What to watch for: Honda Indy Toronto (2pm ET, NBCSN and Live Extra)

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For the fifth time in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Will Power will lead the field away from pole position in Toronto after winning the Verizon P1 Award in Saturday’s qualifying session.

Despite flirting with elimination in the second stage of qualifying, the Penske driver managed to rally in the final Fast Six shootout to edge out teammates Simon Pagenaud and Juan Pablo Montoya at the top of the timesheets, handing himself first place on the grid.

The Honda Indy Toronto has evolved into a weekend-long festival of racing in 2015 with the flagship event being the main IndyCar race, which is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 2pm ET on Sunday.

The green flag will fall at 3:08pm, and there are a number of key storylines to watch out for across the course of the race in Toronto as the brutal run of races dating back to the beginning of May finally comes to an end.

CAN POWER CONVERT POLE INTO VICTORY?

Will Power may have five pole positions to his name in 2015, but the defending IndyCar champion has not been so strong in race trim, winning just once at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May.

After failing to convert pole positions in St Petersburg, Detroit and Texas into a race win and with no podium finishes in the last three races, Power is in desperate need of a win on Sunday in Toronto if he is to stop Juan Pablo Montoya from breaking away at the top of the championship standings.

TORONTO COULD YIELD ANOTHER NEW WINNER

The start to the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season has been highly unpredictable, with seven drivers sharing the nine race wins thus far – only Montoya and Scott Dixon are repeat winners.

However, Toronto could yet yield an eighth winner in ten races, given that a few high-profile names are without a victory so far this year. Simon Pagenaud’s rotten luck has left him 11th in the championship, but from second at the start, the Frenchman could yet make his first visit to victory lane later today.

Helio Castroneves is also without a win in 2015, and although his task is far greater from seventh place on the grid, the Brazilian driver will still be hoping to get up the order and into the mix after showing a good pace in qualifying.

BLIND RUNNING IN PUSH-TO-PASS STAKES

Toronto marks the first race following INDYCAR’s decision to make data regarding push-to-pass usage private to the respective teams, meaning that we will no longer know when drivers are using a boost, nor how many they have left over.

The thinking is that it will increase overtaking and stop drivers from using it as a defensive tool at the end of a race, but it will be intriguing to see just how effective it is during its first run this weekend in Toronto.

DALY HOPES TO DO HINCH PROUD AT HOME

James Hinchcliffe hasn’t missed an IndyCar race in Toronto since he was 18 months old – and he wasn’t going to let a major accident at Indianapolis end his streak. After being given permission by his doctors, the Canadian will be in attendance for the race as the grand marshal, and will once again give the command for the start of the race as he did in Texas.

His place on the grid has been taken by Conor Daly in the no. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car for what is likely to be the final time this season. Ryan Briscoe is poised to fill in for Hinchcliffe at the final six races, giving Daly – complete with a helmet honoring the Mayor – one final chance to impress.

The IndyCar rookie put in a particularly impressive display in Detroit, charging through the field in the late stages, and a similar performance in Toronto today will undoubtedly leave many of the teams with plenty to ponder heading towards the end of the season.

MORE RAIN?

“Here’s one for all you guys,” Graham Rahal asked his followers this morning. “What’s the record number of IndyCar events in one year that it rained?! I’m thinking 2015!”

Yes, it is raining once again, even in the absence of MST rain magnet Tony DiZinno who has been in Le Mans for the weekend. Although the weather managed to clear up before the warm up, light rain began to fall towards the end of the session, suggesting that we could be in for another chaotic event in Toronto.

The warm-up on Sunday morning saw Andretti’s Carlos Munoz lead the way, posting a fastest lap time of 1:00.2119 to finish just clear of Graham Rahal and Conor Daly.

Simon Pagenaud finished as the lead Penske in seventh, with Montoya and Power ending up 14th and 16th respectively as light rain affected running towards the end of the 30 minute session.

Be sure to join us at 2pm ET on NBCSN and Live Extra for live coverage of the Honda Indy Toronto.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.