By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
INDYCAR silly season have gone full bonkers.
There’s no sugarcoating the upcoming Honda Indy Toronto is highlighted by teams making noise for right or wrong reasons.
Instead of the talks primarily focusing on the sport’s return to Canada for the first time since 2019, it shifted to what happened Tuesday.
The common minimum of 26 entries we’ve seen for much of the season won’t come into fruition. Toronto will be missing one entry. That being the No. 11 AJ Foyt Racing team that’s piloted by Tatiana Calderon.
Following sponsorship payment woes from RoKIT, the team pulled the plug of the team this weekend. Kyle Kirkwood, also sponsored by the same company, will be racing but with minimal presence of the brand.
This unfortunate news became an afterthought once a three-way dance involving Chip Ganassi Racing, McLaren Racing and driver Alex Palou shook the paddock.
Initially, Ganassi announced they’ve exercised the option of keeping the defending INDYCAR champion in 2023. Only for Palou himself denying such announcement and shortly thereafter, McLaren announced him as one of their drivers.
Time will tell if this controversial outcome will lead to legal battles, but Palou is still racing for Ganassi in Toronto.
While Palou’s racing career with McLaren is yet to be seen, it’s stirred the pot that’s really reached its boiling point. More so after the fiasco that was Mid-Ohio for Andretti Autosport where drivers were mad at each other.
Alexander Rossi will be leaving the team at season’s end and head to McLaren. Colton Herta’s future in INDYCAR is yet to be seen, especially after driving a McLaren Formula One car in Portugal for two days leading up to Toronto. Romain Grosjean’s tenure is rocky at best and it reached a frustrating peak two weeks ago.
Safe to say, Toronto will be a madhouse filled with events that’ll gradually unfold over time. On top of the fact that 13 of the 25 racers never partaken at one of the series longest tenured street circuits. This is in large part of the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling both 2020 and 2021 editions of the race.
Further fueling the fire of what’s expected to be a wild card weekend in this season’s championship trail. To further drive it home, it kicks off a four-week stretch of nonstop racing. As always, any mistake will be costly for the competitors and this stretch is the worst time to have it.
When the green flag drops at Toronto, which will be live exclusively on Peacock, another maddening development will unravel that’ll likely top the series of wild moments this season have bestowed to the paddock.
By the Numbers
What: Honda Indy Toronto, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 10 of 17
Where: Exhibition Place – Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Opened: 1986; First INDYCAR Race: 1986)
When: Sunday, July 17, 2022
TV/Radio: Peacock / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211) 3:00 p.m. ET
Track Size: 1.786-mile street course
Race Length: 85 laps, 151.81 miles
2019 Race Winner: Simon Pagenaud – No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started first, 80 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record (Current Layout): Josef Newgarden – No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet (58.4129 seconds, 110.072 mph – July 13, 2019)
From the Driver’s Seat
Will Power – No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet
“Having been around so long, I understand the tracks that I’m good at and what I’m — Toronto is always one that I struggle in qualifying for whatever reason. Usually good in the race.
“You’ve got to be good at all of them, and some that you think you’ll be really good at you may have a bad day, so you’ve got to make the most of everything. But there are some tracks your car is better, you’re stronger at, some click with you very well. That’s a path that you’ve got to keep working on, so be strong everywhere.”
Alex Palou – No. 10 Chip Ganasi Racing Honda
“I think here in INDYCAR it’s all the races. You have to be up there all the races and you have to get the best you have all the races. We saw it last year. We are seeing it this year. Yeah, had some races where we had almost no points, and that’s why we’re down there. But we’re getting there.
“It’s going to be tough in my situation with like Toronto. I’ve never been there. Iowa, we did a test there. We were not super good, but we have enough time to prepare for that. But yeah, I think every race you need to try and do the best you can and try and be top 5 to win the championship at the end.”
Last Time in Toronto
Three years ago, the Honda Indy Toronto began with a sentimental moment. Robert Wickens had the crowd up on their feet when he drove the Acura around the street course during pace laps.
Although he hasn’t raced in INDYCAR since his crash at Pocono in 2018, he’s been able to compete and win in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge in 2022. Showcasing you can’t slow down a racer.
The field was led by pole sitter Simon Pagenaud but chaos ensued on the opening lap. Will Power attempted to go on the inside of Graham Rahal, only for them to tangle and collect Marco Andretti.
With little room to avoid the carnage, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marcus Ericsson and Matheus Leist’s afternoons were impacted. Rahal made his frustrations clear with Power for the move as the field were slowed down for the next four laps.
Once the race restarted, it was smooth sailing for Pagenaud as he led all but five laps to score the victory. Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi rounded out the podium. The race ended on a damper for Power, who crashed on the last lap, ending a gut punching day.
Pagenaud’s victory in Toronto came at a vital time in his 2019 campaign. In spite of winning the Indianapolis 500 two months prior, he failed to lead laps and be a factor in the four races between wins. Therefore, making the win much sweeter for him and the entire No. 22 squad.
“I needed that time off to just reorganize my team around me – my personal team, not Team Penske – and find time for myself to refocus on the game and we did just that,” said Pagenaud.
“Ben Bretzman (engineer) has been really good at steering me in the right direction, also. I think it was a team effort, really. It looked like we were dominating today and I can’t thank these guys enough because they come in in the morning with big smiles on their face, every day same thing. We just are working together and that is why you have days like today.
“The whole race I was waiting for that yellow. For sure there is going to be a yellow with five laps to go; we’re going to have a restart. But no matter what, we had the best car. When we had to push, we could go faster than (Scott) Dixon, match anyone, save the fuel. It was just an amazing day. Dixon made it interesting in the end and that was fantastic for the fans,” Pagenaud continued.
“It’s time to go and we need to be aggressive now. This race we had to win and we did it. I think this team shows when it’s time to execute, we’re always there. There’s no question about that.”
Toronto proved to be Pagenaud’s last win of 2019 and the penultimate triumph during his tenure at Team Penske which ended after the 2021 season.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, July 15
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (2:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. – Peacock)
Saturday, July 16
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (2:00 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. – Peacock)
Sunday, July 17
- NTT IndyCar Series Warmup (10:55 a.m. to 11:25 a.m. – Peacock)
- Honda Indy Toronto (3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – Peacock)