Josef Newgarden loves everything about Toronto: the people, the food and the cosmopolitan feel.
Oh yeah, one other thing: he loves to win INDYCAR races there.
The defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion has won two of the last three Honda Indy Toronto races on the temporary street course around Exhibition Place just west of downtown T-town.
This Sunday, Newgarden goes for 3 wins in the last 4 starts at Toronto – not to mention what he hopes will be his fourth win of 2018, adding to wins already at Phoenix, Birmingham and nearly three weeks ago at Road America.
“Toronto has been kind to us, for sure,” Newgarden told MotorSportsTalk. “I think with both of our victories there, we had a little bit of luck thrown in, no doubt.
“We had a fast car there last year and capitalized on it when we got the lead. I thought we were a podium threat before that, but the yellows are really the story of Toronto because they can happen at the wrong moments or the right moments.
“And for us, they generally happen in the right moments. You just don’t want to get caught out there. I think if you start from pole around Toronto and have a fast car, you want to make sure you don’t get caught out by something like that. It’s capitalizing if you’re not in the right position or protecting if you are in the right position around that place.”
Needless to say, racing at Toronto is something Newgarden looks forward to each season.
“It’s certainly one of my favorite events,” he said. “The track itself is very fun to drive.
“It’s very unique. I mean, all the IndyCar circuits are, but Toronto is kind of its own thing. It’s probably most closely related to Detroit, but even Detroit is different because of the changes from asphalt to concrete to asphalt in the corners, so that’s a really big challenge on the setup.
“But the event is so well supported and we have such great Canadian fans, I love going there. It’s a fun city, kind of like New York, great fan support, awesome atmosphere and yes, it’s a fun, challenging track to drive.”
Newgarden will be going to Toronto this weekend still feeling the impact of losing this past Sunday at Iowa. He dominated more than the first three-quarters of the race before being passed by James Hinchcliffe with 42 laps to go.
The Canadian native would hold on to claim his first win in over a year (last win came in 2017 at Long Beach).
Now that he’s going to race on Hinchcliffe’s home turf, Newgarden isn’t necessarily seeking revenge for falling short of Iowa. Rather, he is determined to finish what he didn’t at Iowa and once again leave Toronto exclaiming to himself in celebration, “Oh, Canada!”
“I feel motivated and I know the team is motivated to do our job and just go do it again,” Newgarden said. “That’s really all you can do.
“It’s always tough to lose a race at the end of the day. We had a car that was capable of winning, but the thing is we just got beat at Iowa. For three-quarters of the race, we had a car to beat, and the last quarter, we didn’t.
“We just have to learn from that and try to make it better next time, try to go to Toronto and work harder and try to win again. No doubt, we feel motivated that we have speed and can find it if we don’t have it, and we can execute as a race team, so that gives a lot of confidence to just go do a great job at Toronto and try to win.”
There are six races remaining on the schedule and Newgarden finds himself second in the standings, trailing series leader Scott Dixon by 33 points. There’s still plenty of time for Newgarden to overtake Dixon and earn a second consecutive IndyCar crown.
But at the same time, Newgarden is not obsessing about it. His philosophy is fairly straight-forward: he’ll do the best he can in the remaining races and if the championship happens, it happens.
“It’s simple in my mind,” he said. “I’ve always said that a championship takes care of itself.
“You focus on each individual weekend in its own section. Each weekend is its own individual thing and you just try to maximize your performance for each weekend you go to and each track you’re at.
“If you can do that, you maximize your potential for each individual weekend and, to me, the championship kind of sorts itself out. I just kind of focus on that from my standpoint, but the team, mainly Tim (strategist and Team Penske president Tim Cindric) and the engineers, they really try to see the whole picture and if we need to protect for something in the championship in a certain race, then I think they look at that and try to make that decision.
“But me as a driver, I’m more so just trying to maximize our potential and our result every weekend. That simplistic way of looking at, to me, has always worked out well.”
While Dixon is the main guy right now in Newgarden’s sites, he’s not the only one.
“There’s a lot for sure,” Newgarden said. “Dixon, without a doubt, is in the mix and he’s always going to be tough to beat.
“And (Alexander) Rossi and (Ryan) Hunter-Reay from Andretti (Autosport), and for sure Will Power is always going to be in the mix and he needs to be. We’re representing Team Penske both, so I think both of us want to be as high as possible.
“I think those five (including himself) are the real strong championship contenders. There’s always the potential for someone else to creep up in there like Robert Wickens, who has had a great season, or maybe you see more of an emergence from Graham Rahal.
“I think this top five is really, to me, the guys you have to compete against. You never say never because it can flip so quickly in IndyCar, so you have to be careful not to get too confident. But to me, looking at the landscape, I think that’s probably the best bet, to look at those five the most clearly.”