UFC Toronto was a blast to watch as only a handful of cars completed the race without donuts ground into the sidepods, damaged wheels, splintered floors, or bruised noses and front-wing end plates.
A Toronto race with lots of roughhousing is by no means uncommon, and after a two-year hiatus, Sunday’s 85-lapper was a perfect display of how hard IndyCar drivers — no matter where they are in the running order — venture into playing bumper cars with each other in ways we rarely see at other events. It’s just the nature of the track, and for sheer entertainment, the annual trip to Canada rarely disappoints.
There were some broken wings, floors, and suspensions during the race, but teams were fortunate to escape without giant repairs to make with only a few days to complete the work between departing Toronto and loading into Iowa Speedway for this weekend’s Hy-Vee Country Music Festival and Double IndyCar Race Jamboree.
SPEAK YA CLOUT
I’ve always hated the ‘Ice Man’ nickname that was given to Scott Dixon many years ago, but it was a fitting moniker at Toronto as he drowned out all of the noise created by his teammate entering the event and produced his best overall performance of the year. It’s not as if Dixon is one to get easily rattled, but his singular approach to the event stood out as a perfect way to send a message that he’s still the boss among Ganassi’s driver quartet. If Dixon needs to retire, as some have suggested this season, then the rest of the field needs to retire as well.
Dixon’s win also came with a bit of a callback, as his former championship-winning race engineer Chris Simmons deputized for the weekend when his current and most recent title-winning engineer Michael Cannon did not travel to Canada. That’s another remarkable aspect of Dixon’s career. Plug in an Eric Bretzman, and wins and championships followed. Insert Simmons, and wins and championships followed. Drop in Cannon, and the same happened. Place Simmons on the timing stand at the last minute, and the winning ways continued.
It’s not as sexy as talking about raw speed and dominating victories, but there’s no mistaking how Dixon’s chameleon-like ability to adapt to different race engineers, crew chiefs, teammates, cars, engines and everything else in his orbit and continue winning titles lies at the core of his success.
ABOVE THE CLOUDS
It was a get-right event for Colton Herta, whose front-running performance from the opening practice session through the end of the race was a welcome return to how things so often went in 2020 and 2021.
Of the many surprises to date this year, a big one has been the large volume of disconnected events for Herta where he’s been fast on Friday but struggling on Sunday, or quick in qualifying but in the wall or suffering from the wrong strategy call in the race. Or something else.
There’s been lots of ‘something else’ on the menu this season at Andretti Autosport, which made the absence of major adversity such a refreshing part of the Toronto weekend for the team’s new lead driver in the championship. Other than an issue with his balaclava obscuring his vision at times in the latter portion of the race, it was a clean day for the No. 26 Honda effort.
Stringing together all aspects of the event resulted in Herta’s second podium of the year which, after watching him destroy the field at the two closing rounds of 2021, was expected to continue once the new season got underway but hasn’t been his reality for most of the year.
Two poles, two podiums, and one win have Herta sitting 97 points shy of the championship lead with seven races to go. If the on-target Herta+Andretti combo that just appeared in Toronto turns up this weekend in Iowa and delivers at the doubleheader, and again at the next race in Nashville, his hopes of vying for the title might come back into focus.
JUST TO GET A REP
The first IndyCar race to air exclusively via live streaming will be the subject of heavy conversation among team owners and the series’ leadership once the ratings are published. Provided the audience size is as small as anticipated, we can expect a volley of calls and emails from the paddock pleading for it to be a one-time experiment, but if it were to continue, Toronto might be the obvious event to continue using on the calendar.
Although it isn’t as big of an issue as it once was when IndyCar traveled to Brazil or Japan, some teams have sponsors with no products or services to sell outside the U.S., and in those cases, we see different liveries and one-off sponsors takeover however many cars for the event.
A lack of domestic TV advertising from sponsors and series partners when IndyCar visits Toronto or another circuit outside of the U.S. is another common occurrence, so with those two factors in mind, booking the Honda Indy Toronto for Peacock and Peacock alone might not come as a total shock.
SOLILOQUY OF CHAOS
It was a tough day for title contenders in the championship standings. Points leader Marcus Ericsson was the most fortunate of the group as he fought hard to improve from ninth to fifth and was thankful to have his closest rivals falter to varying degrees in the race.
Entering Toronto in 20 points behind Ericsson in second, Will Power was unlucky in qualifying and was unable to improve beyond fifth; his gap grew to 35 points, but he did manage to hold onto second in the standings. A tough weekend for Power’s teammate Josef Newgarden came with a drop from third to fourth in the championship, and his gap to Ericsson grew from 34 to 44.
Ericsson’s teammate Alex Palou was able to make big gains in the race as he improved from 22nd to sixth, and with the effort came a move to third in the standings. He’s 37 points out of first. Prior to his win, Dixon held sixth with a shortage of 67 points to Ericsson; the victory came with a nice improvement to fifth and a points tie with Newgarden, who gets the nod for fourth by virtue of having more wins.
A relatively anonymous weekend for Pato O’Ward saw him drop from fifth to sixth; his deficit to Ericsson went from 65 to 75, with 75 serving as the approximate equivalent of 1.5 race wins. Scott McLaughlin held station in seventh but his gap to first is now 77 points, up from 69.
Colton Herta’s run to second brought forward motion in the championship as he leapt from 10th to eighth – the position teammate Alexander Rossi held until ending the race in the wall. Rossi’s down to 11th in the standings, 115 points shy of Ericsson.
Felix Rosenqvist’s fine third resulted in his going from 11th to ninth and 107 points shy of the lead, while Simon Pagenaud was displaced from ninth to 10th and needs 108 points to catch Ericsson as Iowa beckons.