For the second time in three years, Josef Newgarden was the winning beneficiary of fortunate pit stop timing at the Honda Indy Toronto.
Newgarden seized the lead by making his first stop just before a full-course caution flag waved on the street course at Exhibition Place and just after the early race leaders had passed the pit entrance. The Team Penske driver emerged from the pit stop sequence on the point and then going on to led 58 of the last 61 laps to win the Verizon IndyCar Series race by 1.8704 seconds over Alexander Rossi.
The win at Toronto is Newgarden's second of the 2017 season following his April victory at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and his second Toronto win in three years. Newgarden's 2015 Toronto triumph was also set up by a timely pit stop made prior to a full-course caution.
"That is twice I have had good calls and got into the pits at the right time," Newgarden said. "Thank you to the guys and thank you to Tim (Cindric, race strategist) for making that call. We got it right, but it was all about managing the race after that.
"I thought we had a very fast car, we got a pretty good start and stayed out of the mayhem. Very, very happy for all of Team Penske, and this DeVilbiss Chevy was pretty bright, but it was pretty fast, too."
Newgarden's win in the No.2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet also tightened the season championship chase after 12 of 17 races. Points leader Scott Dixon finished 10th after making first-lap contact with Will Power, whose three Team Penske teammates now lurk within 23 points of first place.
"It was a rough day in the NTT Data car." said Dixon "I had a good start in Turn 1, and it looked like (Graham) Rahal decided to shift lanes and I had to avoid him. Then (Will) Power and I got together and ended up cutting down our tire and doing some damage to the suspension on the car. Then we had to fix the car and INDYCAR gave us a drive-through penalty, which was kind of odd. And then that kind of hosed our best efforts for the day and we ended up 10th."
Power's point of view, "It was a really disappointing day for the No.12 Verizon Chevrolet team. We had a strong car all weekend and I know it could have been really fast during the race. We had bad luck on the first lap and it ruined the rest of the race since we could not get it repaired to go back out. We've performed really well at Toronto in the past, so we're just disappointed we couldn't give the fans at Toronto the show we knew we could put on."
Helio Castroneves trails Dixon by three points after finishing eighth in the No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Simon Pagenaud is 19 points behind Dixon after finishing fifth in the No.1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet and Newgarden is 23 points behind. The Verizon IndyCar Series championship has been decided in the final race of the season every year since 2006.
"Overall, it was a good weekend for us," said Pagenaud, the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. "We made up some ground in points and it's always great to visit Toronto. Congratulations to the No. 2 team and all of Team Penske."
Castroneves, who started third, jumped pole sitter Pagenaud and Graham Rahal for the lead with a brilliant inside pass in Turn 1 on the first of 85 laps around the 11-turn, 1.786-mile street circuit.
"In 1997 I did a move in the No.3 Hitachi Chevy like that in Indy Lights when I was driving here." said Castroneves "It was really funny - because I'm like, 'Man, I'm going to go for it.' As soon as we were braking, we had the reds (Firestone alternate tires) and the car was really good. I didn't lock (the brakes) or anything - it was a clean pass. I told the guys, 'Listen, I'm going to be fair, but if there is an opportunity I'll take it.' Great job - great job to everybody at Team Penske and to Josef (Newgarden). Obviously, the yellow there was a little tough, but I'll tell you what, our cars are good and this place is always like that. Whoever is in the lead sometimes gets caught with the yellow and gets the bad side of it."
Newgarden was running fourth when he made his first stop for fuel and tires on Lap 23, seconds before Tony Kanaan ran into the Turn 1 tire barrier to bring out the caution flag and pit lane was closed. The then leaders, Castroneves, Rahal and Pagenaud had just passed pit entrance when the yellow flag waved forcing them to pit after Newgarden allowing Newgarden to take the lead when the race went green several laps later.
"I got the call after we passed pit in." said a disappointed Rahal "(Josef) Newgarden was just lucky because he was falling off the train of the three of us (Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and me). He was 2.5 seconds behind us, or just enough to get the call. When they said to me 'Pit, pit' I was turning into Turn 9. Obviously, I can't see what's going on in Turn 1. We played it right today, but got unlucky. The three best cars didn't win the race or finish 1-2-3. There was nobody that was a match for the three of us all day. It's a shame, but sometimes luck plays a role in these things. Congrats to Josef (Newgarden), he still brought it home, but you could see in the first stint that Simon, Helio and myself were taking off and I felt that was a pretty easy pace for us to maintain and go from there. Obviously, I'm disappointed for the Rousseau team. I'm happy for our United Rentals Turns for Troops (lap completed) program. We raised another several thousand dollars to help our veterans. But I'm frustrated because today was a day we should have easily gained a lot of points on (Scott) Dixon, Newgarden and everybody else, but unfortunately the way the officials have decided to close the pits these days, luck plays a huge factor and today it bit us. We got it home and got another top 10, but I'm disappointed, and rightly so, and our guys are too. They know the car that we put on the track today was a car that was capable of winning this race. The guys did a great job in the pits, and I think we have proven that the No. 15 is one of the cars to beat each and every single weekend and probably legitimately one of the few that can take it to Penske every weekend. I'm just extremely proud of this organization."
Once the pits were reopened under yellow, Newgarden inherited the lead when the other front-runners made their stops and he never looked back in collecting the fifth win of his six-year Verizon IndyCar Series career. It is the sixth win for Team Penske in 2017 and No. 193 for the organization in its Indy car history - the most of any team.
Rossi climbed from the eighth starting position to place second, the best showing for the driver of the No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda since his memorable win in the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Rossi led an Andretti Autosport renewal with Marco Andretti finishing a season-best fourth and Ryan Hunter-Reay sixth.
"If you look at where we were last year," Rossi said, "the last four cars in qualifying, to having three cars in the top 10 (in the race), really having something to fight for today, it's a testament not only to this weekend and the strength the team has shown, but also this offseason and how much better 2017 has been for us, has been for Honda.
"I think things are starting to finally come together. We've been looking for a breakthrough this year. I think this is it."
For the second straight year, Toronto-area native James Hinchcliffe started sixth and finished third to the delight of the hometown fans. Hinchcliffe, in the No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, also benefited from making his first stop the lap prior to Newgarden.
"The yellow just came at the right time, but we had the pace at the end there," Hinchcliffe said. "We were catching Alex and Josef in that last stint. The car really came alive on the (Firestone primary) blacks, so big thanks to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, all the guys - great stops - and all the fans in Toronto. The support that we feel each and every year is amazing."
Honda Indy Toronto event promoter Green Savoree Promotions announced today that it has extended its agreement with Honda Canada Inc. to continue sponsoring the Verizon IndyCar Series event through 2020.
The next Verizon IndyCar Series race is the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 30. It airs live at 3 p.m. ET on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network with a re-air on NBCSN at 7 p.m. the same day.
*Photographs by Mike Bratton
1. (7) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
2. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running
3. (6) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
4. (11) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
5. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (16) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
7. (9) Max Chilton, Honda, 85, Running
8. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
9. (2) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
10. (5) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
11. (20) Sebastian Saavedra, Honda, 85, Running
12. (17) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 85, Running
13. (12) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 85, Running
14. (21) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 85, Running
15. (19) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 85, Running
16. (10) Takuma Sato, Honda, 85, Running
17. (18) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 85, Running
18. (13) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 84, Running
19. (14) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 83, Running
20. (15) Ed Jones, Honda, 75, Mechanical
21. (4) Will Power, Chevrolet, 0, Contact
Winner's average speed: 95.790 mph
Time of Race: 1:35:05.3522
Margin of victory: 1.8704 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 9 laps
Lead changes: 4 among 4 drivers
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Scott Dixon 423, Castroneves 420, Pagenaud 404, Newgarden 400, Power 359, Rahal 359, Sato 351, Rossi 330, Kanaan 306, Hinchcliffe 297
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