INDIANAPOLIS — Since 2007, every winner of the Honda Indy Toronto (3 p.m. ET, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network) with the exception of one has won an NTT INDYCAR Series championship. 2 of the last 3 Toronto winners have also gone on to win the championship that season at that. It’s a feat that’s occurred 6 times between 2009 and 2019. Does it happen again this time around?
Mainly the best win here anyways with Mike Conway being the only non series champion to win at Toronto. Why is that?
“The track is just difficult because there’s so many different levels of grip,” Will Power told me. “Like, you never feel in the track, on top of the track, it’s sliding. The car never handles well. It’s kind of difficult to tell your engineer what to do because there’s so much compromise.
“Maybe it’s a track that it’s easy to make a mistake on. That’s why maybe veterans or people being around a bit longer don’t end up making mistakes. That might be the reason that you’ve seen champions win.
“Yeah, it’s a tough track. A lot of mayhem can happen there, a lot of mayhem.
“The track is very unique. Really isn’t a track that we go to that’s like that. It’s near impossible to get a good balance in the car, so it’s a lot of compromise. Feel like it’s a real driver’s track. It’s pretty hard.”
That’s why qualifying is key here. 17 of the last 19 including 28 of the last 31 races were won from the top seven. The only other starting spots since (13th in 2001, 11th in 2014 and 11th again in 2015).
However, on street courses in general in INDYCAR now, the winners lately have come from 15th (Belle Isle 1), 16th (Belle Isle 2), 18th (Nashville), 14th (Long Beach 2021), 1st (St. Pete 2022), 2nd (Long Beach 2022) and 16th (Belle Isle 2022).
In saying that, 2 of the 3 this year were won from the front row in a season that has seen 9 races and 9 different pole winners. Why is it so difficult to land poles these days?
“Simply because it’s so competitive,” Power said on why there’s been so much parity in qualifying this year. “There is no one that is dominating, no one stands out. You can try to pick the polesitter for this weekend. You simply couldn’t. Even the drivers, you couldn’t pick who might be on pole, which to me is a great thing.”
He notes that the talent level in the series now is better than it’s ever been too which further enhances this parity.
‘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.”
With all that coming onboard, shouldn’t Power and the others with past experience in Toronto stand out this weekend? We’ve not been here since 2019. That means a lot of the young stars are rookies this weekend or making just their 2nd start in Exhibition Place.
Power who’s made 14 past starts should be able to use that past history right? Not so far Power says. The drivers in this series are as talented as they come remember.
“I think it will be different,” he said. “The tire’s probably a little different. It’s so tight these years. The little tiny things do make a big difference.
“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. Yeah, you can’t feel like you ever have an advantage in this game.”
Part of that is how much they have at their disposal coming into the race weekend to study.
“Definitely simulator work,” he said. “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.”
Another change is the Aeroscreen too. This is the first time we’ve raced at Toronto with it. Does that also close the gap to the newbies to the veterans. Power does say that maybe this area surprisingly won’t change much and could sway the tilt back to the guys who’ve been here before.
“Yeah, it definitely changed the car a lot because it moves the weight further forward,” he said. “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.”