Will Power turned up the heat from lukewarm to torrid on Simon Pagenaud for the championship lead in the Verizon IndyCar Series with a victory Sunday in the Honda Indy Toronto.
Power’s third triumph in four races, three on road/street circuits plus a second place on the short oval at Iowa Speedway, chopped Pagenaud’s once-commanding lead to 47 points with five events remaining. Power has out-scored Pagenaud by 79 points, 196-117, in the four-race assault. Pagenaud finished ninth at Toronto.
Penske Racing President Tim Cindric is the race strategist for Power, and he made the call for Power to make his final pit stop on lap 57. The Australian had taken his Chevrolet into the pit lane for only a few seconds when Josef Newgarden’s crash brought out a full-course caution.
Power had been running third behind Target Ganassi’s Scott Dixon, the pole sitter who had been in control from the start, and teammate Pagenaud. Both had to pit under the caution and were buried in the middle of the field.
The timing of Power’s pit stop was fortunate, but it was a call based upon strategy, not luck.
“What we saw was it looked like we were going to catch a bit of traffic and it was a time to cut our losses,” Cindric said.
Pagenaud was running behind the lapped car of Max Chilton on the narrow 1.78-mile concrete-lined street circuit.
“The 22 (Pagenaud) was being held up by the 8 (Chilton),” Power said. “It was a great call there. I couldn’t believe it was yellow coming down the pit lane. That was fantastic.”
Power restarted second behind Ganassi’s Tony Kanaan, without enough fuel to finish, pitted with 10 to go. Power took the lead and drove off into the sunset. His margin of victory over runner-up Helio Castroneves of 1.5 seconds was accomplished on the final lap of the race, which went green following a late caution.
It was Power’s third win at Toronto and the 28th in an Indy car including three in the Champ Car World Series. He was the IndyCar champion in 2014 and has a second title within striking distance.
“We’re definitely closing the gap,” he said.
Castroneves’ overcame an unscheduled pit stop for a flat tire to take second. It leaves him third in the points, 74 behind Pagenaud. At the age of 41, the three-time Indy 500 winner is running out of races to take his first IndyCar crown. He also was second at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and was third at the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Racing in his hometown, James Hinchliffe finished third to the delight of the crowd. He was the top finishing Honda.
“It was obviously a great day to have a good day and for once we caught a lucky break in Toronto,” Hinchliffe said, alluding to the timing of the caution that left him third for the lap 63 restart. “I'm not going to lie and sit here say we had third-place pace. We really struggled on blacks (tire compound) in the middle stint. But as the cloud cover came out in that last stint, the track really kind of came to us, so we had to save fuel. The car was there. There's going to be a party tonight in Hinchtown for sure."
Dixon led 56 of the opening 59 laps and was never passed on the track. He finished eighth.
“We were one lap away (from pitting),” Ganassi Managing Director and Dixon race strategist Mike Hull said.
Instead of gaining a significant number of points on Pagenaud, Dixon cut only five from the lead and is 83 behind, sitting in fourth place.
“It was looking like it was going to be our race all afternoon but the timing of how everything worked out just took it away from us,” Dixon said. “It was just about as frustrating of a race as you can have."
Juan Pablo Montoya’s mid-season woes
Juan Pablo Montoya began the season with a win at St. Petersburg, Fla., and was sixth in the points following the seventh race in Detroit. He’s had three 20th-place finishes in the past four races including Toronto and plummeted to 13th in the points, 153 behind Pagenaud.
The 40-year-old Colombian was racing side-by-side with Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished 12th, in the closing laps when he came around a corner and found Jack Hawksworth’s Honda directly in his path in the tire wall. Montoya’s only option was going into the tire wall behind Hawksworth. It was the end to a long weekend for Montoya.
“On Friday, I made a mistake and went into the wall so we got behind,” he said. “In the morning yesterday (Saturday) we had a misfire with the engine and didn't do any laps before qualifying. We didn't qualify (ninth) as well as we could. We knew we had a good race car, though.
“I passed a lot of people and had a lot of fun. I thought I had an easy podium if not more. We missed a pit call (on lap 58) by about two seconds. I (re) started at the back. I was running with the No. 28 (Ryan Hunter-Reay) there late and went to turn with him, but the No. 41 (Jack Hawksworth) was in the wall and there was nowhere to go. It seems like every weekend there is something, and it's getting really old really fast."
IndyCar returning to Australia?
IndyCar has been in discussions with a promoter group that is trying to bring back America’s premier open-wheel series back to Surfers Paradise, Australia, for several months.
“We’re talking,” IndyCar CEO Mark Miles said in May. “It’s not as easy as it sounds.”
The race on the streets of Surfers Paradise, a resort area in the state of Queensland on the Southeast Coast, developed into one of the one of the world’s greatest racing events. CART was lured by a multi-million dollar sanctioning fee in 1991 that it desperately needed to sustain operations at its usual levels, according to then-CEO William Stokkan.
The Surfers Paradise Grand Prix ran in the spring from 1991 to 1997. Formula 1 shifted the Australian Grand Prix to the spring in 1996 and it forced the CART race to the fall, where it continued including with Champ Car to 2007. The 2008 finale sanctioned by IndyCar in October, 2008 was run as a non-points race, and the event was dropped from the IndyCar schedule following it.
The event has continued with the Australian V8 Supercars, which does not have the international appeal of IndyCar. The Surfers Paradise event was designed to make the Gold Coast hotels and beaches an international destination for tourists. The Gold Coast Bulletin has reported there have been “secret government talks” to bring IndyCar back to Australia with Surfers Paradise the preferred area.
Miles is looking for venues for IndyCar in February and Surfers Paradise, with its warm temperature and sunshine, would be an ideal place to take the series. If the issues regarding the materials to build the track—primarily grandstands and concrete barriers—and an agreement with the V8 Supercars to be a support event, which it was during the previous 1991-2008 period, can be resolved, the event could be on the 2018 schedule.