Honda Indy Toronto a true survival of the fittest test

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TORONTO – Over three decades of Indy car racing, the streets of Exhibition Place’s concrete jungle has swallowed up more than its fair share of competitors. With its narrow, bumpy track and multiple changes of surface throughout, the temporary street course has ruined the day of many a driver.

With the 2016 reconfiguration that includes a new, tight and twisting pit lane along with a more demanding set of final turns, today’s Honda Indy Toronto could well be the most testing challenge the circuit has seen in what will be its 32nd Indy car race. And it could have strong implications on the championship race.

Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske takes a 73-point lead over Ed Carpenter’s Josef Newgarden into the 85-lap event on the 1.786-mile circuit (2:30 p.m. ET, CNBC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). Pagenaud showed some susceptibility in this morning’s final warmup practice, nosing his No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Chevrolet into the Turn 8 tires.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Pagenaud’s teammate, explained the difficulty negotiating the course that everyone faces.

“It’s hard because you go from really bumpy braking zones where your car can get out of shape really easy, to a concrete patch (in some turns) that has no grip,” said the driver of the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet. “So when you land when you get there (on the concrete), you have no idea what the car is going to do. It just takes a lot of grip away from the car – I would say 30-40 percent of the grip off.

“It’s like aquaplaning – you go through, you aquaplane, ‘Oh, you made it through. OK, next one.’ Once you finish the concrete, it grips up again. If you can get a better (car) balance so you get the car pointed better, it means you don’t have (to use) as much wheel, so that when you come out of the patch the car is going to be much more straight.

“It makes a big difference. Figuring out what you need is going to be hard.”

Scott Dixon starts from the pole in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. The reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion used a sweep of the 2013 Toronto doubleheader weekend at catapult his run to the title that year. Dixon is fourth in the 2016 standings, 88 points behind Pagenaud.

The clear sentimental favorite today is James Hinchcliffe, racing for the seventh time in front of his avid hometown fans. Hinchcliffe starts the race sixth – his best qualifying effort at Toronto – and would realize a dream come true if he could take the checkered flag today.

“Definitely we're in as good a position here this weekend as we've ever been here,” Hinchcliffe said. “It will be nice to get that first win of the season. To do it here would be second only to the (Indianapolis) 500, so it would be pretty cool.”

Honda Indy Toronto fast facts:

Track: Streets of Exhibition Place, 1.786-mile, 11-turn temporary street course

Telecast: 2:30 p.m. ET, CNBC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network (re-air at 5:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

Start engines command: 3:08 p.m.

Race distance: 85 laps/151.81 miles

Fuel: 55 gallons of Sunoco E85R ethanol

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