By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
TORONTO — The second-longest running street race in the NTT IndyCar Series has arrived and the 2019 Honda Indy Toronto is looking to be a showdown of the championship leaders to start the second half of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season.
Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi is coming off of a run of four top-two finishes in the last five races. His other finish? Fifth. In fact, the California native has two wins and only two finishes outside the top-five all year. Normally that kind of a first half of a season would give a driver the points lead, but Josef Newgarden has a thing or two to say about that.
The 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion has three wins in the first half of 2019 and only one finish below fifth thanks to a spin in the second race at Detroit. Newgarden currently holds a seven point lead over Rossi and nearly won at Toronto in 2018 before wall contact on a restart dropped him down the order.
Newgarden has a pair of wins at Exhibition Place in 2015 for CFH Racing and 2017 for Team Penske. Rossi’s best finish at Toronto is a second to Newgarden in 2017.
“Toronto is one of the most exciting races of the season for us due to the energy of the crowd and the city,” said Rossi. “This weekend kicks off a three-week stretch of critical races, so the whole team and I will be needing to bring our ‘A’ game. I feel rested and ready and cannot wait to get started.”
Rossi’s last drive at Road America was the stuff of legends. Winning at Road America by over 28 seconds meant that over a 55-lap race, the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda went on average a half-second per lap faster than second place. Newgarden finished third but is looking to score his third win north of the border.
“I have always been a fan of Toronto,” said Newgarden. “We’ve had some success there and it’s just a really fun course to drive. Not only that, it’s a great city and my crew guys and I always have a really good time up there. The fans are always so excited and gracious when we’re in town which makes it even better.”
Behind Newgarden and Rossi, the driver most have their eye on is fourth-placed Scott Dixon. Dixon broke the matrix at Road America with a fifth place finish after a Lap 1 spin dropped him to last in the 23-car field. The five-time series champion is 94 points behind Newgarden in the points but is the defending winner at Toronto and swept both races at the Toronto doubleheader in 2013. Dixon is looking to bring the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda to victory lane again in 2019 to try and close the gap to the front two.
” It’s really another classic street course which allows passing zones for the cars,” said Dixon. “The fans in Toronto – and Canada, in general – are very knowledgeable and you can see that passion come through on race weekends there. I hope we can have a big weekend with the PNC Bank No. 9 car.”
Besides the trio of Rossi, Newgarden and Dixon, the next group to look out for are the rookies. 2019 has one of the more stacked rookie classes in recent memory. Colton Herta has a pole and a race win this year but a horrible run of luck after winning in Austin dropped the Harding-Steinbrenner Racing driver significantly in the standings while Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Marcus Ericsson brought his Formula One experience to North America. A pair of sevenths and a runner-up in Detroit might be underwhelming for most but this is the Swede’s first time in a competitive car in several seasons.
Felix Rosenqvist and Santino Ferrucci are the two highest-placed rookies in the points standings and have had mixed results in 2019. Rosenqvist is 10th in the standings and has a pole position to his name at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course but two finishes of 23rd or worse and a DNF at the second Detroit race have not reflected well on the Swede’s year. Rosenqvist does have two Indy Lights wins at Toronto to guide him, however.
Ferrucci, meanwhile, has had flashes of brilliance in 2019 but inconsistency has been the Connecticut native’s biggest downfall. A fourth at Texas and four other top-10 finishes are offset by four finishes of 19th or worse.
Friday practice will tell a lot for the rookies and veterans alike and begins at 11:05 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold.