Sunday, July 17, 2016

First Impressions: Toronto 2016

1. Will Power stole it and is now tied for the lead in IndyCar victories with three, all three coming in the last four races. He is on a championship-run with four consecutive podiums and took a big junk out of Simon Pagenaud's championship lead, now trailing his teammate by 47 points with five races remaining. It wasn't one of those typical Will Power victories where he starts on the front row and leads 75% of the laps. He pitted at what ended up being the right time as Josef Newgarden hit the wall in turn five. The rest of the leaders had to pit, Power didn't. Sometimes races play out that way. Last year Power arguably lost the race at Toronto because of a caution, today he won it because of a caution. What goes around comes around.

2. Hélio Castroneves had a flat tire and had to go off strategy and the Brazilian benefitted just like his teammate. Castroneves can get good finishes but when was the last time he ransacked a race and was clearly the car to beat? He picks up good finishes but can he run down a championship? We know Will Power can. I question if Castroneves has that ability.

3. James Hinchcliffe rolled the dice, ran 39 laps on the final stint and gets on the podium for the first time in his career in IndyCar at Toronto. Hinchcliffe has never had good luck at home. He made his luck today. Maybe he can turn hometown success into a late season run up the championship standings.

4. Tony Kanaan had a 35-lap stint and had to pit in the final ten laps for fuel-only. He exited in fourth and finished there. I was a little surprised he couldn't get by Hinchcliffe but his tires were a half-dozen laps older than Hinchcliffe.

5. Takuma Sato had the same pit strategy as Hinchcliffe and finished fifth. He was never a factor in this race and sometimes top five finishes fall into your lap.

6. Mikhail Aleshin finishes sixth, his second consecutive top ten finish. Aleshin really raced Sato hard for fifth. I am shocked they didn't take each other out considering how aggressive they are.

7. Sébastien Bourdais had a better car than seventh. I bet he could have ended up on the podium had the caution and pit stops not fallen the way they did. He was definitely better than the five drivers that finished ahead of him.

8. Scott Dixon dominated this race and then a caution bit him. He worked his way back to eighth but what looked to be Dixon's springboard race into the title fight was actually Will Power's springboard. I think everyone can understand if Dixon feels frustrated. He will put this behind him and know there are five races to go, four of which he could arguably win.

9. Simon Pagenaud finishes ninth and while he loses ground to Power, he doesn't lose much ground to Dixon. Once again, he didn't have a great day but other championship rivals had days just as bad, if not worse.

10. Marco Andretti benefited from the Newgarden caution and gets his second top ten of the season. It hasn't been a great month of July for Andretti Autosport. One car out of four in the top ten is disappointing. Perhaps they can turn it around in the final five races. They looked really good after Indianapolis. Where has that momentum gone?

11. Charlie Kimball finishes in a typical Charlie Kimball position of 11th. He is always somewhere between seventh and 12th.

12. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a bad day turned ok. Contact with Charlie Kimball on lap one, another wing change late in the race and he still finished 12th. Once again, Andretti Autosport needs to get out of the month of July.

13. Let's wrap up the rest of the field: Graham Rahal finished 13th and didn't do much all day. The Dale Coyne Racing entries of Luca Filippi and Conor Daly didn't do much with their starting positions in the top half of the field. Filippi finished 14th, his best of the season and Daly was 15th. Alexander Rossi was 16th and wasn't mentioned much in this race. Carlos Muñoz had a flat tire and finished 17th. Max Chilton has finished 21st, 22nd, 20th, 19th and now 18th in the last five races. Spencer Pigot finished 19th and wasn't a factor. Juan Pablo Montoya hit Josef Newgarden, bumped Charlie Kimball, Conor Daly, Ryan Hunter-Reay and he hit the wall. Jack Hawksworth was in position for a top ten until he hit the turn five wall.

14. Josef Newgarden's title hopes may have been delivered a knockout punch. After two great showings at Road America and Iowa, his accident today was a big blow, especially since he will not restart the Texas race. Unless he wins three of the final four races he will be competing, 2016 will not be the year Newgarden lifts the Astor Cup.

15. Toronto needs to be rejuvenated and I am not taking about the fans because it was another really great Canadian crowd. However, curbs are coming apart. I don't mind the pit lane being in a unique position but that unique position is tight for crews and it is tight in the final few corners. I think the tight final corners hurt racing into turn one. There just seemed to be fewer passes into turn one compared to other Toronto races. Maybe IndyCar should move the start/finish line to Shoreline Drive (the straightaway leading to turn three) or maybe the pit lane should move to the other side of Shoreline Driver, which would give the crews more room and widen turns eight through 11 for the drivers. Something needs to be done at Toronto but I doubt it is going to get done at all let alone for 2017.

16. IndyCar gets a week off before heading to Scott Dixon's backyard of Mid-Ohio. Five races remain and the final four occur over four consecutive weekends. Oh the season is ending so quickly.