5 things I’m watching for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto (3 p.m. ET, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network)

Drama

Andretti Autosport has their own drama. All 4 drivers had issues in Mid-Ohio and even after a behind closed doors one way meeting with Michael Andretti doing all the talking, 1 driver still called another one an “idiot.”

Clearly the meeting fell on some deaf ears. Romain Grosjean still wasn’t taking any credit for his role in the Mid-Ohio spat a week after in the Iowa test. So what’s the team dynamic heading to Toronto?

I don’t know how you just turn it off when one of the drivers is out the door at seasons end. Another could be following soon Colton Herta tested a McLaren F1 car on Monday and Tuesday. With Andretti’s bid for a future F1 team meeting resistance, there’s a real chance that Herta dazzled enough in Portugal this week that McLaren truly has him on their radar for a future drive.

If so, there’s a chance Andretti could lose his top 2 drivers (Rossi, Herta) to his buddy or maybe soon to be old buddy, Zak Brown. How would that sit for Andretti that his drivers are being groomed for McLaren?

Same for how Chip Ganassi is feeling. In the Fall of 2020, it was shockingly announced that Felix Rosenqvist would be leaving his seat with Ganassi for Arrow McLaren SP. He would be teammates with former Andretti Indy Lights driver Pato O’Ward and replacing another former Andretti Indy Lights driver Oliver Askew in the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet.

Not even 2 years later, hours after Ganassi announced that they have exercised Alex Palou’s option to return to the seat that he took over for the departing Rosenqvist for, one that he won the title in during his first year in it, he would be leaving Ganassi for McLaren too.

That has Ganassi as red as his old Target cars. He’s got to be pissed at Brown who also could soon be ruffling feathers with Andretti too.

Nevertheless, a tug of war has now ensued for Palou’s services. Ganassi remains firm that they hold the rights to Palou’s 2023 season. McLaren says they have a contract. I have a feeling Ganassi is right which leads to does Palou even show up this weekend in Toronto?

That’s massive in the fact that the defending series champion in the midst of a title fight in 2022 with currently being 4th in points could be benched is a massive undertaking.

Andretti vs. Andretti drama and now Ganassi vs. Palou vs. McLaren feuds. This is great for the series.


Scott McLaughlin picked up his 2nd career win a few weeks ago in Mid-Ohio. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Team Penske

Penske is having an approach the opposite of Andretti and it’s working. Josef Newgarden single handily helped Scott McLaughlin win the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. It was advise by his teammate to help them get back in the right direction.

“Just yesterday before qualifying Josef (Newgarden) was really the one that said, hey, you should maybe go back to your old setup because you looked stronger on that and whatever, and we actually ended up doing that, and that’s what happened,” McLaughlin said. “We qualified really well, and it worked out good. We’ve got a really good relationship between the three of us. We want to beat each other more than anything, but it’s solid, it’s a partnership that I think is going to push Team Penske more and more forward in the future, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

He’s not wrong. He’s won twice and sits 7th in points. Newgarden has won 3 times and is 3rd. Power has one win but is 20 points out in 2nd.

Penske took 2 of the 3 podium spots that day in Mid-Ohio.

Granted, all teammates still want to beat each other. It elevates this group. However, there’s a right way and wrong way to do it. Penske is a classic example on the right way.

“I’m very competitive. I hate losing to my teammates,” McLaughlin said. “I hate making mistakes. But that makes me competitive. That makes me work hard and make myself better. I think if I lose any competitiveness or aggression to myself, I’m not going to be as good as I want to be. I’ve got two teammates that are pushing me to no end, and if I do the right job on the day, I can certainly beat them like we’ve seen.

” I’m privileged to be able to compete against Will and Josef as teammates and see their data and it allows me to develop better. They’re absolutely at the top of their game. They’ve been at the top of their game for a long time, and I’m able to rebound off them.”

Newgarden and Power are more than happy to help him and vice versa.

“Yeah, he’s just a fast driver,” Power said of McLaughlin. “He’s doing all the work he needs to do. No surprise to me that he’s winning this year and running up front. Obviously it’s only his second year in this series, but he’s gained a lot of experience at a very high level. He dominated down in Australia, and that isn’t an easy series, either.

“I think what was good for him was he had the maturity of a professional driver. He didn’t have to learn like a rookie and make all these silly mistakes and a lot of trial and error. But doing a great job, great job. I mean, to come from sedans to open wheels and be competitive is impressive.”

In saying that, there’s a very real chance that as Andretti has self destructed and Chip Ganassi Racing and Arrow McLaren SP are in an all our way for Alex Palou’s future, it could lead to even more of a Penske rout. In turn, it could mean all 3 teammates are fighting each other for a title. Could that lead to friction?

“It is a very tough balance,” Power told me on Wednesday. “To me, the most awkward thing about motorsport is that you have a teammate, and you’re absolutely compared off your teammates, you have the same equipment. Very tough balance.

“But Penske, I don’t think Penske would ever allow it to get to the point where we’re having big issues with each other on track. We understand that. We understand that it’s about the team and not about the drivers. You never put yourself first.

“You work hard, you work together off the track. Obviously we’re kind of separate teams on the track. I have to say with both Scott and Josef, it’s been very good as far as the information that we share. Like, they are both super quick. It has helped me a lot. That’s to me an advantage.”

It’s just a night and day difference between the drama in the other camps and Team Penske.

Which is also a part of why after a winless season on street course events in 2021, Team Penske has fought back with a vengeance in 2022. They’re a perfect 3-for-3 with all 3 drivers winning on them. McLaughlin won the pole as well as the season opener on the streets of St. Pete. Josef Newgarden won from the 2nd place starting spot in Long Beach back in April. Then Will Power stormed from 16th to win at Belle Isle last month. Now, can they win their 4th street course race in as many starts on Sunday?

“The tire changed a little bit,” Power said of this year compared to last. “Basically the Firestone tires that we were running last year had sat around a lot, so the tire was obviously hardening over time. I think the tire’s simply better this year, which brought our cars into a better place for where we live.

“We also did a lot of development in the off-season. I actually feel like last year we had bad luck. I wouldn’t call it luck, but just strange things happened when we had cars in position to win and such. Yeah, last year wasn’t as bad as it looked on performance. It was just one of those years that was just a little bit messy and things didn’t flow our way.

“Newgarden should have won Road America. I should have won in Detroit. We should have challenging for the win in Laguna. It’s just races like that that kind of made it look worse.

“Yes, we’re certainly firing on all cylinders this year.”

Penske has won 3 of the last 4 here in Toronto too and each of the last 3 races on the season too.

No one has also won as many street course races over the last 4 seasons than Newgarden himself. His 4 wins are double the next best. He has 2 wins in his last 5 Toronto starts and 4 top 10’s in that same span. Prior to that, his best finish was 11th in 5 tries.

McLaughlin is technically a rookie this weekend while Power is a three time winner (2007, 2010, 2016). However, his last three Toronto finishes are 21st, 18th and 18th respectively too. Power, has just two podiums in his last 11 Toronto starts with 7 of those 11 seeing him finish 15th or worse at that. The flip side, he has 3 top 4 finishes in as many street course starts in 2022 too.

Chip Ganassi Racing has been next best in class on these circuits in 2022 with finishes of 2-8-9-23 at St. Pete, 3-6-20-22 in Long Beach and 3-6-7-22 in Detroit.

Andretti Autosport was 4-5-20-22 in St. Pete, 2-8-23-25 in Long Beach and 2-8-17-18 in Detroit.

As you can see the “Big 3” is where it stars among the favorites. For good measure too. The big teams are strong on them with Penske winning 7 of those last 14 races on these tracks, Ganassi and Andretti each with 3 wins a piece. Arrow McLaren SP is the only other team to have won but were 12-17, 5-11 and 5-10 this year on them.


Pato O’Ward became the 9th different pole winner of the season last Saturday at Mid-Ohio. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Did AMSP Fix Engine Reliability Issues?

We’ve seen 2 straight races now that Arrow McLaren SP has had engine issues. It happened to Pato O’Ward at the end of Road America and then Felix Rosenqvist at the beginning of Mid-Ohio. O’Ward even had his own mechanical issues again the last time out in the rural Ohio road course.

Did they get that fixed? If not, then this could be a Penske vs. Ganassi battle once again. However, Power noted on his call on Wednesday that Chevy has changed all their engines ahead of Toronto due to mileaging them out prior.

“Yeah, obviously always concerned when you see that,” Power said of the Chevy engine problems lately. “I will say that all the Chevys are switching out engines because they’re all up on mileage for this race. They are all on new engines.

“Chevy obviously does a big investigation into what happened. Usually a failure creates — it doesn’t happen twice, put it that way. I don’t know the findings of their investigation. I know one of them was not a Chevy issue.”

With Andretti Autosport’s self destruction in Mid-Ohio and Arrow McLaren SP having engine reliability issues, it opened the door for Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing to do what they do best – take home trophies.

They swept the podium that day with 2 Penske’s (Scott McLaughlin-Will Power) and 1 Ganassi (Alex Palou). In fact, out of the entire top 7 of the finishing order, these two teams combined to take 6 of them. It’s the second time of the year they’ve done this as they went 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 in Texas back in March.

Penske and Ganassi have 6 of the top 7 in points now that we enter the 2nd half of the season. They’ve won 13 out of the last 14 series titles including 10 straight and look like the clear front runners to extend this streak to 11 consecutively.

Plus, during the Aeroscreen era (18 races) on natural road courses, both Penske has won 7 of them with Ganassi 6 accounting for a 72% win rate.

With 3 of the final 8 races contesting on tracks like this, it’s going to be hard to make up that gap up on them. Plus, they’re 3-for-3 on street courses too and have been the top team on short ovals.


McLaughlin had a fierce battle with Alex Palou in the end of the season opener in St. Pete. Now they’re both rookies in Toronto – Photo Credit INDYCAR Media Site

Rookies?

Here’s another odd thing to consider this weekend, since we’ve not come here since 2019, you get an odd crop of “rookies” this weekend. Pato O’Ward has never raced here before. Neither has Alex Palou. Neither has Rinus VeeKay. Neither has Scott McLaughlin. Colton Herta has only been here once. How much of a factor will this play for these drivers or does the addition of the Aeroscreen take what could be a detriment away?

 “I think it will be different,” Power said. “The tire’s probably a little different. It’s so tight these years. The little tiny things do make a big difference. Yeah, it definitely changed the car a lot because it moves the weight further forward. But I’ve actually found at Toronto, as the weight has gone forward, it’s really helped.

“On those really slippery cement patches, the actual weight downforce matters, so you get more weight force on the front tires, and it actually helps turn the car. That was a big problem when the car had really rearward weight, that the front tires would not work over that cement.

“Obviously at some point, when you have high grip, that weight matters laterally. But the grip is so low that the lateral — the actual weight downforce is more than the actual lateral force. So, yeah, it’s interesting. To me it actually helped at that specific track, at Toronto.”

By comparison, this will be Scott Dixon and Will Power’s 14th Toronto start. Josef Newgarden has been here 10 times prior. Does that give them an advantage over O’Ward, Palou, McLaughlin and VeeKay?

“Yeah, the field is so good now, there’s so many good drivers, it really doesn’t matter if someone has been there or not because they seem to get up to speed so quickly,” said Power. “Yeah, you can’t feel like you ever have an advantage in this game. Definitely the all-time high as far as driver talent, the quality of teams. Yeah, it hasn’t been this tough ever. Yeah, three big teams now, four big teams: Penske, McLaren, Andretti, Ganassi. You add Shank into that. I don’t think there’s a series more competitive around the world than this.”

Power notes all the notes and prep at your disposal these days help the gap lessen too.

“Definitely simulator work. You know the braking points, you know the gears, you know the track. You don’t know the track condition. But, yeah, that’s a pretty big chunk of time you cut off trying to understand where a track goes by being on a sim the week before. That is a big, big help.

“Obviously video these days, so much on-board footage, there’s so much information to take in before you get there. You turn up, you’re going out first session knowing the track.”


Simon Pagenaud navigates the streets of Belle Isle. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Dixon/Pagenaud

Scott Dixon hasn’t won in his last 22 starts. Simon Pagenaud is riding a 34 race drought himself. But, if AMSP doesn’t fix their reliability issues and if Andretti Autosport is still feuding, I can see 1 of these 2 being the ones to knock off Team Penske on Sunday.

Dixon won this race in 2018 and was runner-up in 2019. He has 9 straight Toronto top 10’s including three wins and a runner-up in that span. Does his 22 race winless drought end here? He enters having scored 8 top 10’s in 9 races run this season as well as qualifying in the top 10 in all 13 Toronto starts including 10 of the 13 in the Fast 6. His last 5 qualifying efforts here are 4th, 1st, 5th, 2nd and 2nd respectively.

Pagenaud has alternated with Dixon for wins the last two years. Dixon was first and Pagenaud second in 2018 and Pagenaud first and Dixon second in 2019. Pagenaud has four straight top 10’s and three consecutive top fives. He looked great in Belle Isle with a lot of speed in his No. 60 Dallara-Honda too. He has 4 top 10’s in his last 5 races run on the season. Like Dixon too, he has had great qualifying pace here and on street circuits in general as well. Pagenaud has made it to at least the 2nd round in all 10 Toronto starts including 7 straight qualifying efforts on the track being in the top 2 Rows. He’s made the Fast 6 in 2 of the 3 street course races run in 2022 as well including being 10th as his worst qualifying effort this year on them.

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