TORONTO – It was shaping up to be defending champion Josef Newgarden’s day until he hit a wall and opened the way for Scott Dixon.
Newgarden, the two-time winner who started from the pole position, had a third Toronto IndyCar title in his sights. Then on Turn 11 of lap 33, the American hit the wall, allowing Dixon to overtake him for the lead and get his third win in the event.
“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, through the bad luck or bad situation that Josef had.”
The New Zealand native finished the 85-lap course on the streets surrounding Exhibition Place first, with Simon Pagenaud of France second. Robert Wickens was third, marking the third year in a row a Canadian landed on the podium.
The victory put the 37-year-old Dixon in some elite company with drivers with at least three wins in Toronto, joining Australia’s Will Power, Scotland’s Dario Franchitti and American Michael Andretti, who holds the record with seven.
It also stretched Dixon’s 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 the Honda Indy 200 on July 29 at Mid-Ohio, where he has won five times.
“Too many, yeah,” Pagenaud said. “Yeah, he’s good there. Sometimes he’s unlucky, too. We all (are). It’s just part of life. (We) get to work and find a way to beat him.”
Wickens added: “Is there a track he’s not good at?”
James Hinchcliffe of Canada was fourth after two straight years of third-place finishes.
Newgarden was leading for most of the first 32 laps on a hot and humid day. The start-time temperature was listed at about 80 degrees but felt like more like 95 degrees.
But when the 27-year-old hit the barrier, losing his top spot, he was slowed and caused a momentum-turning pileup 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 had said Saturday the 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. “Basically everyone else was checking up for Josef. I looked up at the flag. I saw the green waving. I had a run, the seas just parted. I had an open line down the inside to Turn one and I took it.”
Wickens moved up to second in lap 35 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 Germany’s DTM series.
Paul Tracy remains the only Canadian to win in Toronto, taking the checkered flag in 1993 and 2003.
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.
“Yeah, it’s pretty sweet. I’ll have to call Dario tonight and say I finally tied him at something,” he said. “But I love coming to Toronto. I feel like it’s kind of my closest home. I’m part of the Commonwealth, which is nice. Bit of a longshot there, but I’ll take it.”
Newgarden took his sixth pole of his career, and fourth of the year, on Saturday.
Dixon set a course record earlier in qualifying on Saturday, clocking a time of 58.5546 in segment 2. He started the race second and Simon Pagenaud was third.