INDYCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto (3 p.m. ET, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network)

How Much Will Aeroscreen Change The Racing?

This will mark the 36th race that the NTT INDYCAR Series has been in Toronto. However, after 2 years off, I expect this one to look and feel a little bit different to the drivers. See, this year we have the Aeroscreen. While it’s the 3rd year that we’ve been using it, this is also the first time that we’ve raced at Toronto in it too.

That’s how long its been since we’ve been here. How much of an impact will this have on this weekend? I think a lot.

“I think it will be different,” Will 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, 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.”

The drivers have all said that the Aeroscreen has changed the feel inside of the race car at most tracks and you in fact feel the bumps more because of it. With Toronto having no past history with this Aeroscreen, I almost wonder if this weekend will feel like an inaugural event.

“Yeah, it definitely changed the car a lot because it moves the weight further forward,” Power said of the safety device first introduced for the 2020 season. “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.”

What’s the future hold for Exhibition Place on the INDYCAR schedule. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

What’s The Future Of Toronto After This Weekend?

Following a 2 year hiatus, INDYCAR is back. The question now is, for how long. The race will air exclusively on Peacock so you know the ratings won’t be huge unfortunately. The crowds have dwindled over the years here too due to less and less fan interest in the city. With that said, how much longer will both sides continue doing this or will INDYCAR look elsewhere north of the border?

Canada is a big market for INDYCAR and you get the sense that they value their neighbors to the north and want to put on races for them. However, you go to where you’re wanted and the interest level from Toronto isn’t like it used to be. Granted, it’s enough for the series to come back after 2 years off, but is it enough to save the race for the future? Does it outweigh the costs and logistics?

“Yeah, I think speaking to Kevin Savoree, he said ticket sales are really good,” Power said. “I think we’ll get a massive crowd. Always do. I think the Canadian fans are some of the best in the world. They love their sport. A real party atmosphere. Nothing better than racing in front of a big crowd. I expect it to be a pretty good event.”

Championship Winning Potential?

Toronto kicks off a final push to the championship. While it may still only be July, the final rounds in September will be here before we know it. Toronto starts a span of 5 straight races (Toronto, Iowa doubleheader, IMS road course and Nashville). Really, we have 8 races (7 race weekends) over the next 9 weeks to determine a champion on Sept. 11 in Laguna Seca.

That’s why this stretch truly starts the championship sprint to the finish.

In saying that, 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 since 2007. Why is that?

“The track is just difficult because there’s so many different levels of grip,” 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.”

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?

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?

Nevertheless, over the next 6 race stretch to get us through August, you have 2 street course races, 3 on short ovals including the Iowa doubleheader and 1 on a natural road course which is a return visit from an earlier race.

Whom does this favor?

I think it heavily favors Team Penske. They’ve won all 3 street course races run this season and 7 of the last 14 in general on them. They also enter having scored victories in each of the last 3 races on the season too.

Josef Newgarden leads all drivers with 4 trips to victory lane in this span. With 2 street course races left, they have to have the leg up there.

On short ovals, Newgarden has won 5 of the last 10 on them with Penske taking 7 of the 10 overall. No one has has won more than 1 in this span since 2018. Newgarden, has won each of the last 2 races in Gateway and 2 of the last 3 in Iowa. There’s 3 races between Iowa and World Wide Technology Raceway between now and the end of August too.

Then you have the Indy road course to where Newgarden dominated Race 1 of the Harvest Grand Prix Race weekend in 2020, Will Power led every lap a day later and then in this race last year, Power led 56 more laps in victory.

In the process, these aren’t necessarily great tracks for either Andretti nor Ganassi.

Marcus Ericsson has finished 9th, 22nd and 7th on street courses this season. He was 20th in his lone Toronto start and did win his lone Nashville race. On short ovals, he has finished 16th, 5th, 23rd and 9th at Gateway and is still new to Iowa. Alex Palou has only 2 Iowa starts and only 11th, 8th, 7th and 20th in Gateway. Scott Dixon is winless in his career at Iowa (0-for-15), has a win (2020) in Gateway but was 15th, 2nd, 3rd, 20th, 5th and 19th in his other starts there too. On street courses, 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. On the Indy road course, they’ve struggled lately too. So it’s Toronto and Nashville as their places to pounce but they have to hope Penske opens the door though too.

For Andretti, short ovals are their worst tracks. At Gateway, Romain Grosjean was 14th as a rookie with Coyne in 2021 in his 1st oval start. Ryan Hunter-Reay was also though 15th, 20th, 8th, 7th, 11th and 7th in that same car Grosjean is driving now prior. Devlin DeFrancesco is a rookie, Colton Herta has finished 5th, 14th, 21st, 22nd and 18th in 5 Gateway starts while Alexander Rossi has been 6th, 2nd, 13th, 22nd, 14th and 17th himself. While Herta did lead 101 laps a year ago, I just don’t trust them yet. For Iowa, they’ve largely underperformed with 0 wins in years there either. On street courses, Andretti Autosport was 4-5-20-22 in St. Pete, 2-8-23-25 in Long Beach and 2-8-17-18 in Detroit. Their best shot though is the Indy road course after some improving results and a solid test there last month too.

Pato O’Ward is the only other one worth mentioning but he’s a rookie in Toronto, was 9th in Nashville and 12th, 5th and 5th respectively on street courses in 2022. For the Indy road course, he’s never finished better than 5th and outside of his win in Barber, was 19th, 26th and respectively in Indy, Road America and Mid-Ohio.

Iowa and Gateway are his best shots. He was 4th and 12th in 2 Iowa starts and 3rd, 2nd and 2nd in 3 Gateway tries. The thing is Penske has dominated these tracks too so can he find a way to top Penske’s in these 3 races?

That’s why this could very well be a Penske dominated stretch despite 3 different disciplines of tracks during it.

Alexander Rossi celebrates redemption following his 1st pole since 2019 at Belle Isle last month. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Is Qualifying Still Important On Street Courses?

An odd trend that happened last year was that qualifying on street courses didn’t seem to matter. 4 of the races on them the winner came from outside the top 10. We saw the last 3 races at Belle Isle won by a Row 8 starter. Long Beach last year was won by a 14th place starter. Marcus Ericsson came from 18th in Nashville. Does that trend stay true Sunday in Toronto?

We’ve had 9 races run in 2022 with 9 different pole winners.

“Simply because it’s so competitive,” Power said of the pole parity. “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.

“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.”

17 of the last 19 races in Toronto including 28 of the last 30 races were won from the top seven. The only other starting spots since (13th in 2001, 11th in 2014 and 11th again in 2015). So it says it’s important in Toronto still.

The other thing is, it seems like those starting midpack get taken out by an early race incident too. 3 of the last 4 years has seen a crash in the 1st two laps. One was starters 16, 17 and 18, another 4-5 and the last 12-15-16-19-20.

That’s why maybe starting further up is a benefit in a sense that you can avoid that early race carnage.

Will Power came from 16th to win this year’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in Belle Isle. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Can Penske Remain Perfect?

There’s no doubt about it, 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. Scott McLaughlin won the pole in 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 on why the improvement in 2022 compared to 2021. “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.

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