What to Watch For: IndyCar at Toronto (2:30 p.m. ET, CNBC)

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TORONTO – Following an interesting weekend at the Honda Indy Toronto, today’s race – the 11th of 16 in the Verizon IndyCar Series season (2:30 p.m. ET, CNBC) – represents a good opportunity for the field to get jumbled considering strategy, cautions and surprises often tend to dominate proceedings.

The top four on the grid is predictable with Scott Dixon ahead of three Team Penske drivers, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, but with Sebastien Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe in fifth and sixth there are some hungry drivers ready to overtake the Penske/Ganassi quartet.

PREVIEW
QUALIFYING REPORT

Here’s what to look for ahead of today’s 85-lap race, which you can see live on CNBC at 2:30 p.m. ET (re-air is 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

THE START…

Considering the new tight, slower Turn 11 and most of the other races have been able to get the cars lined up side-by-side prior to the start, it will be interesting to see how many rows can get lined up out of the slow corner. That will then see the cars launch going into Turn 1, where there’s at least a good funnel effect.

…THEN TURN 3

Toronto’s most legendary and perhaps notorious corner is Turn 3, the tight right-hander at the end of Lake Shore Blvd.

“Being up front means you’re less likely to get caught up in a mess in Turn 1 and Turn 3, which is almost inevitable here. So we’ll see how it turns out,” said Hinchcliffe.

Bourdais joked, of any possibility of INDYCAR moving the start to the backstraight, “Let’s have a crack at it on the back straight, see how many cars we can take out in Turn 3. It would be awesome.”

Thus far this weekend Turn 3 hasn’t been the trouble spot. Instead, it’s been…

…AND THEN TURNS 9, 10 AND 11

The final complex of the circuit has been the complex under the most scrutiny this weekend, following Turn 8, which was moved back to its original configuration on Saturday.

Of Turn 8, polesitter Dixon said, “It’s where it should have been to start with, I think. It’s a place I think more for racing. It’s always difficult to pass there, but it’s always another option. On street courses you need as many options as possible.

“It would definitely help the racing. It helped the corner a little bit. Wherever the concrete is here, especially on the apexes, one,three, five, eight, even through the last section now, just gets polished. It’s very slippery.”

Here’s Carlos Munoz of Andretti Autosport on Turn 11: “For sure the track is much different than last year. It’s much harder for the drivers, especially in (Turn11 – we saw a lot of problems there.”

Turns 9, 10 and 11 will be the most difficult corners to master because they’re tighter and have produced a number of accidents throughout the weekend.

PIT LANE

As noted in the preview, the pit lane may well be a mess – some drivers have it worse than others trying to enter their respective boxes.

If a full course caution occurs and most of the field pits at once, it could get chaotic, quickly.

CARNAGE ON TAP? 

There have really not been a lot of cautions this year, because the depth of field is so strong from drivers 1-22 and the reliability from both Chevrolet and Honda has been largely impressive albeit with some hiccups (Chevrolet is seeking to improve though after some recent component failures).

But while the number of cautions has gone on road and street courses this year, in order, 2, 0, 1, 2, 2, 3 and 1, it just feels like we’re due for a race of derpage.

The Toronto course has proven to be more challenging than normal owing to the above course changes, and the fact we’ve had two crashes already with Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball at Turn 11 in Friday practice portends a race where the pace car is due to be circulating more frequently than normal.

The law of averages simply dictates we’re due here in Toronto, where cautions usually come fast and furious. In the race’s history (hat tip to my colleague Steve Wittich for this), the average is 3.6 yellows for 14.81 laps.

In 2014, race two, there were seven yellows for 20 laps and in 2011, there were eight for 32 laps. Since 2012 and the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis, there’s only been more than four yellows once – that aforementioned 2014 race.

HINCH…

It’s James Hinchcliffe’s home race and with it comes the necessary pressure of wanting to perform. He’s been asked a similar question about it being his home race countless times. How will he do today? It’s always a story.

SEABASS…

Arguably Bourdais, in the No. 11 Team Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet, has been the best driver outside of the Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing stables at Toronto. He was disappointed in some respects to be fifth but that’s because if he and his car were even further dialed in, he’d have been on the front row. Definitely one to watch.

…AND THE REST OF THE NON-GANASSI/PENSKE BRIGADE

Beyond the top four drivers, there’s these outstanding questions:

  • How does Josef Newgarden fare from P8 on the grid after acknowledging this hasn’t been his strongest weekend?
  • What to make of the Dale Coyne Racing teammates after their strong qualifying positions?
  • Can Andretti Autosport spring a strategy surprise to overcome a poor qualifying performance?

HERE’S YOUR GRID AND PIT WINDOWS

We shall wait and see.