Dixon ready to defend title at Honda Indy Toronto, his 'home' race
Toronto just feels like home to Scott Dixon.
The New Zealander often jokes that as the only IndyCar race in a Commonwealth country, the Honda Indy Toronto is essentially his backyard.
He's also won four times on the street course around Exhibition Place, including a dominant performance in 2022, for the second-most victories in the race's history.
"I think you can never really rest on last year's performances," said Dixon, who won twice in 2013, when there was two races in Toronto, and again in 2018. "The track changes over time, right? It's city streets.
"What was there one year is definitely going to be different."
The track has changed since Dixon's victory a year ago, with the surface between Turns 8 and 11 redone for a less bumpy ride. That includes the pit lane — nestled between BMO Field and the Horse Palace — which has been expanded by two bays this year to accommodate 27 cars.
Dixon said those small changes make street courses so much fun.
"It looks a lot smoother and a lot more consistent, at least one kind of material," said Dixon of the resurfacing. "Going into Turn 1 looks like they've changed a bit too with a pretty big patch going in there.
"They've got a large painted crosswalk there too that would be very slippery, especially if it rains."
There's an 80 per cent chance of rain in Toronto on Saturday during IndyCar race's qualifying and 40 per cent chance on Sunday's race day. Thunderstorms are expected both days.
Dixon is second in the IndyCar Series standings behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou of Spain. Palou has 377 points after four wins, two poles, eight top-five finishes and nine top-10s this season. Dixon has 267 points with five top-five placings and eight top-10s. Team Penske's Josef Newgarden is third with 261 points.
Devlin DeFrancesco, the only Canadian currently driving on IndyCar, is tied for 20th in the standings. He's eager to be racing in his hometown again after making his Toronto debut last year.
"Even coming last year I didn't feel pressure, I felt more support than anything," said DeFrancesco, who drives for Andretti-Steinbrenner Autosport. "I'm excited to be back here.
"Love being in the city of Toronto."
Two-time defending Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona winner Tom Blomqvist will make his IndyCar debut in the race, replacing the injured Simon Pagenaud in the No. 60 car for Meyer Shank Racing.
Pagenaud was hurt just over a week ago during practice at Mid-Ohio when his brakes failed, and he was forced to send his car into a spin in a desperate attempt to scrub some speed. The car hit a gravel trap on the exit of a corner and rolled seven times as pieces flew into the air before finally coming to rest on its side against a barrier.
Blomqvist only learned on Tuesday he would drive in Toronto.
"The only resource I've had really is YouTube videos so yeah, I'm coming on here pretty blind," said Blomqvist, who spoke with 2019 Honda Indy Toronto champion Pagenaud about the course. "Simon did say you'll be fine, track's not too difficult but then listening to these guys it sounds like he was lying.
"I haven't really got high expectations of myself."
DeFrancesco chimed in with some support for the Brit. "You'll be fine. Just send it."
Green Savoree Race Promotions, which operates four of the 17 annual IndyCar races, is in the final year of its contract with Penske Entertainment to run the only Canadian event on the schedule. Honda Indy Toronto president Jeff Atkinson said negotiations are going "very well" and that his organization will have an update on the race's future soon.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2023.