After missing two years due to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, race day for the Honda Indy Toronto returns to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES today. The action begins at 3 p.m. (ET) on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network, with the rolling start of 25 cars expected at 3:30 p.m.
This event at Exhibition Place is one of the oldest on the sport’s schedule, with the first race won by Bobby Rahal held in 1986. Only Indianapolis Motor Speedway (1911), the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (1980), Road America (1982), WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (1983) and the streets of Long Beach, California (1984) can trace their series roots further back, and the Toronto circuit ranks fourth among these in number of series races staged (this will be the 36th).
The fans that some consider the most passionate in the series are back in masses, too. Large crowds were seen Friday and Saturday, and the promoter is expecting another terrific turnout today.
The weather is doing its part, too, with sunshine splashing down on the 11-turn, 1.786-mile temporary street circuit a few miles west of downtown.
Drivers, start your engines!
Herta Leads a Competitive Field
Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian) won the NTT P1 Award Saturday, ending a streak of nine consecutive different pole winners to start the season. That’s one short of the sport’s all-time record set in 1952.
What it says is, this field is as competitive as any in sports, and that should be on display today.
While Herta posted a monster lap in Saturday’s qualifying session – 59.2696 seconds – a total of nine drivers delivered laps under the one-minute mark. Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) was less than a tenth of a second off Herta’s pace, and Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) was only a couple blinks behind Dixon.
Dixon and Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) have each won three times on the track that last hosted the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2019. Newgarden has won twice.
Simon Pagenaud won the 2019 race for Team Penske, and he will be looking to continue his run of strong finishes at this track – fifth, second and first in his last three outings – in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing.
No other driver in this field has won on this track, but there certainly are many capable of doing so. Fifteen of the 25 drivers set to compete have won races in this series.
Newbies Throughout the Field
Because the Toronto event was not held in 2020 and 2021, more than half of the field has not raced an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car at this track.
Rookie David Malukas (No. 18 HMD Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD), the No. 5 qualifier, leads the group of drivers who have no such experience on this track, although the Chicago native raced on the circuit in junior formulas, including Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2019.
Toronto native Devlin DeFrancesco, who will start a career-best 12th in the No. 29 PowerTap Honda of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport, is among the seven drivers who will make their first Toronto start of any kind today.
The other first-timers are rookie Christian Lundgaard (No. 30 HUB International Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), reigning series champion Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda), Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda), Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet), rookie Callum Ilott (No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet) and Romain Grosjean (No. 28 DHL Honda of Andretti Autosport.
Four series rookies start in the top 12. All four have their highest starting positions. Ilott rolls off seventh, Lundgaard 10th.
Small Confines, Action Aplenty
The weekend has already seen its share of cars sliding, with some either scuffing the wall or hitting it with enough force to require a significant amount of work from the respective crews.
Now, throw 25 eager drivers into a tight space, with those temporary barriers positioned on either side of the racing line. It can create trouble.
“It’s definitely a track known for a lot of mayhem,” Power said.
Said Dixon: “This (track) is pretty technical and … the best grip is against the wall, so the closer you get (to the wall) the faster you go. It’s a hard one to kind of judge. It’s going to be an attrition race with some cautions here and there.”
The 2019 race saw a big dustup on the opening lap when Power tried to overtake Graham Rahal in Turn 8.
Andretti Autosport will look to avoid the troubles it had at Mid-Ohio with its drivers tangling. But all four start in the top 12 – Grosjean and DeFrancesco occupy the sixth row -- so that’s something else to watch today.
The Temps in the Tires
Racing in Toronto brings a different challenge to Firestone, which has to consider summer heat and humidity when choosing its tire compounds for NTT INDYCAR SERIES races.
The weather in Toronto typically cooler than in the U.S.
“The Toronto climate brings much more mild temperatures than our typical summer race in the U.S., demonstrating our street tire’s versatility as we (brought) the same Firestone Firehawk primary and alternate compounds and constructions as the 2022 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete race tires,” said Cara Krstolic, director of Race Tire Engineering and Production, Bridgestone Americas Motorsports.
McLaughlin’s crew remains the leader in the Firestone Pit Stop Performance Award standings. Points are awarded after each race based on the shortest amount of accumulated time in pit lane during a race, and the point allocation mirrors race points. McLaughlin’s group leads Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda by 48 points.
The Ed Carpenter Racing crew of Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet) was the top point scorer in the July 3 race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
VeeKay Leads Warmup
Rinus VeeKay led the 30-minute warmup this morning in the No. 21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet, a bit of an eye-opener since he will start 20th this afternoon after a disappointing qualifying session Saturday. VeeKay's best lap was 59.8987 seconds.
SEE: Warmup Results
Alexander Rossi was the only other driver to crack the one-minute barrier in the session, second at 59.9439 in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda. Reigning series champion Alex Palou was third at 1:00.1391 in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
NTT P1 Award winner Colton Herta ended up 11th at 1:00.6008 in an eventful session in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. Herta stalled while trying to exit his pit box on the tight Toronto pit lane, and he also triggered the only red flag of the session by locking his brakes entering Turn 3 and stalling in the run-off area. Herta made no contact during the incident and returned to the circuit after the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team restarted his car.