Simon Pagenaud has taken his third win of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series at the Honda Indy Toronto. The Frenchman took his #22 Team Penske Chevrolet from pole position to the victory, holding off a late charge from reigning champion Scott Dixon to take the chequered flag. Alexander Rossi claimed the final spot on the podium to close Josef Newgarden‘s championship lead down to just four points.
Perhaps one of the most special moments of the season took place prior to the race, with Robert Wickens taking to a specially modified, hand-controlled Acura Honda NSX for the parade laps alongside fiancee Karli Woods. The crowd were on their feet applauding as the Canadian lapped the circuit before pulling into the pit-lane to let the race begin.
For the opening phases of the race, pole-sitter Pagenaud slowly and surely began to pull away. A caution for a lap one pile-up featuring Will Power, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti and others put the field into an early holding pattern, but once the green flag flew, Simon pulled away.
The first of the two pit-stops for Pagenaud took place early on, with the leaders switching from the faster alternate tyres that they started on to move over to the longer-lasting primary tyres. Zach Veach and Takuma Sato would briefly lead the race on a different pit strategy, but Pagenaud would regain the lead when they pitted after thirty laps.
Pagenaud would maintain a lead of over eight seconds ahead of Dixon throughout the second stint of the race, with both Simon and Scott pitting on lap fifty-one for their final stops. Shortly after emerging from the pits, Dixon would begin to close the gap to Pagenaud; who was struggling in the lapped traffic.
With just over twenty-five laps to go, Dixon would set the new fastest lap of the race and would find himself within two seconds of Pagenaud, who was still stuck behind the lapped car of Ryan Hunter-Reay. With ten to go, Hunter-Reay would finally pit, but Dixon was now right on the gearbox of Pagenaud with just half a second between them.
Pagenaud’s car seemed to be struggling massively in the turbulent air of lapped cars. With Hunter-Reay out of the way, he was able to briefly build a gap over Dixon, only for the reigning champion to close back in when Simon caught the likes of Max Chilton and Zach Veach. Another curveball for Pagenaud would be his fuel, with his engineer warning him numerous times during the final laps to stick to his target lap-times to ensure he could make it to the finish.
Despite all the obstacles and all the pressure in the final few laps, Pagenaud would seel his victory on the final lap of the race; perhaps a touch earlier than he may have expected after the race went to caution with just a handful of turns remaining after a crash for Simon’s team-mate, Will Power.
In the end, Pagenaud would cross the line under caution to take his third victory of the season, his first since doing the double at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in May. It was a fantastic run for Simon and the #22 Penske crew, with the Frenchman taking the victory on Bastille Day; the national day of his home country. What’s more, Simon has now reduced his gap to the championship leader, Josef Newgarden, to thirty-nine points with six races remaining in the season.
Last year’s Toronto race winner, Dixon, had to settle for second place this time around. Nevertheless, it was a good haul of points for Dixon as he continues to attempt to turnaround a relatively slow first half of the season. The final spot on the podium went to Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who closed up to within five seconds of the leaders in the closing laps of the race.
Championship-leader Josef Newgarden finished in a solid fourth place, but it was far from a comfortable weekend for the Penske driver. For the second year in a row, Newgarden would make contact with the outside wall on the exit of the final corner, this time within the final ten laps of the race.
Thankfully, the damage to his #2 Chevrolet was not enough to prevent him from finishing in fourth, but his points advantage in the standings over second-placed Alexander Rossi has now been trimmed to just four points. Nevertheless, he now has nine top-five finishes in the first eleven races of the season and will be hoping to add to that tally next weekend at Iowa Speedway; the site of a win for Josef back in 2016.
The top-five in Toronto would be completed by Chip Ganassi Racing’s rookie, Felix Rosenqvist, who fell down the order into the lower reaches of the top ten in the opening stages of the race after having started in third-place. He drove a clean race in the latter stages to work his way back into fifth; which will see him maintain his position at the top of the rookie standings.
Hometown hero, James Hinchcliffe, put on a show for the fans after having started way down in fourteenth place. He would execute a strong drive to take sixth place at the chequered flag, with rookie Colton Herta putting in a similarly impressive drive to finish in seventh place after having qualified sixteenth.
Sebastien Bourdais would survive a hairy moment with rookie team-mate Santino Ferrucci to take eighth place. The top ten would be completed by Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti; both of whom bounced back from their lap one incident with Will Power which saw both fall to the back of the pack.
Ed Carpenter Racing‘s duo made contact during the race. Spencer Pigot was almost squeezed into the wall by Ed Jones during the mid-stages of the race. Jones would finish one lap down in twelfth place after having run as high as fourth in the early stages. Pigot, meanwhile, would finish a few positions behind in fifteenth.
Ryan Hunter-Reay was delayed by the lap one pile-up and went on to have a difficult remainder of the race. He would finish a lap down in sixteenth place, just ahead of Tony Kanaan in seventeenth.
After causing the lap one pile-up, Will Power set about trying to work his way through the order, but he never seemed to be able to make the progress that those around him could. Ultimately, his race would end prematurely when he locked-up under braking on the leaders’ final lap of the race and hit the tyre barriers in the final sector. He would be classified in eighteenth place, two laps down on race-winning team-mate Pagenaud. The result is his fourth finish outside of the top ten this season, as his 2019 campaign continues to go from bad to worse.
Only one driver would fail to finish the race. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing‘s Takuma Sato had been running inside the top five until his #30 Honda began to spit flame from its exhausts. He was forced to retire from the race with just under twenty laps remaining.
It’s a short turnaround for the teams and drivers of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series. They will be racing once again in under a week’s time when they hit the short-track oval at Iowa Speedway for the 2019 Iowa 300. The race will take place under the floodlights on Saturday, July 20.
2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Honda Indy Toronto – Race results:
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