What to watch for: IndyCar Toronto Race 1 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

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STANDING START

It’s finally arrived – the debut of standing starts in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Understandably, some of the drivers are nervous; after all, Toronto usually delivers a steady rate of attrition and that rate could go up considerably if one or more drivers messes this up. In that situation, Graham Rahal (starting 18th) and the rest of the drivers going off from the rear of the field may have nowhere to hide. “Starting in the back, we’re going to be in the midst of all the mess if something happens,” he said on Friday. This could be a race-changer, right off the bat.

GANASSI IN THE GROOVE?

Last week’s podium sweep at Pocono Raceway had to be a major boost for Chip Ganassi Racing, and they look set to continue that momentum in the Toronto doubleheader with Dario Franchitti on pole for today’s race and Scott Dixon (your pole sitter for tomorrow’s Race 2) starting fifth. Franchitti, who finished third last weekend on the “Tricky Triangle,” has a decorated history at Toronto with three victories to his credit at Exhibition Place, while Dixon has collected four Top-5s in six career starts there. And don’t forget about Charlie Kimball, who turned in a strong drive to runner-up last summer in T.O.

MR. POPULAR

Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe is always the crowd favorite when the series heads to Toronto, but he hasn’t gotten the results he’d like on his home course. In 2011, he finished 14th and last year, he had to bow out early due to engine problems. Today, he’ll start unofficially from Row 7, but if he can get through the potentially hazardous standing start, he has the ability to pick his way through the field on a street circuit that’s unforgiving but also features multiple passing opportunities.

BOURDAIS SET FOR BATTLE

Four-time Champ Car champion and former Toronto winner Sebastien Bourdais made a welcome return to the front of the grid for today’s race, and it would appear that he and his No. 7 Dragon Racing Chevrolet team have already benefited from the perspective of new engineer Tom Brown. Time and again throughout his career, the Frenchman has delivered some dazzling efforts on street circuits. Could we see another today? Watch out for him on the standing start, as he has a good bit of experience with those thanks to his previous life in Formula One (Scuderia Toro Rosso, 2008-2009).

Watch this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto online and on your mobile device.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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