INDYCAR: Dixon wins at Toronto, nearly doubles points lead over Newgarden

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In a race that at times got rather chaotic, Scott Dixon remained patient and focused, capturing Sunday’s 34th annual edition of the Honda Indy Toronto.

Dixon really put on an exhibition on the temporary street course around Toronto’s Exhibition Place, taking the lead from pole sitter Josef Newgarden when the latter glanced off the wall on Lap 33 and – with the exception of cycling through on a few pit stops – never really let the lead get too far out of his hands.

“I’m worn out, man, it was definitely a physical race,” Dixon told NBCSN. “The car was superb. We just needed some clean air and we were able to check out.”

The win was Dixon’s third career triumph at Toronto. His previous two wins there both came in 2013.

It also was his 44th career INDYCAR win and third of the 2018 season, and comes one week before his 38th birthday (July 22). The four-time IndyCar champion, in pursuit of his fifth career title, also is now tied A.J. Foyt for second place on the INDYCAR career top-fives list.

The win helped Dixon not only remain the points leader in the Verizon IndyCar Series with five races remaining, but also padded his margin from 33 to 62 points over Josef Newgarden.

“It was definitely a tough race, definitely tough on the restarts,” Dixon said. “We just have to keep these points rolling. … Huge congrats to the team. I’m stoked. This is awesome.”

As for Dixon markedly increasing his lead in the points, Newgarden — who won this race last year and two of the previous three races there — told NBCSN, “Yeah, we can get him, absolutely. We’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help, but we’ve got plenty of racing left, we have to keep our head up and we’ll be just fine. We have fast cars that are the best in the business. We get our mistakes sorted out and we’ll be just fine.”

Dixon won by 5.2701 seconds over runner-up Simon Pagenaud, the latter enjoying one of his best days in a season that has had its share of struggles. It was Pagenaud’s first-ever podium in nine tries in Toronto.

“It was hard racing, good racing, man, I really had fun,” Pagenaud told NBCSN. “It was a blast to drive. Really difficult, but when you have a good result like this, it’s very rewarding. I think we showed we’re back, so I’m excited.

“We’ve had good seasons. We’ve had not so-good seasons. The big thing is to bounce back and I think we’re doing just that. We’re working diligently in the background and I think it showed this weekend.”

Canadian and rookie INDYCAR driver Robert Wickens finished third, followed by fellow Canadian countryman and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate, James Hinchcliffe, and Charlie Kimball (who earned a season-best and top finish for the new Carlin Racing team).

“It was amazing,” Wickens told NBCSN, shortly after donning the Canadian flag on his shoulders. “Normally, I’m not an overly teary-eyed guy, but that was really cool.

“I can’t thank the Toronto fans enough. This whole week has been such a whirlwind of emotions. To stand on the podium in my first professional home race, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

It was Wickens’ third podium showing in the first 12 races of his first INDYCAR season.

“We had a great car in the race,” Wickens said. “I don’t think anyone had anything for Scott today. Dixie was in a class of his own today.”

Added Hinchcliffe, who won last week at Iowa, “I’m really proud of the boys, happy for Robby (Wickens) and it’s awesome to have two (SPM) cars in the top-5 here in Toronto.”

Sixth through 10th were Tony Kanaan, Zach Veach, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden and Marco Andretti, who likely would have finished perhaps as high as fourth had he not been forced to pit for a splash of fuel with two laps remaining.

“I just saw the collector (fuel indicator light) go on and my heart just sunk,” Andretti told NBCSN. “We had a top-4 pace. I’m really disappointed. I maybe had a shot at a podium, but definitely fourth.”

Meanwhile, Kanaan told NBCSN, “I wanted to come here and have a good result. This is the best result of the year for us so far. Everything went well.”

There were several incidents in the 85-lap race:

* On Lap 13, rookie Ed Jones became the first driver to come into the pits for service and promptly stalled it for several seconds. He finally was able to get going, just barely in front of race leader Josef Newgarden, keeping Jones from going a lap down.

* On Lap 23, Sebastien Bourdais spun in Turn 1 and bounced off the tire wall. He was able to back up and get going again, negating the need for a caution flag. Bourdais took his car to pit road to replace the rear wing that was damaged in the incident.

* On Lap 29, Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi both suffered mishaps that brought out the caution flag. Hunter-Reay spun in Turn 3 and then could not get his car restarted before assistance arrived to get him going again. Then, almost at the same time, Rossi suffered front wing damage after contact with Will Power on the long back straightaway. Hunter-Reay (rear wing), Rossi (front wing) and Power (rear suspension) all eventually came to the pits for repairs, losing valuable time.

* On the restart on Lap 34, Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Max Chilton, Sebastien Bourdais, Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal all crashed in Turn 1. This came just seconds after pole sitter Josef Newgarden slammed the wall heading into Turn 1, dropping him from near the front of the pack to 13th place. Rossi actually was launched into the air and sailed over Rahal’s car.

“Man, it’s not a DNF, but it’s kind of like a DNF in the season,” said Power, who finished 18th. “We’re still going to keep pushing away. There’s double points at the end (in the season finale at Sonoma), and that can be a 100 point swing, so we’re still in the game.”

* On Lap 44, rookie Rene Binder stalled in Turn 8 shortly after Newgarden and Ed Jones twice bounced off each other but were able to continue on.

* On Lap 68, Takuma Sato hit the Turn 2 wall hard and took his car off-course, ending his day.

* On Lap 77, Spencer Pigot, who had been enjoying a fairly good run, suffered a suspension failure and headed for the pits, also calling it a day.

The series now enjoys a weekend off — although several teams will test Tuesday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course — with the next race scheduled for Sunday, July 29, at Mid-Ohio.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ryan Hunter-Reay is all-in in bid to win second IndyCar championship

Photos: IndyCar
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The third time has truly been the charm for Ryan Hunter-Reay.

After back-to-back mediocre seasons in 2016 and 2017, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida resident is back where he belongs in 2018: in the hunt for what he hopes is his second Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Hunter-Reay won the title in 2012. But he suffered through a 12th place finish in 2016 (the second-worst in his 12-year IndyCar career) and a ninth-place showing in 2017.

While he earned three podium finishes in both 2016 and 2017, he hadn’t reached victory lane since 2015.

That all changed just over two months ago when he and his Andretti Autosport team came through to take the checkered flag at Belle Isle.

Hunter-Reay celebrates after his win at Belle Isle in June.

Now, in addition to that win, Hunter-Reay has four podium finishes, his most since six each in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

And now, with four races left on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule – starting with this Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway – Hunter-Reay is enjoying the fruits of his success.

And he hopes there’s even more success to come in those four races, including – with the fortuitous opportunity to earn double points in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway – the potential to win his second championship.

The 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner heads to Pocono ranked fifth in the points standings, 95 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.

“I think overall we’ve been pretty strong, competitive everywhere we’ve gone,” Hunter-Reay said on Tuesday’s IndyCar media teleconference. “We’re back up at the front regularly fighting for podiums, and that’s important.

“No doubt, the past couple races have been missed opportunities (after finishing runner-up at Road America, he’s scored finishes of 19th at Iowa, 16th at Toronto seventh two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio).

“More often than not we show up at a racetrack and we’re contending. It’s been a strong season in many ways. There’s been some missed opportunities in there, no doubt. Hopefully we can close out the season.”

But Hunter-Reay also admits he’ll need some help.

Being 95 points down to Scott, what needs to happen now is we need to go on a run and he needs to start having some bad luck, some difficult races, some circumstances going against him, things like that, which it can do,” Hunter-Reay said. “You just have to keep your head down.

“In this series, it’s the same way in a race, you could be starting mid pack, back of the pack. If you go into it with the right mindset, keep your head down, be tenacious, persistent, you can win races, any of them, and you can win championships.

“Just have to keep focused and make the most of it. Number one thing we have to do is go on the offensive and make a run for it.”

Even with Dixon’s sizable lead, Hunter-Reay isn’t giving up his pursuit of the championship. In a sense, his battle this season is similar to what occurred in 2012. There were those who counted him out, and yet when the dust had settled, he emerged with the title.

“I learned a lot in my racing career, especially through the 2012 season, fighting for the championship with Helio (Castroneves) and Will Power,” Hunter-Reay said. “Once you thought somebody really had an upper hand, thought they were running away with it, everything turned around. There’s still a lot of racing to go (this season).

“Absolutely, we’re going for it, no doubt. We have to focus on every session, make the most of it, race wins. That’s what’s going to get you there.

“Going to Fontana (the 2012 season finale), nobody really had us at a shot of winning it. I forget what the points deficit was. At the end of the night we ended up winning by three points. It’s not over till the last lap, especially with double points on the line, could be a huge swing race.”

This weekend’s venue, Pocono Raceway, has been good to Hunter-Reay the last three years, winning in 2015, finishing third in 2016 and eighth in last year’s race.

“I think we have a great chance (for success at Pocono),” Hunter-Reay said. “I mean, the Pocono race is different than Indy. It is its own beast. It’s very particular in that in turn three with banking, it’s a true handling corner. Feels almost like a Milwaukee type of corner, but going twice the speed.

“You have to set your car up for that. You have to set your car up for turn one, which is a massively banked, tight radius corner. It comes more down to a handling aspect to balance, trying to get the setup right.

“I think we’re going to see a different type of race. I don’t think it’s just going to come down to top end speed, although that will help at Pocono. I think it’s going to be more of a handling race.”

However, with limited practice at Pocono – just two sessions on Saturday – his team will have to scramble to get things right as soon as they unload off the hauler.

“Yeah, it’s a major time crunch,” Hunter-Reay said. “(It’ll be) really hard to get all that done in a short amount of time. It’s really the compromise between turns three and one. That are polar opposites. One corner feels like it’s got no banking, no support to it, the other one is massive banking and a tight radius. It’s very difficult to get those two corners right and get the compromise right with the car when you’re along.

“Once you get into traffic, things change a lot. There will be a qualifying setup, a race setup. We have to do all this with two hours total track time. It will be very difficult, no doubt.”

Hunter-Reay points to the new-style IndyCar this year for his and his team’s uptick in performance in 2018 over the last two years.

“I think as a team we kind of struggled during the aero kit years,” he said. “Now that we’re back on a universal aero kit like we were when we had some success in 2012, ’13 and ’14.

“You show up on a race weekend, you know you have a chance. You’re going in there and the team is going to be able to give you the car that you potentially need to win.

“That makes all the difference really for a driver, just knowing week in and week out that you’ve got a shot at winning and making that run for the championship. I think that’s what we showed this year. It does a lot for your confidence and it really keeps you motivated, no doubt.”

While most race car drivers deny they worry about the standings or points race, Hunter-Reay refreshingly said he’s well aware of where he’s at in the IndyCar rankings – and will be looking forward to the end of Sunday’s race to see where he’ll be heading into the final three races.

“You can’t help but notice where you are (in the standings),” he said. “You really have to be focused on yourself and just winning. You can’t worry about who is where at what time in the weekend. You got to absolutely focus on putting yourself up front.

“After the race, first thing I ask is, ‘where are the guys that we’re fighting in the championship, where did they finish?’ It’s just a curiosity standpoint. You just have to stay focused on yourself.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski