In a day filled with wheel-to-wheel action, first turn pileups and a late race surprises, Scott Dixon emerged victorious in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.
After being edged for the pole award on Sunday by Josef Newgarden, Dixon led much of the race’s second half following a wild restart on lap 34.
With Newgarden leading the field to green, the Team Penske driver slid through rubber marbles off the racing line and made contact with the wall. Dixon pounced on the mistake and assumed the lead while Newgarden was being devoured behind him.
As the field reached turn one, Graham Rahal locked his brakes and triggered a multi-car accident that included Max Chilton, Ed Jones, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Alexander Rossi.
Despite the carnage about one-third of the way through, the race started relatively clean.
Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato made massive gains on the initial green flag that launched them to 3rd and 4th, respectively. Dixon settled in behind Newgarden at the front of the field and all was well until the first round of pit stops unfolded.
Ed Jones was the first driver to hit pit lane in his No. 10 NTT Data Honda as his team looked to work an alternate fuel and tire strategy. Following the conclusion of his pit service, Jones stalled trying to leave the box and require a re-fire to get going again.
Shortly after, Sebastien Bourdais would lose the right endplate on his rear wing on track as the carbon fiber piece flew over the catch fence in downtown Toronto. Bourdais would have to pit for a rear wing change after spinning and lost two laps in the sequence.
Just a few laps later it would be Hunter-Reay and Rossi running into issues simultaneously, though in separate situations on-track. Hunter-Reay locked the brakes on his No. 28 DHL machine and found the tire barrier while Rossi sustained a broken front wing as well when he collided with the rear of Will Power’s Chevrolet.
Both Andretti Autosport drivers would have to pit for front wing changes under yellow, and Power would pit as well with a broken right rear toe link.
It was on the next restart that seven cars would collide in turn one, ending Chilton’s day and sidelining Rahal for 15 laps.
At that point, Dixon had assumed the lead with Wickens jumping to 2nd as the Toronto crowd cheered their highest-running Canadian. Simon Pagenaud was 3rd while Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti rounded out the top five.
The carnage and mistakes would be far from over, though.
After Rene Binder brought out a full course caution for stalling on the track, Dixon restarted the race from the lead on lap 45. The New Zealand native held off Robert Wickens until pit stops began for the final time, and the action would pick back up on-track.
Wickens would pit one lap earlier than Pagenaud, and when the French driver re-entered the track following his pit service, Pagenaud had just slid in front of the Canadian driver.
On the entry to turn one, Wickens locked the brakes a bit and gave Pagenaud a bump at turn-in. On the push-to-pass down the next straightaway, Wickens darted to the outside of Pagenaud and held his line through the ensuing corner.
The two drivers refused to relinquish the position and ended up bumping wheels at the turn’s apex before Pagenaud pushed Wickens towards the wall on corner exit.
Wickens jumped out of the gas to gather his car back in, and Pagenaud left the scene without being caught again.
With just under 20 laps remaining, Sato’s strong weekend was ruined as he caught the wall on corner exit at the final turn on the course. Sato pulled off the track underneath the Princes’ Gates and unceremoniously exited the race to finish 22nd.
It looked as though Pagenaud would reel in the leader Dixon in the race’s final stages as Hunter-Reay fought desperately to remain on the lead lap.
The Andretti Autosport driver was making life difficult for Dixon and that allowed Pagenaud to trim the gap from first to second to just under two seconds.
Finally, Hunter-Reay pitted and Dixon immediately created some breathing room that would welcome him to the victory.
That was hardly the end of the excitement, though, as Spencer Pigot would have to retire from the race with 9 to go after bending the suspension on his No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. The California native was having another solid run in the top-10 this week following his first career podium at Iowa last week.
Pigot would wind up finishing 20th.
The most surprising turn of events unfolded on the final lap as Marco Andretti had to pit from 4th position to top off his fuel – just one lap short of the finish. Andretti would drop from 4th – which would have matched a season-best finish – all the way down to 10th.
The unfortunate turn of events for Andretti meant James Hinchcliffe would sneak into 4th place as his Canadian teammate Wickens picked up a 3rd place podium finish. Fellow countryman Zachary Claman De Melo would place 14th for Dale Coyne Racing in his first Toronto start.
In the end, it was Dixon as the last man standing in a perfectly Dixon-esque race. The five-time IndyCar champion stayed out front of the trouble all afternoon, controlled the race’s pace from the front of the field and avoided mistakes in pit lane on his way to victory.
Rounding out the top five was Pagenaud as runner-up, Wickens, Hinchcliffe, and Charlie Kimball. Kimball would actually lead briefly during the race, locking up the first laps led for Carlin Racing as an IndyCar program on the way to their first top-five finish.
Rossi and Newgarden would rebound admirably from their early-race woes to finish 8th and 9th, respectively. Ryan Hunter-Reay (16th), Will Power (18th) and Sebastien Bourdais (19th) wouldn’t fare as well as their championship hopes were decimated this afternoon.
Dixon’s victory was his third triumph at Toronto, and the top-five tied him with A.J. Foyt for second all-time on the IndyCar top-fives list.
The win would also push Dixon’s championship cushion to 62 points over Newgarden with just five races remaining in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series points battle.
Next weekend the series is off before traveling to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Honda Indy 200 on July 29. Stay tuned to Open-Wheels.com for continued race coverage as we wrap up the Honda Indy Toronto this week.
Image courtesy of Matt Fraver/INDYCAR Media.