By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Three races in two weeks are coming up with one experiencing an INDYCAR weekend for the first time.
IMSA standout Tom Blomqvist will make his series debut as he’ll deputize for Simon Pagenaud in Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 Honda. Pagenaud, who had a violent tumble during practice at Mid-Ohio, isn’t medically cleared to run at Exhibition Place.
Perhaps this weekend could be telling if the two-time Rolex 24 winner will soon make the jump to INDYCAR on a full-time basis in 2024 as MSR has had little to celebrate since the 2021 Indianapolis 500.
Outside of Blomqvist’s debut, Sunday’s stream exclusive race will also have people keeping an eye on the runaway championship leader Alex Palou.
A win in Canada will mark Palou’s fourth straight INDYCAR win as he’ll enter the 10th round of the championship trail with a whopping 110-point lead over defending race winner Scott Dixon.
Should such feat occur for Palou, he’ll be the first driver to win four straight Indy car races since Sebastien Bourdais (Champ Car) in 2006.
The grand focus for Palou is continuing to have strong results, knowing this month is the series most eventful and diverse venues of the entire season.
“We know that Toronto, it’s a street course, and everything can happen here there,” said Palou. “Same for Iowa. It’s always a crazy race, and it’s a double-header. So if you have a bad day, you’re probably going to have two bad days.
“Hopefully it’s going to be okay. I know Toronto was really good for us last year. If I remember correctly, Scott won, so we have a really good car. Hopefully we can still have a clean race there.
“Then Iowa we’ll see. It would be nice if we’re preparing for another great result there, and we suddenly get the great result.”
A single error from either himself or the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing squad, such momentum can go away quickly. For the rest of the field, such situation must happen if those who have a fair chance of fighting for the Astor Cup, have any chance to be on par with Palou.
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 16
TV/Radio: Peacock 1:30 p.m. ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channels 85 & 160)
Track Size: 1.786-mile street course
Race Length: 85 laps, 151.81 miles
2022 Winner: Scott Dixon – No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Started 2nd, 40 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Josef Newgarden – No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet (58.4129 seconds, 110.072 mph – July 13, 2019)
From the Driver’s Seat
Alexander Rossi – No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet
“I’m really excited to be back here in Toronto for the race. This city always brings an amazing crowd and energy that fuels all of us at the track. The street course in Toronto is tight and technical, but that’s exactly what makes it so challenging and rewarding.
“We’ve had great pace on street courses this year, and we need to continue that trend to gain back the couple spots we’ve lost in the championship over the past two events.”
Christian Lundgaard – No. 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
“We get hustled around in the car for sure, but I do personally like the bumpy street circuits, even just bumpy tracks in general because it puts the driver to a test and it puts all the material to a test.
“It’s a fun track in general. I really like the track. We’re relatively fast, so that makes it a lot more fun, but it is very challenging and it’s very physical, just because you get moved around and shuffled around so much in the car.
“That’s the one good thing about the race pace compared to qualifying pace because it does drop a bit. I’m sure it will be a hard, physical race this year.”
Last Time in Toronto
A year ago, INDYCAR made its return to Canada for the first time since 2019 with pole sitter Colton Herta leading the field early on. Outside pole sitter Scott Dixon would pass Herta on Lap 19 after the latter dealt with traffic during his first pit stop.
Further back, drama involving Andretti Autosport wouldn’t fade away.
First was Romain Grosjean dealing with a whole left side of Rinus VeeKay entering the fourth turn, ultimately no harm as both continued their day. The same couldn’t be said for Alexander Rossi, who was shoved into the wall by Felix Rosenqvist on Lap 45.
Due to this, the full course caution came out and when the race resumed on Lap 50, it was VeeKay and Conor Daly out in front. Dixon was running in third and wouldn’t take the lead until VeeKay pitted after the fourth and final full course caution came out for an incident involving Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Kirkwood.
From there, Dixon led the rest of the way en route to his fifth victory at Toronto. More importantly, equaling Mario Andretti’s mark of 52 career wins. Good enough to be tied for the second most Indy car wins of all-time. Less than a month later, Dixon surpassed Andretti for second after winning at Nashville.
“I love Mario. I love Mario for so many reasons, what he’s done in the sport, achieved, what he gives back to the sport,” said Dixon.
“I feel extremely lucky to have the likes of himself and A.J. (Foyt) here most weekends. Even to sit and chat with these guys, the generations that they raced in or the time they raced is a lot different from now.
“It means a lot to me, to even be mentioned in the sale conversation as these greats. I never thought it was possible.
“For me, it’s a huge credit to obviously the team that I work with now, but also the team that I started with, whether it was mum and dad to my brothers and sisters, all of my family, to the Scott Dixon Motorsport Group, which were the founders of getting a group together to put forward money and enable to get me to where I am today.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, July 14
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (3:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. – Peacock)
Sunday, July 15
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (10:35 a.m. to 11:35 a.m. – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (2:50 p.m. to 4:20 p.m. – Peacock)
Sunday, July 16
- NTT IndyCar Series Warmup (10:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. – Peacock)
- Honda Indy Toronto (1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. – Peacock)