By Dylan Reynolds, The Open Wheel
My post-race feature for The Open Wheel continues with a collection of random thoughts following the INDYCAR weekend on the Streets of Toronto for the Honda Indy Toronto.
- Newgarden Utilizes Strategy Call For Second Win Of ’17 And Title Charge – Newgarden improved from his P7 start to P4 after Lap 1 and held there until his first pit stop and simultaneous 2nd caution of the race boosted him to P1 and never looked back. That obviously was very fortunate for him but he still had to hold the lead and he did so for 58 laps while Chilton and Pagenaud took the lead for just 3 laps over the final period of the race after Newgarden pitted. His slip in victory lane was his only notable mistake of the day. Newgarden is now fourth in the championship standings and just 23 points back of Scott Dixon.
- Castroneves Closes Championship Gap Again – Helio Castroneves shrunk Dixon’s championship lead once again but he’ll likely look back at this weekend as a “what could have been” if he didn’t get caught out on pit strategy after the second caution. Rather than trailing by 3 points, Castroneves likely would have a significant lead as he looked to have the field covered after this brilliant move at the start of the race. Helio is clearly all in on his title charge and looked to be well on his way after that move in Turn 1 to start the race. However, he still scrapped his way back to a P8 finish and closed the gap that little bit more. He still has a big challenge on his hands with Dixon’s incredible success at remaining tracks Mid-Ohio (5 wins), Watkins Glen (4 wins), and Sonoma (3 wins) but he’s put himself in great position to accomplish the one thing missing in his incredible INDYCAR career.
- Much Needed Results For Andretti Autosport – Andretti Autosport deserved results to show for their obviously much-improved street course program this season and they got it at Toronto. Alexander Rossi finished on the podium for just the second time in his career in P2, Marco Andretti finished P4, and Ryan Hunter-Reay was P6. That was Marco Andretti’s first Top 5 since Fontana 2015. This team badly needed results and it was great to see them deliver a strong team performance.
- Saavedra Impresses In First Street Course Race In 2 Years – Sebastian Saavedra’s late move to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports No. 7 car started predictably poorly. Saavedra hadn’t raced on a street course since Toronto in 2015 and he was last in each of the two practice sessions on Friday (by more than a second in Practice 1). However, he did show pace on Saturday with a P15 in Practice 3 but was part of the wacky Round 1 Group 2 qualifying session that was cut short by the Gutierrez incident and had to start P20. However, he was very solid on race day and ended up posting a P11 finish after Rahal and Dixon passed him the final 5 laps. Saavedra was racy and made some nice passes but most importantly he brought the car home safely and earned a nice result. Saavedra has ample financial backing and gave team owners something to think about with how quickly he adapted in his first Verizon IndyCar Series road/street course start since 2015.
- Kaiser Stamps His Authority On Lights Title Race – Kyle Kaiser’s impressive consistency had put him on top of the Indy Lights championship standings heading into Toronto. He’d finished on the podium an impressive 6 times in 10 races but managed just 1 win so far in 2017 and had yet to dominate a weekend as you might expect a champion to do. He checked that box with authority after a weekend sweep in Toronto. Kaiser won both races, was fastest in the only practice session, and qualified on pole for Race 1 and P3 for Race 2. Meanwhile, his biggest championship threats in Matheus Leist (P13 & P5) and Colton Herta (P4 & P10) dropped a lot of points over the weekend. Kaiser now leads Leist by 51 points and Herta by 65 points. I wouldn’t say this title race is quite over yet as Kaiser finished P9 and P6 at Mid-Ohio last season and his Juncos Racing team has lacked speed on ovals so far with Gateway left on the schedule. However, there will be a lot of pressure on Leist and Herta to not just post strong results, but to win out from here to have any realistic shot at toppling Kaiser. Leist will be the overwhelming favorite at Gateway after sweeping the ovals thus far but his Carlin team hasn’t won at Mid-Ohio and there’s still plenty of depth throughout this field.