Alex Palou

There is simply no way to deny Alex Palou.

The Spaniard entered the Honda Indy Toronto weekend having won four of the last five races, including the previous three, which also provided him with a 110-point lead in the championship standings. However, it appeared the 85-lap race Sunday would provide some mercy – and hope – to the rest of the field after Palou qualified a season-low 15th.

That thought was quickly thrown out the window as Palou made moves toward the front at the drop of the green flag. On pace alone, he was up two spots at the end of Lap 1. When the opening sequence of pit stops began, Palou’s renowned ability to make up time rang true once again as he cycled up to seventh by Lap 20.

Palou, the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion, lurked around the top five before a caution on Lap 41 provided a moment to push even higher. He opted to pit on Lap 44 and was set to restart 16th when a melee broke out in the midfield, which withdrew the green flag for the yellow as quickly as it came out.

The incident was triggered when Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who like Palou was in prime position to gain track position during the pit cycle, rear-ended the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Helio Castroneves, which set Castroneves into a spin. Palou clipped the outside wall while darting past Castroneves' car, and the contact cracked the nose cone on Palou’s No. 10 Journie Rewards Honda and knocked his front wing askew. But Palou continued instead of pitting for a replacement.

Despite the damage, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver remained quick enough on pace and cycled up to second. Palou remained there while carefully managing fuel and driving with a tilted and ever-moving front wing, seemingly hanging on only by the vinyl wrap, that threatened to dislodge with every bump on the 11-turn, 1.786-mile temporary street circuit at Exhibition Place.

The runner-up result is Palou’s sixth podium finish of the season, and he remains the only driver to have finished in the top 10 in all races thus far in 2023.

“We knew it was going to be an eventful race,” Palou said. “Had a lot of up and downs. We had a really fast car and got in the accident there with the No. 27 (Kirkwood) and Helio. I don't know how we made it with this wing. The car was still handling OK, and then we just had to save a ton of fuel, a ton of tires. But we made it. Glad we finished P2 today. Starting from there, a win could have been possible, but I did a bad qualifying yesterday.”

And with teammate Scott Dixon finishing fourth, Palou widened his points margin over Dixon by seven points and is 117 ahead (417-300) with seven races remaining.

Tom’s Tough Debut

Tom Blomqvist’s debut in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES was frustrating, cut short after being collected in an opening-lap crash.

The 29-year-old was the weekend replacement in Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda for Simon Pagenaud, who has not been medically cleared following his heavy crash in practice July 1 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Blomqvist made gains session after session in Toronto, with a respectable showing in a wet and wild qualifying bout that saw him end up 20th on the 27-car grid. The goal for the race was simply to go the distance of the 85 laps. That goal vanished in heartbreaking fashion in Turn 2, moments after taking the green flag.

2022 IMSA champion Blomqvist was outside of Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was inside of Jack Harvey coming out of Turn 1. As each driver was trying to set up for the next corner, Harvey’s No. 30 HUB International Honda (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) moved to the left and pinched Hunter-Reay’s No. 20 Chevrolet (Ed Carpenter Racing), which led to contact that also push Blomqvist into the outside wall.

The incident also collected Santino Ferrucci, Benjamin Pedersen and Alexander Rossi. An onboard replay of Graham Rahal’s No. 15 United Rentals Honda also saw him get into the back of another car, making light contact before reversing out and wisely using the return road to move around the carnage that brought out the first yellow flag of the race.

The damage was severe enough that Blomqvist was forced to retire, leaving him with a 25th-place finish.

“This is the last thing that I wanted to happen today,” Blomqvist said. “My goal was simply to just... I don't know who it was, someone hit someone. I knew I was on the outside of that corner. I couldn't get across. I knew this was a risk looking at the race from last year. I really didn't want to be there, but I had no choice at the time. I mean, the problem is then you're the mercy of people on your inside. Unfortunately, couldn't make it work. I'm not out there fighting for anything. I just wanted to get a race distance under my belt.

“I'm pretty devastated. I'm pretty gutted. Really sorry for the guys. The team, as well. They've worked really hard, and it's been a good opportunity for me to be here. To not even get one lap is obviously extremely frustrating.”

Herta Scores First Podium of Season

It took longer than desired, but Colton Herta finally stood on the podium for the first time this season.

The 23-year-old Californian started 14th and hovered around the edges of the top 10 early on. The pivotal moment that vaulted the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian came after a caution on Lap 41, which saw Herta make his final pit stop on Lap 44. From there, Herta focused on the fuel number as several drivers opted to pit later, which allowed him to climb the leaderboard quickly. By Lap 62, he was running third and closing in on Palou, who was nursing a damaged front wing. Despite his best efforts, Herta remained there through to the finish and collected his best result of the season.

“We were big-time fuel saving most of it, most of the time, and then at the end had some real major savings,” Herta said. “Luckily, we were able to save enough, and we made strategy work. Some guys didn't make it work. But I came across the line literally sputtering coming out of that last turn. You could feel the car start to give a little bit, and then the fuel started sputtering. Luckily, got us across the line and got us home in third.

“It was a great result and really great strategy from the team because we were not making our way forward like we wanted to early on. They made a gut check to pit, and it ended up being the right call.”

Odds & Ends

  • Race winner Christian Lundgaard wasn’t the only driver to have a standout day for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with teammate Graham Rahal overcoming a 27th-place starting spot and being involved in an opening-lap crash to finish ninth for his fourth top 10 – and second consecutive – of 2023.
  • Agustin Canapino put together his best performance to date. The rookie driver of the No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet spent Laps 62 to 73 running in the final spot of the top 10 before fading to 12th, which tied his best career finish (St. Petersburg, Texas) in 10 INDYCAR SERIES starts.
  • It was another rough outing for Romain Grosjean, who started ninth but crashed out while running 12th on Lap 41. A radio call to his Andretti Autosport crew could be heard with him stating, “I lost the wheel from my hands.” He ended up finishing 22nd. It marks the sixth consecutive race the Swiss-born Frenchman has finished outside the top 10.
  • Rookie Marcus Armstrong finished a career-best seventh in the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. The New Zealander, who runs a partial schedule comprised of non-ovals, now has four top-10 results in eight starts.
  • With INDY NXT by Firestone off this weekend, Kyffin Simpson spent the weekend racing in the European Le Mans Series event at Circuit Paul Ricard in France. One of the co drivers for Algarve Pro Racing, Simpson helped earn a hard-fought and dramatic victory in the 4 Hours of Le Castellet.
  • Myles Rowe stormed to his fifth USF Pro 2000 win of the season Sunday morning on the streets of Toronto. The Pabst Racing driver now holds a commanding 81-point lead in the championship over Kiko Porto (299-218). The champion of the series earns a scholarship to help climb to INDY NXT by Firestone.