It was a strong showing for IndyCar’s Canadian trio in their de facto home race at the Honda Indy Toronto.
While Robert Wickens, James Hinchcliffe, and Zachary Claman de Melo couldn’t find victory lane, each placed within the top fifteen while Wickens and Hinchcliffe pocketed top-five finishes.
An eventful day for all in the 23-car field, many eyes focused on the exciting closing laps battle between Simon Pagenaud and Wickens. The two battled wheel-to-wheel in the race’s final stages before Pagenaud muscled his way to a runner-up finish with Wickens settling for a podium in his first Toronto race.
Despite being overtaken late, it was an extremely positive result for the former DTM driver.
“We did have a great car in the race,” said Wickens post-race. “I don’t think anyone had anything for Scott (Dixon) today. Dixie was kind of in a class of his own, but to go punch for punch with him in the second stint…I thought we really showed some great strides, some great improvements on the Lucas Oil car from warmup to now.
“The final stint, I don’t if it was damage from the fight with (Simon) Pagenaud, but I had too much understeer and I couldn’t maintain that pace. If not, I think it would have been a fun fight between Simon and I at the end. I thought maybe second (place finish) was in the cards for me, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
At 29 years old, Wickens has had his fair share of special moments in an already accomplished motor racing career. Still, a podium finish in his hometown race as an IndyCar rookie was important enough to conjure some rare emotions from the even-keel driver.
“Thankfully, I’m not an overly teary guy, but that (finishing on the podium in Canada) was really cool. I can’t thank these Toronto fans enough. I mean, this whole week has been such a whirlwind of emotions, and to stand on the podium in my first professional home race, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
A far cry from Wickens’ race spent mostly up front, his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate James Hinchcliffe had to scratch and claw his way to a 4th place finish.
After enduring a hairy start to the 85-lap race, Hinchcliffe settled in and showed patience while tactically picking off positions here and there. While he wished to catch a few more breaks during the race, Hinchcliffe was rewarded a position when Marco Andretti’s crew dreadfully miscalculated their fuel readings and had to pit on the final lap.
“Our start didn’t go great, and obviously we were battling for position with Robbie (Wickens) there and got shuffled back behind Marco (Andretti),” said Hinchcliffe. “That really was kind of the start of the end of a great result for us because we had pace, we just couldn’t get by him. We burned a lot of push-to-pass trying to get by him but just couldn’t do it. It’s unfortunate to waste so much time in the beginning of the race.”
After a run-in with Takuma Sato, the veteran Canadian driver had some choice words for the incident and revealed that he battled much of the afternoon with bent suspension.
“On that restart melee, we got tagged by Takuma, which I should know better than staying on the inside of him in a corner like that. I bent the toe link, and from there, it was a bit of a struggle to feel the car out and see how it was going to change with the bend in the suspension.
“Honestly, the Arrow Electronics car was still pretty great, and in that last stint, we were chasing down the leaders. Who knows what could have been, but ultimately happy with Robbie being on the podium and two SPM cars in the top five.”
Not to be forgotten in the day’s events was Zachary Claman de Melo, the rookie driver for Dale Coyne Racing who continues to improve before handing off his No. 19 Paysafe Honda to Pietro Fittipaldi at Mid-Ohio.
Claman de Melo spent much of his Toronto afternoon navigating the danger that seemed to be ever-present. In a race where his goal was to simply survive and click off laps, Claman de Melo should be quite pleased with a 14th place result.
“It was a fun race, we had quite a bit of yellow today and I think that helped us with our pit strategy,” Claman de Melo said. “I let the race come to us, and I didn’t take any unnecessary chances in my No. 19 Paysafe car. A lot of people had different issues and I stayed out of trouble and it led to a decent finish.
“It’s been a fun season and I want to thank Dale Coyne Racing and Paysafe for giving me the opportunity to do these nine races with them this year. Now I get to cheer on Pietro (Fittipaldi) when he comes back for the next race.”
A leader of seven laps in this year’s 102nd Indianapolis 500, Claman De Melo was slated to race at both Pocono and Gateway, the last two remaining ovals on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar.
While Claman De Melo’s initial deal with Dale Coyne Racing was worth 10 races, it will be interesting to see whether or not the Canadian driver exceeds that cap, or if DCR will grant Fittipaldi one or both of those starts to make up for lost time.
In the short-term perspective, though, it was a successful weekend for the Honda Indy Toronto and their fan favorites as well. While having a Canadian driver in Toronto may not be as critical to success for the event such as a Hispanic driver in Mexico, it certainly helps.
Thankfully this is a trio that could be around for the foreseeable future, a promoter’s dream north of the border.
Image courtesy of Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR Media.