Toronto Race Review: Penske’s Pulled A Fast One

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The Penske’s pulled a fast one on the paying public Sunday.

With leader Frenchman Simon Pagenaud running low on fuel and fellow Penske pilot Josef Newgarden – the championship points leader – nursing home a damaged car in fourth after hitting the same stretch of wall for a second consecutive year, an uninteresting sleeping pill of a race looked like it might finally become eventful on the last lap. When suddenly third Penske teammate Will Power uncharacteristically – and all by himself – ran straight into a tire barrier, ending the race under caution and guaranteeing both a win for Pags and a continued grip on the points lead for Newkid. Coincidence? We think not. We believe the Penske’s pulled a fast one.

What sometimes saves the racing in Toronto – and in deed, its only redeeming quality – are multiple caution flags. Sunday’s affair had two and therefore technically qualified, but they were too few and far between to liven up the show. NBCSN’s pre-race coverage included the gobsmackingly dreadful condition of the supposed track in Toronto and, on a happier note, Robert Wickens’ return to IndyCar driving the specially configured pace car in his home country less than a year after his tragic accident at Pocono. During his pacing duties, which necessarily carried them close to the walls, his fiancee rode anxiously along screetching at one point, “Don’t be stupid!”

The green flag flew and fans were at least treated to a clean first turn as pole sitter Simon Pagenaud led Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi. But problems quickly began with hometown boy James Hinchcliffe bumping into Marco and getting by him. Soon after Power dove inside Graham Rahal before hitting him, rudely forcing him into the tire barrier and spinning Andretti out. Matheus Leist, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marcus Ericsson were also involved, though all were able to continue during the first caution of the day. Of course no penalty was forthcoming for the Team Penske driver, who wasn’t finished making crucial contact – or pushing the limits of the rulebook.

The restart on lap 5 saw Ed Jones move into fourth after getting around Swedish rookie Felix Rosenqvist. A couple laps later Spencer Pigot passed Colton Herta, followed by Marco who contacted “Joaquin” while getting around him. As usual, cars quickly settled in to a single file procession throughout the field as Pags stretched his lead. The notoriously hard to pass Hunter-Reay was ultimately bested by Rahal deep in the field.

Initial pit stops began on lap 16 as Rossi and others who started on red tires were forced to pit. Out on track, Ed Carpenter Racing teammates banged into one another with Jones forcing Pigot into the wall. Ironically, despite a broken front wing Pigot flourished, while Jones fell back. In the end they’d both miss the top ten. After pitting Newgarden passed Swede Felix Rosenqvist for position prior to Pags pitting from the lead. After the field shuffled through, Pags again led Dixon and Rossi. Hometown hero Hinch pleased the paying Canuck crowd when he managed to pass Pigot’s wounded car on the inside of a turn. Out front, Pagenaud padded his lead.

As the midway point came the second round of scheduled stops approached. Pags led Dixie, Rossi, Newkid and Takuma Sato, who continued to outshine his teammate even though it’s Graham’s father’s team. Rossi again was first among the leaders to pit, battling teammate Marco briefly before leaving his boss’s son in the dust. Pags pitted on lap 51 and was followed by Dixon and Newkid. Rossi remained ahead of Newgarden as the two cars returned to the fray. Meanwhile Coyne teammates Sebastien Bourdais and Santino Ferrucci nearly made contact through a turn with the veteran Bourdais winning the fight.

Dixon whittled away Pags’ lead to two seconds due to slower traffic as the laps wound down. Suddenly, it was a one second lead. With twenty to go a desperately needed second caution nearly came as one of the blue cars nosed into a tire barrier. Unfortunately, he was able to keep it going and the second yellow had to wait. Then Sato’s car slowed and actually caught fire, forcing the Japanese into the pits and ending his promising day. Still no yellow. This, after Taku came to blows and had to be separated from Bourdais Saturday during practice.

At the front, Dixon continued to chase Pags, but in vain. Thanks in part to Power’s shenanigans, the Frenchman took the checkers on Bastille Day, keeping his revolutionary 2019 season going strong. Points leader Newgarden limped home in his Hitachi car, none the worse for wear. By the time the final caution caused by Power came, it was too late for this race’s redemption. Dixon and Rossi rounded out the podium on a day that should go down with an asterisk beside it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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