Thursday, July 12, 2018

Track Walk: Toronto 2018

IndyCar is back in Canada
The 12th round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the final street course race of the season at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the lone international date on the calendar. Six different drivers representing five different teams have won a race this season with four different winners in as many races. Six different teams have a driver in the top ten of the championship. With this being IndyCar's only international race, ten different nationalities are represented on the entry list. Five different nationalities are represented in the top ten of the championship.

Coverage:
Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 15th with green flag scheduled for 3:42 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
Friday:
First Practice: 10:40 a.m. ET (45-minute session)
Second Practice: 2:30 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Saturday:
Third Practice: 9:50 a.m. ET (45-minute session)
Qualifying: 1:55 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have tape-delayed coverage at 4:30 p.m. ET)
Sunday:
Warm-Up: 11:40 a.m. ET (30-minute session)
Race: 3:42 p.m. ET (85 laps)

Canadians Coming Home
This year's IndyCar season has been a successful one for Canadians and this year's Honda Indy Toronto is set to have three Canadians on the grid, the most in this event since 2011 when James Hinchcliffe made his Toronto debut with Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani also on the grid. This year James Hinchcliffe heads home on a wave of momentum. 

Hinchcliffe is coming off his sixth career victory after a stellar drive at Iowa to chase down the dominant Josef Newgarden and Hinchcliffe finds himself eighth in the championship. While this season bares the burden of a failed Indianapolis 500 attempt, Hinchcliffe has four top five finishes and eight top ten finishes from ten starts and he rolls into Toronto off the back of three consecutive top ten finishes. After years of hardship in his home race, Hinchcliffe has turned it around the last two years. In each race Hinchcliffe has started sixth and in each race he has stood on the third step of the podium. This is the only track where Hinchcliffe has scored successive podium finishes in his IndyCar career.

Hinchcliffe is not known for success in the races after victories. Only once has Hinchcliffe finished in the top ten in the race following a victory and that was last year at Barber when he finished sixth after his victory at Long Beach. 

While Hinchcliffe enters as a winner, Robert Wickens enters as the highest placed Canadian in the championship. A pair of fifth place finishes in the last two races has the rookie sixth in the championship and 107 points behind Scott Dixon in the championship. Through 11 races, Wickens' five top five finishes are the most for a rookie since Carlos Muñoz in 2014. The last time a rookie had six top five finishes in a season was Simon Pagenaud in 2012 but Wickens is trending better than the Frenchman did that season as Pagenaud had one fewer top five finish through 11 races than Wickens' current total.

This will be Wickens' first race in Canada since August 30, 2009 when he finished fourth in the Atlantics race at motorsport. This will only be his second start on the Exhibition Place circuit. He finished seventh in the 2007 Atlantics race held at Toronto. Wickens has won in his home country before. He won the second race of the 2005 Formula BMW USA weekend held in association with the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal. 

Zachary Claman De Melo makes his Toronto IndyCar debut this weekend. The French-Canadian raced the previous two years at Toronto in Indy Lights and after he finished 13th in both races in 2016 he finished second and third in the two 2017 races. While both Hinchcliffe and Wickens have stood on the podium this season, De Melo has yet to crack the top ten and his only lead lap finish this season occurred in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which coincidentally was Claman De Melo's best finish of the season of 12th. It is his only top fifteen finish this year. 

Paul Tracy is the only Canadian to win at Toronto with him doing it in 2003 and 2013. Tracy is also responsible for the most recent home victory for a Canadian when he won at Vancouver in 2004.

Is This the Time For a Sébastien Bourdais Turnaround?
The Frenchman started out the 2018 season in a better position than his dream start to the 2017 season but the last few weeks have been hard on Bourdais.

Bourdais' only top ten finish in the last six races was eighth at Texas and his average finish in the last six races is 15.667. He has started in the top six in three of the six races but he has started 15th or worse in the other three. He has not led a lap in the last five races after starting the season with leading at least one lap in the first six races. 

On the bright side for Bourdais he has made it to the Fast Six session on the last three occasions and he is one of the better active drivers at Toronto. He has an average finish of 5.307 at the track and he has finished in the top ten in 12 of 13 starts. Bourdais has started in the top ten every year he has been at Toronto and he has started in the top five on nine occasions. His four pole positions are second most all-time in this event behind only Dario Franchitti who had five Toronto pole positions. Bourdais has completed 1,065 of 1,072 laps in his 13 starts and he has six consecutive lead lap finishes in this event.

Bourdais finds himself tenth in the championship on 254 points and he is at a precarious position with the drivers ahead of him on the verge of pulling away and making it difficult for Bourdais to pick up a few more spots in the remaining six races. He is 25 points behind Simon Pagenaud in ninth with Hinchcliffe a point ahead of Pagenaud. Bourdais is 104 points outside the top five of the championship despite being in the top five after each of the first five races of the season. Since returning to full-time IndyCar competition in 2013, Bourdais has never finished better than tenth in the championship.

Honda's Hopes
Chevrolet has won seven of the last nine Toronto races and Honda has been the title sponsor for all of those races. The good news is Honda heads into one of its marquee events leading in victories with a 6-5 edge over Chevrolet thanks to Hinchcliffe at Iowa and Honda has had at least two cars on the podium in ten of the first 11 races. Iowa was only the second race this season where Chevrolet had two cars finish in the top five but through the first four street course races this season, Chevrolet has only one top five finish, a second in the second Belle Isle race at the hands of Will Power. Honda leads the Manufactures' Championship with 922 points to Chevrolet's 820 points.

Honda looks to sweep the street course races this season. The manufacture enters four-for-four after Bourdais won at St. Petersburg, Alexander Rossi won at Long Beach and Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay split the Belle Isle weekend. All five Honda teams have won a street course race in the last two seasons. 

Scott Dixon is the man responsible for the two Honda victories at Toronto in the DW12-era and both came during his memorable sweep of the 2013 doubleheader. It also capped a streak of three consecutive victories that launched the New Zealander into the championship fight. Five years later, Dixon leads the championship by 33 points over Josef Newgarden with 53 points covering the top five. Those two victories started a streak of seven consecutive top ten finishes at Toronto but Dixon has not finished in the top five the last four years. In 13 Toronto starts Dixon has never started outside the top ten, he has seven top five finishes and 11 top ten finishes.

Andretti Autosport will look to shake off a horrendous Iowa weekend in Canada and it has been a kind place to the Andretti drivers. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti have each completed 885 of 886 laps run at Toronto since the event returned to the schedule in 2009. Hunter-Reay won the 2012 race but last year's sixth place finish was his first top ten finish since that victory after six consecutive finishes outside the top ten, four of which were finishes outside the top fifteen. Hunter-Reay has started outside the top fifteen in the last three Toronto races. Andretti finished fourth in last year's race and he has three top five finishes and eight top ten finishes in 11 starts. Like Hunter-Reay, Andretti has started outside the top ten in the last three Toronto races and he has never started better than eighth in this race.

Alexander Rossi finished second in last year's race after starting eighth and he has completed all 170 laps in his two Toronto starts. Zach Veach has six starts at Exhibition Place in the Road to Indy series.  He finished second in the first Star Mazda race held in 2012 but in four Indy Lights races his best finish was fifth in 2014.

Graham Rahal qualified second in last year's race but he was shuffled back when a caution came out prior to his first pit stop. While Rahal finished ninth last year and he has three top ten finishes in the last five Toronto races, his lone top five finish remains fifth in the 2010 race. He has ten top ten finishes this season, leading all drivers in IndyCar but he has only three top five finishes and his runner-up finish at St. Petersburg remains his only podium finish. His teammate Takuma Sato enters off a third-place finish at Iowa, three consecutive top ten finishes and four top ten finishes in the last five races. While Sato has three top ten finishes in the last four Toronto races, he has finished 20th or worse five times in ten Toronto starts.

Ed Jones had his streak of four consecutive top ten finishes snapped last week at Iowa. Last year, he retired from the Toronto race after 75 laps due to a mechanical failure.

Penske and Carpenter Look to Keep the Streak Going
Team Penske has won the last two years at Toronto and Ed Carpenter Racing won the two races prior to that with the 2015 victory coming under CFH Racing branding.

Josef Newgarden has won two of the last three years at Toronto and his victory last year came with a bit of fortunate timing with the Tennessean being on the pit lane when the first caution came out. The break aside Newgarden went on to win the race with an average speed of 95.79 MPH, the fastest Toronto race since Paul Tracy won in 2003 with an average speed of 96.189 MPH. The only driver to win three Toronto races within four years is Michael Andretti.

Will Power heads into Toronto with three victories, tied with Dario Franchitti for second most victories in this event's history. Last year, Power suffered his first career lap one retirement after contact in turn three with Scott Dixon broke his rear suspension. Power has only started outside the top ten twice in 13 Toronto appearances and he has started in the top five in ten of the last 11 Toronto races with six front row starts in that time period.

Simon Pagenaud's solid season of eight top ten finishes in 11 races only has the Frenchman ninth in the championship with one podium finish to show for it and he is on the outside of the championship fight with time running out. The Frenchman has yet to have a breakthrough at Toronto. He started on pole position last year, his fifth consecutive time starting on one of the first two races at Toronto, and after being shuffled back during the first pit cycle he roared to a fifth place finish. However, he has never finished on the podium in this race. Pagenaud has never failed to make it out of the first round of qualifying at this event. This has been a rough year on street course for Pagenaud. His best finish is tenth and he has started outside in two of the four races. Last year, he had four top five finishes on street courses. This will be the first time in Pagenaud's IndyCar career he does not have at least two top five finishes on street courses in a season.

Spencer Pigot is coming off his career best finish of second at Iowa and he has three top ten finishes in the last five races after not having a top ten finish in his prior 12 starts. Last year, Pigot had a great first stint at Toronto to drive to eighth passing past champions Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan along the way. An extra pit stop after contact with Takuma Sato derailed Pigot's hopes of a respectable result. While he has finished 19th and 18th in his two Toronto IndyCar starts, he swept the Indy Lights races at Toronto in 2015. Pigot has made it out of round one of qualifying on the last two occasions at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Road America.

Jordan King will make his Toronto debut. It has been a shaky season for the Englishman. While King has been fast and has had respectable qualifying results, he has been frequently in the barriers. King is coming off his best finish this season, a 12th at Road America and it was his second lead lap finish in seven starts. King will look to end his first round of IndyCar street courses on a high note. His best finish in the previous four street course races was 16th in the first Belle Isle race, his only other lead lap finish this season.

Daly In, Chaves Out at Harding
Harding Racing is a making a substitution for the Honda Indy Toronto and the team is bringing in Conor Daly in place of Gabby Chaves for the Canadian round.

Chaves remains employed with the team but Harding Racing is using the remainder of the season to try out other drivers as the team is looking to expand to a two-car operation next season. Chaves has not put up spectacular results this season but he has been consistently bring the car home and keeping all four wheels intact. Prior to Iowa, Chaves had been running at the finish of every race this season with his retirement at Iowa due to handling issues being his first of the season. His best finish this season was 14th, which occurred at St. Petersburg and the Indianapolis 500.

This will be Daly's fourth Toronto race. His best finish was 12th in 2015 substituting for the injured James Hinchcliffe and he qualified seventh the following year. His average starting position and average finishing position is 14.7. Daly has finished on the lead lap in all three of his Toronto starts.

Road to Indy
All three Road to Indy series are in the second half of their seasons and championship pictures are tightening up.

Colton Herta's championship lead shrunk to eight points over Patricio O'Ward after the Mexican driver took his fourth victory of the season and his first victory since Barber. Herta has 283 points to O'Ward's 275 points. The American has eighth consecutive podium finishes and he has been on the podium in nine of ten races. Last year, Herta finished fourth in the first Toronto race and he started on pole for the second race but contact with the barrier while leading ended his hopes of winning that day. O'Ward finished on the podium in three of four Pro Mazda races at Toronto.

Santiago Urrutia trails Herta by 49 points and he finished third and 11th last year at Toronto. Victor Franzoni won at Toronto in U.S. F2000 in 2016 and he is 67 points behind Herta. Ryan Norman has 189 points with Aaron Telitz on 181 points. Telitz swept the 2016 Pro Mazda races at Toronto and he finished fifth and second last year in Indy Lights. Canadian Dalton Kellett heads to Toronto on 177 points. In seven Road to Indy starts at Toronto, Kellett's best finish was seventh in U.S. F2000 in 2013.

The first Indy Lights race will be at 12:40 p.m. ET on Saturday July 14th. The second Indy Lights race will take place at 12:25 p.m. ET on Sunday July 15th.

Canadian Parker Thompson comes home with 237 points in the Pro Mazda championship and he holds a 46-point lead over Rinus VeeKay. Thompson has finished in the top five of every race this season and he leads the series with three victories. Thompson has won his last three starts in Toronto as he won the second U.S. F2000 race in 2016 and he swept the U.S. F2000 races last year. VeeKay finished third and second in last year's U.S. F2000 races and he has not had a podium finish in the last four races. Carlos Cunha is four points behind VeeKay and he is still looking for his first U.S. F2000 victories after 21 career starts.

David Malukas is coming off his first two career victories after he swept the Road America weekend and he is fourth on 179 points. He is five points ahead of Harrison Scott, who has two victories, a runner-up finish and a pair of third place finishes. Oliver Askew round out the top six on 150 points. Askew has three pole positions but his only podium finish was second in the first IMS road course race. Sting Ray Robb is seventh on 138 points with Robert Megennis on 126 points.

Pro Mazda will race at 10:50 a.m. ET on Saturday July 14th with the second race scheduled for 10:40 a.m. ET on Sunday July 15th.

Kyle Kirkwood has won four consecutive races in U.S. F2000 and the American has 217 points from seven races. Kirkwood holds a 95-point championship lead over Alexandre Baron. Baron won back-to-back races at St. Petersburg and Barber and he had a runner-up finish in the second Barber race but since then Baron's best finish is seventh. Baron won at Toronto in 2014 driving in Indy Lights. Kaylen Frederick has finished runner-up in three consecutive races and he is third in the championship on 112 points, 11 points behind Baron.

Igor Fraga is fourth on the championship on 102 points and the Brazilian's only podium finish was second to Baron at St. Petersburg. José Sierra is three points behind Fraga and while Sierra has five top ten finishes this season he has finished outside the top twenty twice. Lucas Kohl and Rasmus Lindh are tied on 98 points with Kohl holding the tiebreaker with a seventh place finish as both drivers are tied with two third-place finishes and one fourth-place finish. Kohl finished third in the most recent race at Road America. Lindh won pole position for both Road America races.

Calvin Ming is eighth in the championship on 88 points with Darren Keane on 83 points. Keith Donegan and Kory Enders tied for tenth on 79 points. Dakota Dickerson is back for his second consecutive U.S. F2000 round. Dickerson is the current championship leader in the Formula 4 United States Championship. 

U.S. F2000's first race will be at 11:45 a.m. ET on Saturday July 14th with the second race at 9:45 a.m. ET on Sunday July 15th.

Fast Facts
This will be the 11th IndyCar race to take place on July 15th and first since 2006 when Scott Dixon won at Nashville.

This race occurs 17 years to the day Michael Andretti won his seventh and final Toronto race. He won from 13th on the grid, the furthest back a Toronto winner has started.

Newman-Haas Racing has the most Toronto victories with seven. Chip Ganassi Racing has the second most with six victories.

Spencer Pigot could join Paul Tracy as the only drivers to have won at Toronto in IndyCar and Indy Lights.

A.J. Allmendinger is the only driver to win at Toronto in IndyCar and Atlantics.

Only two drivers have scored their first career victory at Toronto: Adrián Fernández in 1996 and Justin Wilson in 2005.

The last time there was a Canadian 1-2 finish was August 10, 2003 at Mid-Ohio with Paul Tracy ahead of Patrick Carpentier.

There have been a total of six Canadian 1-2 finishes in IndyCar history. Those 1-2 finishes are...
Michigan 1992: Scott Goodyear over Paul Tracy.
Homestead 1995: Jacques Villeneuve over Paul Tracy.
Road America 1995: Jacques Villeneuve over Paul Tracy.
Rio de Janeiro 1997: Paul Tracy over Greg Moore.
Gateway 1997: Paul Tracy over Greg Moore.
Mid-Ohio 2003: Paul Tracy over Patrick Carpentier.

There has never been a Canadian 1-2-3 finish.

Since Toronto returned to the schedule in 2009, A.J. Foyt Racing has had at least one car finish in the top ten in six of 11 races.

A.J. Foyt Racing's only victory in Canada occurred on July 3, 1977 with A.J. Foyt winning at Mosport.

This will be the 76th IndyCar race to take place in Canada and it is the 34th time Exhibition Place has hosted IndyCar.

Of the previous 75 IndyCar races in Canada, only six have been won by Brazilians. Emerson Fittipaldi won at Toronto in 1987, Mauricio Gugelmin won at Vancouver in 1997, Roberto Moreno won at Vancouver in 2001, Cristiano da Matta won at Toronto in 2003, Bruno Junqueira won at Montreal in 2004 and Hélio Castroneves won at Edmonton in 2012.

Nine different nationalities have won at Toronto (American, Brazilian, Canadian, Mexican, British, Italian, French, Australian, New Zealander).

The average starting position for a Toronto winner is 3.969 with a median of third.

Three of the last four Toronto races have been won from outside the top five. Only three of the prior 13 Toronto races were won from outside the top five.

The average number of lead changes in a Toronto race is 4.09375 with a median of four.

The average number of cautions in a Toronto race is 3.59375 with a median of three. The average number of caution laps is 14.625 with a median of 12.5.

Three of the last four Toronto races have had fewer than ten caution laps after only one of the prior 13 Toronto races had fewer than ten caution laps.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon is one top five finish away from tying A.J. Foyt for second all-time on 149 top five finishes.

Sébastien Bourdais is one top five finish away from 75 career top five finishes.

Ryan Hunter-Reay needs to lead eight laps to surpass Tomas Scheckter for 31st all-time in laps led.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 65 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 23 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 21 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball needs to lead 38 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Predictions
Robert Wickens wins in his first IndyCar race in Toronto with a Honda sweep of the podium ahead of Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal. There will be more lead changes in this race than Iowa last week. At least one Team Penske driver does not make it to the second round of qualifying. There will not be a caution between lap 20 and lap 35 of this race. Other than Wickens, no other rookie finishes in the top ten. Every driver will complete at least 50 laps. Sleeper: Takuma Sato.