Toronto Preview: Home Win for Hinch or Dixon Rebound?

The Toronto Honda Indy marks the official beginning of Indycar’s home stretch. It’s the first of the final 6 races and the last street race of the year.  This is a great event. I was fortunate to attend the races in 2013. I felt like I was at Indy.  The atmosphere and the buzz was that tremendous. This is a treasured event in Canada. I hope in the future Indycar can have as many as 2 more races in Canada.

I was surprised to see that this is the 50th anniversary of Indycar’s first venture north of the border. In 1967 Mosport (now Canadian Tire Motorsports Park) hosted two 100 mile races, both won by Bobby Unser.   I knew there had been races in Canada for a while but hadn’t realized it had been that long. This is the 33rd race at Exhibition Place.

The track at Exhibiton place has changed over the years as new construction forced alterations to the layout. It is a tight track with one good passing zone. Pit strategy is key here, as is usually the case with street races. There is a possibility of rain Sunday afternoon, which could really scramble the order.

Honda cars have swept the street races so far and there is no reason to believe this weekend will be different. James Hinchcliffe, from nearby Oakville, Ontario, is the sentimental favorite. He has one street course win this year at Long Beach. This is the race Hinch would love to win. his record here is not great. He has just one podium finish at his home track. This weekend could be a good one for him.

Graham Rahal swept both races in Detroit although Penske cars of Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden challenged him. Can he win his third straight street race? Rahal has driven well this season and should probably be at least two spots higher in the points. When he finishes a race, he is usually in the top ten, but DNFs have cost him points.

Scott Dixon was the last driver to win both parts of a doubleheader before Rahal’s Detroit twin wins. Dixon won both Toronto races in 2013. He did not have a great weekend at Iowa and his lead in the championship is down to eight points. Dixon and his team know how to win on street circuits and I look for him to bounce back from last week’s showing. In fact, Scott Dixon is my pick to win this weekend and extend his point lead.

News and Notes:

Sebastian Saavedra will replace Mikhail Aleshin in the #7 Schmidt Peterson entry this weekend. The car will carry sponsorship from AFS, a long time Saavedra sponsor. I suspect a funding issue is the reason for this switch, mainly due to Aleshin using up his crash repair budget. Aleshin will be at the track this weekend, so he apparently hasn’t completely lost the ride yet.

Sebastian Bourdais will make his first appearance at a racetrack since his crash during qualifying at Indianapolis. Bourdais has recovered incredibly fast. He plans to race again at Watkins Glen and Sonoma this year. I continue to marvel at how quickly drivers return from horrific debilitating injuries.  They are wired differently than I am.

Team Penske’s entry into sportscars next year with the new Honda DPi car appears to signal the end of Castroneves’ full time Indycar career. He will team with Juan Pablo Montoya running the IMSA circuit full time and both drivers will have one-off rides for the 500. Penske is expected to field just three cars in Indycar next season.  Drivers of all talent levels enter and leave the series constantly. Castroneves has had a great Indycar career. It is sad when one of the most popular drivers leaves.

Ganassi is also likely to have three entries next year, as Tony Kanaan’s ride is in doubt. NTT Data will switch full time to Dixon, leaving TK without a sponsor.

Tonight I’m seeing that Andretti is thinking of a sportscar program with Marco Andretti as one of the drivers. I am skeptical about this one. It’s difficult to imagine an Indycar season without an Andretti in it. Also, how much thinner can Michael spread his resources?  Are they planning on dropping to three cars as well?  There are also whispers about AA switching to Chevy power in 2018, which would mean Takuma Sato would be the car dropping off.

It’s been a wild, unpredictable season so far, and the offseason is shaping up to continue the same way.  We may not know what next year’s grid looks like until the cars get on track March 9 in St. Pete.

 

 

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