Making (or preventing) late pass could decide Toronto race

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TORONTO – When things get down to the nitty-gritty in the final laps of today’s Honda Indy Toronto, defending a late passing attempt or making that crucial overtaking move may be what stands between a driver and a top result.

Make an overtake work and glory can follow. If things don't go as planned, goat ears just might need to be the headwear of choice. Live coverage of the 85-lap race on the temporary street course at Exhibition Place begins at 3 p.m. on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

HONDA INDY TORONTO: Race start tire designation

But who among the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers competing today on the 1.786-mile, 11-turn circuit is the one they most and least likely want to see in that decisive pass situation? When asked, the name that came up most often as the racer they'd least want trying to get past them late in a race is No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda driver Takuma Sato, who sometimes tries moves that others might not attempt.

“When he decides to go for it, it's not fun and you better move out of the way,” said reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud, today’s pole sitter in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet. “He's usually not fighting for championship, so he can take chances, but the chances he takes sometimes are very risky.”

James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, went in another direction. The Toronto-area native said four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon (No. 9 NTT Data) would worry him most because the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is a top candidate to make a pass work.

“Dixon. Why? Because he's Dixon,” Hinchcliffe said. “He just good at everything and he's probably going by you.”

Josef Newgarden, driving the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevy today, agreed about Dixon, but added that singling one driver out as the top threat is tough in such a deep field.

“There's a few guys like Simon and Will (Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy), but if you have to choose, it would be Dixon,” said Newgarden.

“It depends on the race. Dixon is the most consistent but Will, Pagenaud and even (Helio) Castroneves are also very consistent, so it's hard to pick one.”

But there are two sides to that coin. Some drivers have an uncanny ability to make their cars much wider than usual when others are trying to get past.

The king of causing frustration, according to his peers, is Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet who makes things as difficult as possible for those who want to get past. Tony Kanaan (No. 10 NTT Data), Charlie Kimball (No. 83 Novo Nordisk Honda) and Power were also mentioned.

The rival most drivers pegged as the one they'd trust most when battling wheel-to-wheel for a corner is Dixon.

“You rarely see Dixon crash with someone,” Power said. “You have confidence with all the guys with experience and who have been around long enough. Some never learn but the good ones do.”

Honorable mention goes to Power – who coincidentally was Dixon's pick – and Castroneves. Both were named often by their peers.

Although moves may sometimes end in tears and anger, some drivers have an uncanny ability to make them stick in places where passing just doesn't seem possible.

“I think it's pretty mixed here. I think the competition is so tight that it shifts from week to week,” Dixon said. “Will has a pretty good reputation for making it stick.

“There are plenty of guys who try to pull something off but it rarely sticks,” the current points leader added. “He's just very good. He's always there and he's with a good team obviously, but his race craft is really good. 

Others honorably mentioned by fellow drivers as being able to find a way past when there doesn't seem to be room were Newgarden, Graham Rahal and Alexander Rossi.

In the end, when the final laps start counting down in the Honda Indy Toronto, Power insisted the driver everyone will worry about is pretty simple. 

“Whoever was really quick in the race at that time, I'd say,” the defending Toronto winner said. “It depends on who has tires (with the most remaining life) and what-not. Obviously, there are some guys who are pretty aggressive that you know will go for a big move, so you watch for those guys.”

Honda Indy Toronto fast facts:

Race 12 of 17 on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule

Track: Streets of Exhibition Place, an 11-turn, 1.786-mile temporary street course; today’s race is the 33rd Indy car event at Toronto, with the first race in 1986.

Race distance: 85 laps / 151.81 miles

Fuel: 55 gallons of Sunoco E85R ethanol

Fuel stint: 28-30 laps (for a two-stop race)

Tire regulations: In a dry-condition race, each car that finishes must complete at least two laps on a set of Firestone primary (black-sidewall) tires and two laps on a set of new alternate (red-sidewall) tires. If three or more cars switch to wet-condition tires during the race, the mandatory tire use rule is waived. If INDYCAR declares a wet start to the race, all cars must be fitted with wet-condition grooved tires.

TV: CNBC, 3 p.m. ET (live); NBCSN, 7 p.m. (encore)

Green flag: 3:47 p.m.

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