On a day when even the winner brushed the wall, the Exhibition Place street circuit served up another demonstration of why it is one of the toughest circuits to get a handle on with Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.
“I’m worn out, man — that was a physical race,” said winner Scott Dixon. It was definitely easy to pick up lots of debris on the tires out there, and I think that’s what happened to Josef [Newgarden] on that restart where we took the lead. He tried to go a little bit fast into the last corner there in Turn 11, got into the gray and that was pretty much it.”
Dixon had a similar moment of his own later in the race, although the glancing blow fortunately did no damage to his PNC Bank Honda or its tires on their way to the checkered flag. Dixon felt that while overall the resurfaced track was much racier than it has been in the past, there is still room for improvement.
“I tried on the first lap in one to get around the outside of Josef. The tricky part there is the concrete patch,” he noted. “They’ve done a really nice, smooth transition, but it’s a transition to a slip-and-slide. Once the tire gets temperature, it’s actually quite grippy there.
“From the restarts, it looks like there was a ton of action going on, whereas the previous year it was very tough — it was so bumpy, you couldn’t really use the inside lane very much. [This year] I know even on the start, there was four-wide behind us, my spotter was saying.
“It’s great to see those areas improve. I think the concrete patches, they can maybe do a little bit of grinding on them to get some grooves in there. I think it will be really beneficial.
“Tough racing out there,” agreed runner-up Simon Pagenaud, who noted that the unseasonably high temperatures also contributed to the grip issues. “You know, the [2018 aero] package is a lot less grip in the corners, it was a lot more straightaway speed. The tires really struggled in the heat. There was a lot of marbles, a lot of dust. Restarts were ice racing. It was a lot of fun.”
The fun factor was a lot lower for Pagenaud’s Penske teammate Newgarden, whose error on one of those restarts took him out of the lead and dealt a hefty blow to his title hopes.
“I just had no idea the car was going to do that. I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip,” fumed Newgarden. “I just lost the front end completely. I feel terrible — it’s not fun to make a mistake. This No. 1 Hitachi Chevy was quick today, I think it was capable of being in the top three or potentially winning the race if I didn’t make the mistake, but you have days like this in racing. We have to move on now and try to pick it back up.”