By MIKE SHULMAN
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Monday, July 16, 2018
TORONTO -- It was shaping up to be defending champion Josef Newgarden's day.
The two-time winner at the Honda Toronto Indy had a third title in his sights on Sunday, but on Turn 11 of Lap 33, the American hit the wall, allowing Scott Dixon to overtake him for the lead and complete the feat instead.
"When I saw it - the seas were parting - away we went, which for us, especially for the championship, he's our closest competitor right now," Dixon said.
"That's where our race was won today, was through the bad luck or bad situation that Josef had," he added.
Dixon of New Zealand finished the 85-lap course on the streets surrounding Exhibition Place first, with Simon Pagenaud of France in second and Robert Wickens, from Guelph, Ont., taking part in his first race on Canadian soil in more than a decade, in third.
The victory put the 37-year-old Dixon in some elite company.
Three-time winners in Toronto included Australia's Will Power, Scotland's Dario Franchitti and American Michael Andretti, who holds the record for the most victories at seven.
It also stretched his lead in the points standings over Newgarden to 62 points from 33.
They both have three wins this season.
Pagenaud and Wickens admitted it might be tough to stop Dixon from clinching the championship, heading into Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio where he has won five times in two weeks.
It's the third year in a row a Canadian has landed on the podium. James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., ended in fourth, after two straight years of third-place finishes, while Zachary Claman Demelo of Montreal was in 14th.
Newgarden was leading for most of the first 32 laps on the hot and humid day. But when the 27-year-old American hit the barrier, losing his top spot, he was slowed and caused a momentum-turning pile-up at Turn 1 of the following lap.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Will Power, Max Chilton, Ed Jones, Alexander Rossi and Sebastien Bourdais were involved in the collision.
Rossi said Saturday a repave of the course would likely create more action heading into the first corner.
"I think it'll allow Turn 1 to be a passing zone now. Before it was still bumpy on the inside, pretty low percentage chance, so now we're able to improve everything from practice for the race."
The restart after the crash allowed Wickens and Hinchcliffe to surge up the ranks.
"I just got a super-lucky restart. Josef got a little bit wide in Turn 11 coming to the green. It was just right place at the right time," Wickens said.
Wickens briefly moved up to second to trail Dixon, who led until he pitted on Lap 55 but retook the lead shortly after.
This was the first race in Canada for Wickens, an IndyCar rookie, since competing in Toronto as part of the 2007 Champ Car Atlantic. He spent 12 seasons in Europe, including six with German's DTM series.
Hinchcliffe came into the race carrying momentum from a come-from-behind win over Newgarden at the Iowa Corn 300 last weekend.
Newgarden took his sixth pole of his career, and fourth of the year, on Saturday.
Dixon started the race second and Pagenaud was third. He also had the fastest lap time of 59.1394 seconds during the final practice earlier today. He was trailed by Newgarden (59.3684) and American Ryan Hunter-Reay (59.3684).
Dixon has been racing in Toronto since 1999 and said joining the likes of the retired Franchitti as a three-time winner has special meaning.
Over the weekend, there was also renewed talk about the potential of another race north of the border at IndyCar's lone Canadian stop. Co-owner of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Ric Peterson, said Saturday he is still pushing for a race in Calgary. He said 2019 is no longer on the table, but the following year is still a possibility.
New Zealand's Scott Dixon celebrates his victory at the Honda Toronto Indy on Sunday.
FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS