Honda Indy Toronto preview: ‘Roar by the Shore’ makes its return

Colton Herta of the United Statesdrives during qualifying at the 2022 Honda Indy Toronto, in Toronto, Saturday, July 16, 2022. (Andrew Lahodynskyj/CP)

The “Roar by the Shore” returns as the NTT IndyCar Series makes its first trip north of the border since 2019 for this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto.

If you’re out of the loop, you might feel like you’re showing up to that scene from Community where Troy gets the pizza and returns to complete chaos. Yes, this is the darkest timeline as there’s been spicy drama on and off the track … and it’s all heading for a collision course at the Exhibition Place street circuit in Toronto. Fun times!

Here’s what you need to know before the green flag drops for Sunday’s race.

Palou, Ganassi sparks ignite ahead of T.O.

Hope you have a bag of popcorn ready for this one.

Chip Ganassi Racing announced Tuesday they were exercising their team option to retain Alex Palou for next year, complete with a quote from the reigning IndyCar Series champion himself. Crisp and clean, right? Not so fast, said Palou, who took to Twitter to explain it wasn’t true, the quote didn’t originate from him and he had already informed the team he was leaving after the season was over.

If that’s not enough buttery drama, Arrow McLaren SP announced minutes later they had signed Palou for next season.

Free agency is called silly season for a reason but even so, this was an insane set of circumstances.

Palou, who is fourth in the standings, plans to finish out the season with Ganassi as he looks to defend the championship, however, you have to wonder how things will actually play out starting in Toronto given how everything had unfolded earlier this week.

It’s Palou’s first time racing in Toronto and it hasn’t been going well so far as he clipped the wall during practice and experienced mechanical failure while qualifying that has him starting a lowly 22nd on Sunday’s grid.

Palou’s teammates Marcus Ericsson and Scott Dixon are also ones to watch this weekend.

Ericsson, who qualified P9, tops the leaderboard thanks to his impressive Indy 500 victory and has finished within the top seven in all three races since.

Dixon, who starts on the front row in P2, is the active wins leader with 51 race victories including three in Toronto. Another checkered flag and Dixon will tie the legendary Mario Andretti for second on the all-time wins list. Although Dixon has yet to win this season — which qualifies as a drought for him — he’s still sixth in points with a third-place finish in Detroit.

Will Andretti Autosport get along? 

When we last left our heroes two weeks ago in Mid-Ohio, the Andretti Autosport meltdown between Alexander Rossi and Romain Grosjean was the biggest storyline. Who thought that would get usurped? (Put your hands down, liars.)

There were already reports of simmering tension between the two and things quickly reached a boiling point when the former Formula One drivers tangled on the Mid-Ohio track and all the way off the course. Later in the race as Rossi remained ahead and on the lead lap, Grosjean refused to follow team orders to help protect his teammate.

Although Rossi brushed it all off as a “racing incident,” Grosjean was less forgiving and called Rossi “an absolute idiot” after the race.

Rossi is the team’s top driver in the standings in eighth place but oddly enough like Palou, he’s also leaving his team to join Arrow McLaren SP next season. Rossi has finished on the podium in Toronto twice including in 2019 when he came in third. He was the fastest in Friday’s opening practice and qualified on the second row in P4.

Grosjean, who will race in Toronto for the first time in his career and starts 11th, is down in 14th in the standings although he has posted favourable results on street courses this season with a P5 in St. Petersburg and a runner-up result in Long Beach.

Is Penske’s experience the edge?

Given that this is the first time IndyCar drivers hit the streets of Toronto in three years, you might want to err on the side of experience when it comes to picking favourites to win.

It’s a battle of attrition on the track with more than its fair share of cautions as one small mistake like locking up your brakes could put you right into the concrete barrier. The track is also prone to daily wear and tear from motorists making it one of the bumpiest in the series.

Having said that, you may want to turn your attention to Team Penske driver Will Power, who is a three-time winner in Toronto — most recently in 2016. Power is also second in the championship with a victory in Detroit plus three podium finishes including P3 in St. Petersburg. The Australian driver qualified 16th, so he has his work cut out for him.

Penske teammate Josef Newgarden is another one to watch for similar reasons as he’s won in Toronto twice and is right behind Power sitting third in the standings. Newgarden, who starts on the second row in P3, has three victories this season including the Long Beach street circuit.

Rounding out the Penske trifecta is Scott McLaughlin and although this might be his first time racing in Toronto, the three-time V8 Supercars champion has momentum fresh from winning at Mid-Ohio. McLaughlin was also victorious in St. Petes, from pole position, to start the season. He qualified sixth, which might actually be a good omen when you’re racing in the city known as the 6ix.

Qualifying is the key

Historically, you’re better off waiting to see who secures a top spot during Saturday’s qualifying session. Since the inaugural Toronto race in 1986, the driver on pole position has won eight times including the most recent victor Simon Pagenaud in 2019.

Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport locked up P1 with a lap time of 59.2698 seconds. The 22-year-old Herta has seven race victories in his career already with all of them coming on road/street courses. That includes wins on the streets of St. Pete’s and Long Beach.

There appears to be a benefit to starting on the front row in Toronto regardless. Eight winners have also come from P2, such as Dixon in 2018. Hey, what do you know? Dixon starts second once again.

If you’re looking for a long shot to win, you might not want to venture too far down the grid. No one has won the race farther than a starting position of 13th when Michael Andretti earned his record-extending seventh Toronto victory in 2001. Even then, that was quite the outlier as only two other drivers have won from double-digit starting positions in Toronto with Mike Conway in 2014 and Josef Newgarden in 2015 both claiming victories from P11. 

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on July 17 to reflect qualifying results.

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