed by the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville on Aug. 7.
Which means, there are 270 points available to be won between now and the Nashville race, and that equates to 62.5 percent of the remaining points to determine the season champion.
After Nashville, the season ends with an oval race – the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway on Aug. 20 – and a pair of road course races, the Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway on Sept. 4 and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 11.
In other words, the opportunity to take hold of this championship race is now.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES action begins with a Friday practice at 2:30 p.m. (ET).
Saturday’s schedule includes the weekend’s second series practice at 10 a.m. (ET) followed by qualifying for the NTT P1 Award at 2 p.m. A pre-race warmup will be held at 10:55 a.m. Sunday, with the Honda Indy Toronto airing live beginning at 3 p.m. The green flag is set for 3:30 p.m.
Sunday’s 85-lap race will be shown live exclusively in the U.S. on Peacock Premium, the first streaming-only race in NTT INDYCAR SERIES history. Peacock Premium also is the home to all series practices, qualifying sessions races – live and on-demand – this season.
Peacock Premium also has available all Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races 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 to Comcast’s eligible Xfinity X1 and Flex customers along with Cox Contour customers. For all other customers, the price is $4.99 per month.
In Canada, the race will air live on Sportsnet 360.
The action also can be heard on the INDYCAR Radio Network, which includes the INDYCAR Mobile App, network affiliates, SiriusXM 160 and racecontrol.indycar.com.