Thursday, July 11, 2019

Track Walk: Toronto 2019

IndyCar is back in the streets and this time it is in Toronto
The 11th round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season takes IndyCar back to Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada for the lone international race on the calendar. There have been six different winners in the last six Toronto races with those winners coming from four different teams. Last year, Honda picked up its first Toronto victory since 2013. Chevrolet has the most Toronto victories with 12 while Honda sits second with 10 victories at Exhibition Place. Through ten races, Honda and Chevrolet have each won five races but Honda holds the lead in the manufactures' championship with 826 points to Chevrolet's 754 points.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 14th with green flag scheduled for 3:42 p.m. ET.
Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Jon Beekhuis, Dillon Welch and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule 
First Practice: 11:05 a.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Second Practice: 3:15 p.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Third Practice: 10:20 a.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Qualifying: 2:00 p.m. ET (Live coverage on NBCSN)
Warm-Up: 12:15 p.m. ET (30 minutes)*
Race: 3:42 p.m. ET (85 laps)

* - All practice and qualifying sessions are available live with the NBC Sports Gold IndyCar pass.

Newgarden vs. Rossi
The story of the next three weeks will be the championship battle between Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi.

Heading to Toronto, Newgarden holds a seven-point lead over Rossi and the two drivers have been matching each other every step of the way over the 2019 season. Newgarden has three victories to Rossi's two and Newgarden has been on the podium six times to Rossi's five but the drivers are level on top five finishes with eight apiece and Rossi holds the edge in top ten finishes with nine to Newgarden's eight.

Their near identical records have them with near identical average finishes. Newgarden leads all of IndyCar at 5.2 with Rossi at 5.4.

In terms of qualifying, Rossi has two pole positions this season, tied with Will Power and Takuma Sato for the most. In road/street course qualifying, neither driver is at the top of the pecking order when it comes to Fast Six appearances but Rossi has made the Fast Six four times to Newgarden's three and Rossi has made it out of round one on five occasions to Newgarden's four.

Rossi is second in IndyCar with an average starting position of 5.9 while Newgarden is fourth at 6.4.

Both drivers have led in seven different races and Newgarden has led 183 laps, one more than Rossi. Newgarden has scored fastest lap twice, tied with Colton Herta for the most this season while Rossi has yet to take fastest lap honors.

This weekend will be Newgarden's tenth Toronto start but prior to 2015, his record was not that impressive. In his first five starts, his best starting position was tenth and his best finish was 11th. To be fair, Newgarden probably should have finished on the podium on his Toronto debut in 2012 had it not been for Simon Pagenaud making contact with him into turn three and dropping him to 13th.

In Newgarden's last four Toronto starts he has two victories and he won pole position last year. He has started in the top ten in the last three Toronto races and he has made it out of round one the last four years.

Rossi has only three Toronto starts to his name. After a disappointing debut in 2016, Rossi went from eighth to second, behind Newgarden in 2017, and last year he started fifth but finished eighth after having to make a pit stop for a front wing change after contact with Will Power.

This is the fifth and final street course race of the season and Newgarden has won twice on street courses this season and he finished second at Long Beach. Rossi won Long Beach, finished second to Newgarden at Belle Isle and he has fifth place finishes in the other two street course races. Despite Newgarden's two victories, Rossi holds the better average finish on street courses this year at 3.25 to Newgarden's 5.75 with Newgarden's 19th in the second Belle Isle race being the one major blemish this season.

The Chase
While all eyes are on Newgarden and Rossi, the rest of the pack has to find a way back into the fight over the next three weeks.

Simon Pagenaud is 61 points behind his Team Penske teammate and outside of his two victories in Indianapolis, Pagenaud has not finished better than sixth this season. Last year, Pagenaud finished second at Toronto and he has started on one of the first two rows in the last six Toronto races. He has yet to win at Exhibition Place and he has led only 34 laps in this event with the only times he has led more than two laps being 23 laps led in 2012 and six laps led in the first race in 2014.

Scott Dixon is the defending winner in Toronto and he is tied with Will Power for most victories among drivers with each driver having three victories at Exhibition Place. Dixon will need another great showing in Canada to close the 94-point deficit to Newgarden. Dixon has ten consecutive top ten finishes at Toronto and he has started in the top ten in all 14 of his Toronto starts. He has eight top five finishes at Toronto, tied with Paul Tracy and Sébastien Bourdais for third most all-time in the history of this event. Dixon enters this weekend tied with Michael Andretti for second most top ten finishes at Toronto with 12. Only Bourdais has more top ten finishes in this race with 13.

Will Power has a 108-point gap between him and his teammate Newgarden. Power's last two Toronto races have not gone as planned. Since picking up his third Toronto victory, Power has finished 21st and 18th and he has only led one lap. He has started in the top five in 11 of the last 12 Toronto races and he has led a lap in ten of 14 Toronto starts. Power is coming off a second place finish at Road America and Power has won the race after a runner-up finish on four of the last five occasions.

Takuma Sato sits sixth in the championship, two points behind Power for fifth. Toronto has been a rough course for Sato with six of his 11 starts ending in a result of 20th or worse, including last year when he finished 22nd after brushing the barrier.

Ryan Hunter-Reay had a streak of three consecutive top five finishes snapped at Road America, where he finished 11th. Hunter-Reay is 131 points behind Newgarden in the championship. Hunter-Reay has been in a rut at Exhibition Place. He won the 2012 race in part of a three-race winning streak that led him to the championship that season. In the eight starts since his best finish is sixth and he has finished outside the top ten in the other seven races and five of those have been finishes outside the top fifteen.

Graham Rahal is in the distance when it comes to the championship with Rahal 158 points back with seven races to run. The good news for Rahal is he heads to Toronto off the back of four consecutive top ten finishes with the last two results being third and fourth at Texas and Road America respectively. Rahal will be looking for a career day in Toronto. His best finish was fifth in 2010 and he has only led 23 laps at the track, which all came in 2011. He started outside the top ten in eight of 13 Toronto starts.

Hinchcliffe's Hometown Hopes
There will be one Canadian on the grid for this weekend's Honda Indy Toronto and this trip home could not come at a better time for James Hinchcliffe.

Hinchcliffe has not had a top five finish since he was fourth in last year's race in his hometown. After having dismal results in his first two trips to Toronto, he has reeled off five consecutive top ten finishes in his home race and he has been in the top five the last three years.

Things have been average for Hinchcliffe this year. He has five top ten finishes from the first ten races and only twice in his career has he had more than five top ten finishes through his first ten starts in a season. Hinchcliffe has been in the top ten of the championship after every race this season and for 17 consecutive races dating back to last year at Iowa. Despite this run, he has not been in the top five of the championship since after the 2018 Grand Prix of Indianapolis, prior to failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

The top five in the championship might be out of reach for the Canadian with him sitting ninth and 78 points behind Power entering this race. It could be a tough fight for him to just match his career-best championship finish of eighth. Hinchcliffe is 28 points behind Rahal and when it comes to breaking into the top seven, Hinchcliffe is 55 points behind his former Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay.

While Hinchcliffe might be hoping for the hometown bump to knock in his in the right direction, history is not on his side if he hopes to have the locals leave in an exuberant mood.

There have been 140 American open-wheel championship races held outside the United States. Only seven times has an international driver won a race in his country of birth, five of those belong to Paul Tracy, with two victories at Toronto and three in Vancouver. The other two are André Ribiero at Rio de Janeiro in 1996 and Dario Franchitti at Rockingham in 2002.

Karam's Return
This weekend will mark Sage Karam's return to IndyCar for the first time since the Indianapolis 500 in May but it is the first time Karam has been in an IndyCar race other than the Indianapolis 500 since Pocono in August 2015 and his first road/street course since Mid-Ohio on August 2, 2015.

Karam will be in the #31 Chevrolet for Carlin, the seat left vacant due to Patricio O'Ward's Super Formula commitments in Japan due to his new role in the Red Bull Junior Team.

Karam enters a weary situation as Carlin has only one top ten finish this season, an eighth at Austin with O'Ward. The team has been knocking on the door of another top ten in recent races with O'Ward finishing 11th in the second Belle Isle race and Conor Daly was 11th at Texas. In qualifying, O'Ward started in the top ten in both Belle Isle races and Carlin has had a car start in the top ten of each street course race this season. O'Ward started ninth at Long Beach and Charlie Kimball started eighth in the St. Petersburg season opener.

Despite having an IndyCar career that dates back to 2014, Karam has made only three street course starts. He ran at St. Petersburg and Belle Isle in 2015 and he had finishes of 19th, 16th and 12th.

This will be the first time Karam has raced at Toronto since he was in Indy Lights in 2013. He was the sixth place finisher that day, one lap down after starting ninth in a nine-car field.

The only other time Karam raced at Toronto was in Star Mazda in 2012. He was driving for the Andretti Autosport and in the first race he suffered a broken differential on the first lap. He had to start 21st, dead last for the second race and he worked his way to a third place finish.

Road to Indy
Like IndyCar, all three Road to Indy series head to their final street course of the season and two of the three championships are tightly contested while another is on the verge of becoming a runaway.

Oliver Askew maintained the Indy Lights championship season after Road America but the Andretti Autosport driver had his championship lead cut to three points after Juncos Racing's Rinus VeeKay won the second race of the weekend from Elkhart Lake. Askew has a 43-point lead over his teammate Robert Megennis with Ryan Norman making it three Andretti Autosport drivers in the top four with Norman two points off Megennis. Norman won the first race of the Road America weekend.

Toby Sowery rounds out the top five on 171 points, 21 points ahead of David Malukas. Dalton Kellett is on 128 points with Lucas Kohl on 122 points. Aaron Telitz is back for his third consecutive race weekend and rounds out the nine-car entry list.

In four starts at Toronto, Askew has never won at this circuit with runner-up finishes in U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda. VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda races last year and he finished third and second in his two U.S. F2000 starts here. Third is the best finish for both Megennis and Norman at Toronto.

Malukas' best finish in four Road to Indy starts at Toronto is ninth. Kellett is the lone Canadian in the Indy Lights weekend and last year he finished fifth in both races. Telitz swept the Pro Mazda races at Toronto in 2016 and he has finished in the top five of all four of his Indy Lights starts with two podium finishes.

The first Indy Lights race will be at 12:45 p.m. ET on Saturday July 13th with the second race scheduled for Sunday July 14th at 11:00 a.m. ET.

Rasmus Lindh continues to lead the Indy Pro 2000 Championship but Parker Thompson and Kyle Kirkwood are looking to claw into that lead. Lindh sits on 187 points, 27 points ahead of Thompson and 29 points ahead of Kirkwood. Kirkwood is coming off sweeping the Road America weekend but Lindh continued his solid form and has yet to finish outside the top four this season while Thompson picked up a pair of third place finishes at Elkhart Lake.

Kirkwood swept the Toronto U.S. F2000 races last year while Lindh finished fourth and third in those races. Thompson won three times at Toronto in U.S. F2000 but last year it was his worst weekend in Pro Mazda after he finished eighth in both races and it lost him the championship lead.

Daniel Frost finished outside the top ten in both Road America races and he has dropped to fourth in the championship, 35 points behind Lindh. Sting Ray Robb rounds out the top five on 146 points with Nikita Lastochkin on 113 points.

The breakout from Road America was Ian Rodríguez, who finished second and fourth in the two races. It was only Rodríguez's second race weekend this season in Indy Pro 2000.

Indy Pro 2000 has a baker's dozen, 13 cars entered for Toronto.

Indy Pro 2000 will race at 9:25 a.m. ET on Saturday July 13th and 9:55 a.m. ET on Sunday July 14th.

Braden Eves picked up his fifth victory in U.S. F2000 at Road America and he is now 41 points clear of Hunter McElrea. McElrea won the other U.S. F2000 race at Road America and he has finished on the podium in six of seven races.

Colin Kaminsky sits on 131 points, 73 points behind Eves and he has three consecutive top five finishes. Darren Keane is fourth on 121 points and he has two runner-up finishes in his last four starts. Freedom 75 winner Cameron Shields dropped to fifth on 118 points after a ninth place finish in the second Road America race. Shields was third in the first race at Elkhart Lake. Manuel Sulaimán is sixth on 105 points and Alex Baron dropped to seventh on 92 points.

Seventeen cars are entered for U.S. F2000's trip to Canada.

The first U.S. F2000 race of the weekend will be at 11:20 a.m. ET on Saturday July 13th with the second race scheduled for 9:00 a.m. ET on Sunday July 14th.

Fast Facts
This will be the tenth IndyCar race to take place on July 14th and the first since 2013 when Scott Dixon won the second race of the Toronto doubleheader. Dixon also won on July 14, 2007 at Nashville.

This year's race will occur 28 years to the day of Bobby Rahal winning the final Meadowlands Grand Prix.

Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi have won the last two races. IndyCar has not had three different American drivers win three consecutive races in one season since the 2001 Indy Racing League season. Three different American drivers did win three consecutive races dating back to last season with Ryan Hunter-Reay winning the 2018 Sonoma season finale with Newgarden and Colton Herta splitting the first two races of 2019.

American drivers have won six of the first ten races this season, the most victories for American drivers since 2002 IRL season when Americans won six of the first ten races.

The winner of the Toronto race has gone on to win the championship the last two years. There have been two other periods when the Toronto winner gone on to win the championship in three consecutive years. The first time was from 2002 to 2004 when Crisitano da Matta, Paul Tracy and Sébastien Bourdais all won at Toronto and then won their first titles respectively. The second time was from 2011 to 2013 when Dario Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon all did it and Dixon swept the doubleheader in 2013.

The only drivers to win consecutive Toronto races are Michael Andretti in 1991-92, 1994-95 and 2000-01, and Scott Dixon's 2013 doubleheader sweep.

Dixon's victory last year was Chip Ganassi Racing's seventh Toronto victory, tying it with Newman/Haas Racing for most in event history.

Spencer Pigot and Felix Rosenqvist are the only drivers entered at Toronto that has won at the track in Indy Lights. The only driver to win in Indy Lights and IndyCar at Toronto is Paul Tracy.

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

No rookie has ever won at Toronto.

Adrián Fernández and Justin Wilson are the only two drivers to pick up their first career victory at Toronto.

The average starting position for a Toronto winner is 3.911 with a median of third.

The average number of lead changes in a Toronto race is 4.24 with a median of four.

The last 15 Toronto races have had at least three lead changes with seven of those races having over five lead changes.

The average number of cautions in a Toronto race is 3.57 with a median of three. The average number of caution laps is 14.545 with a median of 12 laps.

There has never been a caution-free race at Toronto.

The last Toronto race to have only one caution was in 1992.

Possible Milestones:
Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 48 laps to reach the 2,700 laps led milestone.

Ryan Hunter-Reay needs to lead 55 laps to reach the 1,600 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 44 laps to reach the 800 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 53 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 15 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Will Power gets his first victory of the season and it will be his first street course victory since Toronto 2016. Alexander Rossi finishes ahead of Josef Newgarden. Felix Rosenqvist starts and finishes in the top five. James Hinchcliffe does not finish in the top five. There will not be an accident involving more than two cars. Sage Karam qualifies behind Max Chilton but finishes ahead of Chilton. At least two drivers outside the top fifteen in the championship finish in the top ten. Sleeper: Felix Rosenqvist.