One of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ traditional events is on tap this weekend, and the circuit at Exhibition Place knows how to honor greatness.
Thirty-six street races have been held in Toronto since 1986, and champions of the sport – or those soon to be – have won 31 of them. The list of Honda Indy Toronto winners includes nine drivers who won the Indianapolis 500 a combined 13 times: Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser Jr., Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden.
SEE: Race Details
Other series champions to reach victory lane in Canada’s largest city include Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Alex Zanardi, Cristiano da Matta and Sebastien Bourdais.
Andretti won seven Toronto races, Dixon four, Franchitti and Power three each. Two-time winners of the event include Tracy, Bourdais and Newgarden.
Among the pole winners at the track are Danny Sullivan, Jacques Villeneuve and Gil de Ferran – series champions all. De Ferran still owns the fastest single lap at 110.565 mph.
What does this all mean? That it stands to reason the best odds to win Sunday’s 85-lap race rest with the five former series champions in the 27-car field: Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Power, Newgarden and Alex Palou. Dixon won last year’s race. Palou also happens to be this year’s championship leader.
A look at Five Things key to this weekend’s event:
A Technical Circuit
It’s interesting that the best of the sport’s best have won races at Exhibition Place, which now features 11 turns over 1.786 miles, because the layout is relatively straightforward. The temporary circuit is the shortest non-oval of the season, and the elevation change is minimal. But, man, is it technical, tight and often tricky to navigate.
There are several elements critical to posting an excellent lap, with Turn 3 as important as any presented during the season. The approach down Lake Shore Boulevard is the track’s longest – and one of its fastest -- with the right-turning uphill corner becoming off-camber as the car wants to fade to the left as it turns right. Corner exit is tight on the left side, too, and Alexander Rossi learned that the hard way last year in a side-by-side battle with Felix Rosenqvist.
Turn 1 is another dynamic area of the circuit, with drivers invited to charge to the inside lane, as Will Power did a year ago in muscling his way into gaining a couple of positions despite bumping Romain Grosjean. Those who get optimistic in that section of the track often meet the wall on driver’s left.
The section encompassing Turns 9-10-11 is tricky, too, with the pit lane entrance on the left. Turn 11 feeds onto the front straight, but the wall on the right side has collected its share of leaders, including Josef Newgarden on a late restart in the 2018 race.
Bottom line: Drivers must be on their game at Exhibition Place, which helps explain why only the best of the best tend to go to victory lane there.
The Canadian Influence
The success of the local drivers has been celebrated throughout the years in Toronto.
Paul Tracy’s victories in 1993 and 2003 are easily the most notable, and the “Thrill from West Hill” also won the pole in ’03. He also finished second in 1999 and 2006, and was third in 2000.
Three drivers from neighboring Quebec have delivered strong results in Toronto. In Jacques Villeneuve’s 1995 championship-winning season, he won the pole and finished third. Alex Tagliani finished second in 2001, and Patrick Carpentier finished third in 2004.
More recently, Toronto-area natives James Hinchcliffe (twice) and Robert Wickens scored memorable podium finishes from 2016-18.
As Canada is a member of the British Commonwealth, other popular Toronto wins include the four of Scott Dixon (New Zealand), the three each of Dario Franchitti (England) and Will Power (Australia), and the single wins of Englishmen Mark Blundell, Justin Wilson and Mike Conway.
Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport’s Devlin DeFrancesco (No. 29 BitBuy Honda) is the lone Canadian in this year’s field. Last year’s INDYCAR SERIES race was his first at Exhibition Place, and the Toronto native also reached the second round of qualifying for the first time. He finished 18th in the race, but he arrives at this year’s event with momentum after posting three of his best career finishes in the past four races.
Given the excitement that awaits the NTT INDYCAR SERIES the next two weekends – this race in Toronto plus the doubleheader at Iowa Speedway on July 22-23 – now would be a good time to slice into Alex Palou’s large series lead.
Palou’s advantage on teammate Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) is 110 points, with Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Snap-on Team Penske Chevrolet) trailing the leader by 116 points. CGR’s Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda) and Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) are 122 and 127 points out of the series lead, respectively.
Dixon should be optimistic about his chance of gaining ground on Palou (No. 10 Journie Rewards Honda) this weekend, as the six-time series champion won last year’s Honda Indy Toronto to give him four career wins in the event, including both ends of the 2013 doubleheader. Palou finished sixth in last year’s race, a difference of 25 points compared to Dixon.
This is the first of eight remaining races this season. Dixon has race wins at four of them and is the reigning champion of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix street race Aug. 6 in Nashville. Palou has won at two of the remaining circuits, including last year’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Three oval races remain, and Newgarden will like his odds in each of them. The winner of this year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge would be undefeated on the five ovals over the past calendar year if not for a mechanical failure that ended his second race against the Turn 4 wall last year at Iowa Speedway.
If Palou stays hot, he can reach rarefied air. A victory in Toronto would give Palou four consecutive victories this season, a feat achieved by only four INDYCAR SERIES drivers since 1970 – Al Unser Jr. (1990), Alex Zanardi (1998), Cristiano Da Matta (2002) and Sebastien Bourdais (2006).
Blomqvist Making Debut, Rahal Making History
Due to Simon Pagenaud not being cleared to compete following his violent roll July 1 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, IMSA sports car champion Tom Blomqvist will make his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda.
Blomqvist, 29, has been on the winning Rolex 24 At Daytona team with MSR each of the past two years. He tested an INDYCAR SERIES machine with the organization last October at Sebring International Raceway, but he won’t have much time to get up to speed this weekend, and he knows it. Still, the time in the car should be beneficial for the driver thought to be headed for a full-season series ride in 2024.
Pagenaud saw his streak of 190 consecutive series starts halted at the series’ most-recent race, The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. The 2016 series champion and 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner has won 15 series races, which is tied with Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya on the sport’s all-time list.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal (No. 15 United Rentals Honda) is another of Honda’s drivers, and Sunday will mark his 252nd series race with the manufacturer. That will break a tie with Tony Kanaan for the most starts with Honda in series history.
First Streaming-Only Broadcast
In the U.S., the Honda Indy Toronto will air exclusively on Peacock, the only streaming-only broadcast of an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race this season.
An exclusive post-race show also will air on Peacock, with driver interviews, analysis and the podium presentation. All other on-track sessions for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES also will stream this weekend on Peacock, as with all 17 series races.
Peacock is the one-stop-shop for INDYCAR fans, providing comprehensive coverage of the series and every minute of this season, including all practices, qualifying and races. INDY NXT by Firestone races, race-day warmups and full-event race replays are also available on the streaming service. INDY NXT by Firestone is not competing this weekend in Toronto.
Besides its INDYCAR coverage, Peacock is a “must-have” for sports fans, as it has the most live sports of any streaming video on demand service in the United States. Highlights of live sports on Peacock include: INDYCAR, NASCAR, the Olympics, Sunday Night Football, Premier League, MLB Sunday Leadoff, Big Ten football (beginning in September), Notre Dame football, Tour de France, French Open tennis, major championship golf, horse racing and more.
Peacock also has an extensive library of NBC non-sports programming, making it an incredible entertainment value for everyone.
It’s simple to access and use Peacock. Click here for full details.
The 85-lap race also will air on the INDYCAR Radio Network. Canadian viewers can watch the race on TSN, with practice and qualifying coverage on the TSN+ streaming service.