After circling the Iowa Speedway last weekend, the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers show why they’re the most diverse racing series in the world. From a 7/8-mile oval last Sunday to a bumpy street course in downtown Toronto this Sunday, the drivers’ abilities have been put on full display over the last two weekends.
Oh by the way, we’re in the thick of the championship race too. We’re 11 races down and have only six to go in the 2018 season. With there still being several drivers still in contention to win this year’s title, Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network) could make things interesting to say the least.
First things first, you would think that Team Penske would be the favorites right? They’ve won five of the 11 races thus far, most in the series, and have led a series leading 705 laps overall coming into this weekend. Also, Penske drivers have won the last two races on the 1.786-mile street course and if you count Josef Newgarden’s win with CFH Racing in 2015, they have the drivers that have won the last three years too.
But, I think this weekend could be the week that allows the Honda drivers to take over.
The aerokit era that began in 2015 favored Penske and Chevrolet on street courses. With the new car now that debuted this season, the advantage has flipped the script. Now, it appears that the Honda teams have the advantage on street circuits. We’ve raced four races on street courses in 2018 and Honda drivers have won in all four races.
Sebastien Bourdais won in St. Pete. Alexander Rossi then won at Long Beach. In the Duals in Detroit, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay won the two races respectively. Can they make it five in-a-row this weekend?
On paper, I’d say so.
Yes, Newgarden has won two of the last three years in Toronto, but he didn’t finish in the top 10 in his other six Toronto starts. On street courses this season, the Penske driver has finished seventh, seventh, ninth and 15th respectively. What about his teammate Simon Pagenaud? He has five straight top four starting spots in Toronto and two straight top 10’s, but also only two career top fives there. On street courses in 2018, Pagenaud’s best finish is 10th in the second race on Belle Isle. He was 13th, 24th and 17th respectively in the other three races.
Will Power has been the best among the Penske trio on street courses this year with two runner-ups, a seventh place run and 10th place finish too, but in Toronto, he finished 21st last year and has just three top five finishes in his last nine starts north of the border.
That opens the door to being wide open for the Honda camp.
Points leader Scott Dixon has nine top 10 finishes in 11 Toronto tries. He’s finished sixth, 11th, third and first respectively on street courses this season. Ryan Hunter-Reay has struggled recently in Toronto but on street courses this year, he’s finished in the top five in three of them including a second place finish in the first race in Detroit and a win in the other.
Alexander Rossi has finished on the podium in three of the four street course races in 2018 and if not for a late race mistake in the second race on Belle Isle, he would be four-for-four with two wins. He finished runner-up last year in Toronto too. He’s the favorite in my mind.
You also can’t count out Robert Wickens. Like his teammate James Hinchcliffe, this is his home race too. Wickens, led 69 laps from the pole in St. Pete and was two laps away from a win in his first ever INDYCAR race. In Long Beach, he was headed towards a solid top 10 finish before a mechanical malfunction. In Belle Isle, he finished eighth and sixth respectively. The speed is in his car to contend.
Graham Rahal has three top five finishes in four tries this season too.
Those five Honda’s can put a lot of pressure on the three Penske’s and really shape the championship moving forward.
In practice on Friday, Honda’s had the top six speeds in the first session and nine of the top 11 followed by the top five speeds in session No. 2 and eight of the top 10 and 10 of the top 13.