Scott Dixon was left pondering how the last lap that wasn’t could have won him pole — and how close he came to being penalized back to sixth — at the dramatic end to the Fast 6 qualifying session for the Honda Indy Toronto
“Yeah, that was the pole lap right there, man,” Dixon joked when asked about the spin at the start of what would have been his final lap, moments before Simon Pagenaud pushed him out of the top spot. “I’d only done two corners, so I have no idea…
“It’s been an interesting day. The last two practice sessions, P2 and P3, have been really tough just to get track space, and even this morning we didn’t get one single run with a clear lap, and it’s really hard to feel what the car needs when you can’t get these rolling laps together.
“I think the lap that got us second, I was up about a tenth and a half into the last corner and just hit the curb a little hard and slid the rear a lot.”
The timing of the spin was actually positive though, as the clear track precluded the need for a caution, which would have cost Dixon his fastest lap.
“Yeah, it’s all about timing, right? We were lucky to be the last car,” he noted. “That’s kind of how we had spaced it out and timed it. We knew we had about a four-second, five-second window before we started that run, including the out lap.
“Luckily we were in some pretty clear air there behind, as well, that the next car was actually going to have to pit. So yeah, super lucky. It could have been sixth instead of second…”
The reigning Toronto — and series — champ added that the strength this weekend of Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Felix Rosenqvist has also been a boost for him.
“Yeah, I think both the PNC car and also the NTT (car) with Felix have been really strong. Actually I think the cars were identical going into qualifying, so it’s been really nice to have a lot of similarities. It’s definitely helped throughout the weekend when we haven’t been able to run as much as possible or get clear laps. We’ve still been able to go off of his pace and some of the things that he’s really liked. That’s been helpful.
Dixon said that the ever-challenging Toronto street course is throwing a series of new challenges at the drivers this year.
“I think it (the biggest trouble spot) always used to be Turn 1, but once they resurfaced the approach there, it’s been a little bit better. I have seen a fair few cars go straight ahead in Turn 1. It seems like Turn 11 has been pretty tricky, especially the first session yesterday. We’ve seen some cars, especially in the races, too, that have had some issues — a couple have spun in (Turn) 10, as well, where I spun.
“(Turn) 8 is always tricky, as well. It’s a lot of surface change there, and that tire wall sticks out quite far, so as soon as you get it wrong, it can catch you pretty good. So yeah, I’d say (Turns) 1 (and) 3 in the race with traffic, (Turn) 5, you hit that curb wrong, you can go straight ahead there. (Turns) 8, 9, 11, there’s a lot of corners, and each lap you know you can slightly just get wrong and you’ll be in the fence.”
Toronto also is typically one of the most challenging regarding fuel strategy, and while Dixon feels engine development has provided more options fuel-wise, that is offset by the question marks surrounding tire wear.
“The fuel window is a lot bigger than what it used to be. It used to be quite tough to do it in two, but I think with the manufacturers making such large improvements in the efficiency of the engines, it’s pretty easy,” he said. “You have fairly big windows now to be able to do it in two.
“The hard part is how long you run on the reds (option tires). This is the same tire as what we had at Detroit. You know, I think it was Lap 4 or 5 we saw a caution in Detroit and the whole field pit except for us and maybe one other.
“I think it’s more not so much about fuel racing now, it’s about tire longevity. Plus it makes it pretty interesting, too, because if you get cars off-strategy, the speed difference is pretty big. But I think the tire that Firestone brought here and to Detroit is much more suited to here.”
Another complexity of the Toronto circuit really is its curved pit lane. Dixon said it can provide a significant challenge, especially in a full-course yellow situation.
“Yeah, it’s definitely not ideal. It’s hard to actually get into the pit and stop and then also to leave. If you’re on a left-turning one (pit stall), which is kind of like the first six or eight, it makes it a lot better. You can’t do anything about it. So I think you just hope that we stay ahead of maybe the car that’s in the box behind us; maybe hopefully they can give us space.
“I think if you have a green-flag race it’s not too much of an issue because you can kind of pit in your own time, whereas if it’s a full-course yellow, that’s when it’s going to get really tricky, especially with how tight they are here. But yeah, this pit road is probably one of the worst that we come to all season as far as spacing and the curvature of it.”