Drafting the Circuits

by Frank Santoroski        @seveng1967

TOactionRaces like the Honda Indy Toronto make me wonder why more folks aren’t watching the Verizon IndyCar Series. For sheer entertainment value, Sunday’s 85 laps through the downtown streets produced, arguably, the most exciting race of the season.

What we saw was a race that began in wet conditions and finished on a dry track. In between, the fans were treated to nose-to-tail and wheel-to-wheel white knuckle racing all through the field. Despite the frenetic nature of the racing, the drivers were well-behaved, for the most part, and the race was only slowed twice for caution.

In the end, it was one of the smaller teams slaying the giants, taking the top two spots of the podium.  CFH Racing, created this past off-season through the merger of the Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher/Wink Hartman teams, took their second win of the season with Josef Newgarden.

Teammate Luca Filippi took the second spot, his first career IndyCar podium. Penske Racing’s Helio Castroneves came home third followed by Will Power and Sebastien Bourdais.

TOPowerIn a race that saw Penske domination with Will Power and Simon Pagenaud in the early going, the powerhouse team seemed to stumble on both strategy and setup. Power was the last to make the change to slick tires in the drying conditions, a move that lost him ten positions. Pagenaud, later, inexplicably lost four positions on a restart.

Castroneves’ third place was a hard fought battle, relegated to the back of the pack mid-race when he also blew the call on pit strategy. The ‘Plan-B’ pit strategy salvaged the race for the three-time Indy 500 winner, but I can’t help but think that Penske pissed away a sure 1-2-3 finish.

All season long, Team Penske has dominated qualifying, but they only have three wins on the season to show for it. Mind you, many teams would be ecstatic with these results, but this is Team Penske. While they continue to hold the lead in the Championship standings, I can’t help but wonder how many more races they can afford to give away.

sarahandJosefRace winner Josef Newgarden, who hails from Hendersonville, TN, caught a break pitting early on the second cycle of stops. The yellow came out as he was completing his service. When the bulk of the field pitted under the ensuing caution laps, Newgarden was elevated to second place behind Helio Castroneves who didn’t pit at all.

When Castroneves headed for pit lane several laps later, Newgarden assumed the lead. From there he kept the car up front the rest of the day, rarely putting a wheel wrong and fending off a stiff challenge from Filippi. Newgarden led thirty laps on the day, taking the win with a 1.44 second margin of victory in a race that saw seven lead changes.

Just an amazing team effort. I can’t believe we had a 1-2. It got a little close there with Luca, but we were really just trying to keep up after we got into the final stint.” said Newgarden, “For sure, I got a little lucky, too, on that yellow. But you can’t discount that because it was an amazing effort by this crew at CFH Racing. They gave me amazing pit stops and a car to win. I’m definitely excited because this is Toronto and this is an IndyCar town.”

Having hosted open-wheelers for 30 years, Toronto is indeed an IndyCar town. Despite a date change and logistical issues created by major construction in the area for the upcoming Pan American Games, it was yet another successful race weekend.

DalyHinchHowever, for the first time in the event’s history, the fans were left without a Canadian driver in the field to root for.

Toronto native James Hinchcliffe is still on the sidelines recovering from leg injuries. The popular driver was on hand to serve as the Grand Marshall, and lend advice to Conor Daly, who was driving his car this weekend.

“You know, still no dates on when we think we’ll be able to get back in the car.” said Hinchcliffe, “There’s still a few things that have to happen for that to take place. By and large, recovery is going well, spirits are high, feeling pretty good.”

“It’s been tough. But at the same time, the Schmidt-Peterson guys have good shoes in the car. Both (Daly and Ryan Briscoe) have honestly done a really good job. It’s great to see the team have success. I still feel very much part of it. I’m still included on as much as I can be from a distance.”

For the CFH team, the 1-2 finish was a boost of confidence after recent disappointing outings. After taking an early season win in Alabama, the team crashed three chassis at Indianapolis, another one at Detroit, and had two engines blow in Texas.

With another fine drive, Newgarden is quickly transitioning from ‘rising star’ to ‘serious contender’ as Luca Filippi finally has a result to back up the promise that he has shown.

LucaFilippi, a product of European single-seater racing, had been trying to break into the series for the past few seasons. Landing the ride running the street and road courses with CFH has been a dream come true for the 29 year-old Italian driver.

“It’s my very first IndyCar podium, so I feel very proud.” said Filippi.  “You know, the past two years I was broadcasting for the Formula One in Italy, so I wasn’t racing, I was just traveling around watching everybody racing and watching other people.  It was actually tough, but I got an opportunity now to race again on the IndyCar podium, so it’s kind of unbelievable.  I always dreamed about this moment, and now I want to win the race, obviously.”

It looks like there are many more good results to come out of this team.

With the win, Newgarden joins Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya as multiple winners on the season, and moves up to the eighth spot in the championship points battle. Penske drivers Montoya and Will Power continue to sit atop the standings separated by 27 points, with Dixon a close third.

The Verizon IndyCar Series will return to action in two weeks time to take on the 2.0 mile high-speed oval at Fontana for the MAV-TV 500.  The second leg of the triple-crown will take place Saturday June 27 with television coverage provided by NBC-SN.

Images courtesy IndyCar