Surprising twist sparks Newgarden
Second win on Toronto streets leaves top contender fuming, Oakville’s Hinchcliffe third again
It was a case of being in the right place at the right time for driver Josef Newgarden, winner of Sunday’s Honda Indy at Exhibition Place — his second victory in Toronto in three years.
The turning point came on the 24th of 85 laps when rival Tony Kanaan left the pits with fresh tires and drove straight into a tire wall at corner one. At that time, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal — the fastest qualifiers — were leading the 31st running of the Indy.
When the call went out for a full-course caution — so IndyCar’s safety team could extricate Kanaan and his car from the tires — the pits, as per the rules, were immediately closed. But Newgarden, who’d been summoned for tires and fuel by his Team Penske crew, had crossed the pit entry line before the yellow caution period.
That gave him a big leg up on the top three, who had to wait for the pits to open again before stopping for service. None of them managed to recover and crack the podium.
Alexander Rossi, the one-time Formula One driver and the surprise winner of last year’s Indianapolis 500, finished second, about two seconds behind Newgarden.
And local favourite James Hinchcliffe of Oakville raced to third place for the second consecutive year, followed by Marco Andretti.
Rahal, in particular, was bitter about the turn of events after qualifying second. He wound up ninth. Pole-sitter Pagenaud finished fifth, while Castroneves, who qualified third, was eighth in the end.
“The three best cars didn’t win the race or even finish 1-2-3,” Rahal said.
“There was nobody that was a match for the three of us all day. The way the officials have decided to close the pits these days, luck plays a huge factor and today it bit us. I’m disappointed, and rightly so.”
Newgarden, who won this race in 2015 with Ed Carpenter Racing — whose driver, Spencer Pigott, finished18th Sunday — wasn’t having any of that.
“Twice I’ve had good calls in T.O., getting into the pits at the right time, so thank you to the guys, thank you Tim (Cindric, Team Penske president) for making that call. We got it right — but after that, you’ve got to go on and win the race.”
Cindric praised the way the driver handled himself after taking the lead, which he never relinquished en route to the checkered flag.
“He did a great job all day managing the (lead) and managing the fuel,” he said.
Hinchcliffe, who emerged from his team trailer and signed autographs in the last hour before the race — not a familiar sight — drove a steady, controlled race.
“Our race was almost a carbon copy of last year,” Hinchcliffe said. “We really struggled on the reds this time (a soft compound that every car has to have for at least one lap). The rears just went off. I was looser than I’ve ever been on a street course. It took everything I had to keep (other racers) behind me.”
Hinchcliffe had pitted before Newgarden, so he also benefitted when the yellow caution came out for Kanaan’s accident.
“I feel sorry for those guys (who couldn’t get into the pits) — but not too sorry,” Hinchcliffe joked. “I’ve been there before. But once we got on the blacks (a harder compound), the Arrow Electronics car (his sponsor) was amazing.”
Hinchcliffe said he felt like he was gaining on the top two finishers late, but wound up more than three seconds behind Rossi: “I wish the race was like, maybe, 10 or 15 laps longer and it might have been a better race there at the end.”
As for Rossi, the runner-up said he hopes his second career podium in IndyCar marks a breakthrough.
“It’s been a long time coming (after his victory at Indianapolis),” he said. “Hopefully we can use this as a foundation to go looking for wins. I’m relieved that we kind of got the monkey off our back. I want to thank the fans for all coming out. It’s amazing coming here.”
It was an interesting race with plenty of twists and turns throughout the 85 laps.
The first full-course caution of the day came on the opening lap when Scott Dixon went wide to set up for corner three at the end of the Lake Shore Blvd. straight and ran into defending champion Will Power, who was on the outside. The collision damaged the left rear of Dixon’s car and broke the steering arm on Power’s car.
Power’s racer was taken to the garage for repairs, while Dixon’s team made temporary fixes in the pit before sending him back into action. Dixon returned to the pits (which were closed) for more repair work and was handed a drive-through penalty, which he served. After all that, Dixon remained on the lead lap as the race progressed, eventually finishing 10th, a classic example of how a race driver can benefit by remaining cool and never giving up.
Power, a three-time winner in Toronto, never did return to action and seemed to blame himself for the collision, even though it wasn’t his fault.
“I should know better on the opening lap to do anything other than keeping out of everybody’s way,” he said.
Promoter Kevin Savoree — who, with partner Kim Green, owns the Toronto IndyCar race as well as the race in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course — said he was delighted with the race-day turnout, which he said was a seat sellout.
“You have to love Toronto race fans,” he said. “There’s a 70 per cent chance of rain (other than the odd drop, it didn’t rain at Exhibition Place all day Sunday) and what do they do? They show up here in the tens of thousands. It’s just wonderful.”
Third-place James Hinchcliffe, in black, and runner-up Alexander Rossi photo bomb Josef Newgarden’s winning selfie.
IndyCar veteran Tony Kanaan loses control and winds up in the tires on the 24th lap of Sunday’s Honda Indy at Exhibition Place. The resulting caution was a turning point in the race.
Young Haylie Woodbury blocks out the roar of the engines and catches a nap during Sunday’s Indy festivities.