Last year, Josef Newgarden teased local product James Hinchcliffe about defeating him in his hometown race.
This time, he’s not kidding around.
The defending Honda Indy champion wants to exact revenge on the Oakville, Ont., native for his come-from-behind victory at the Iowa Corn 300 last weekend.
“I think it would feel quite sweet to beat Hinch in Toronto,” Newgarden said this week.
“I think I was just saying (it) to say it last year, joking around with him. Now, I truly mean it – I actually want to beat him.”
Newgarden, who sits second in the IndyCar points standings behind Scott Dixon, led for 229 of the 300 laps before Hinchcliffe capitalized on the American getting stuck in lapped traffic at the Iowa Speedway and took the lead. Newgarden finished fourth.
Hinchcliffe admitted he didn’t expect to pass Newgarden, who also won in Iowa two years ago.
“I honestly, the whole race, was just driving around thinking, ’What would Josef Newgarden do?“’ he said with a laugh while answering a question from his American counterpart at a news conference this week.
“He swept the field there in 2016. He was doing the same for most of the race in 2018. If I was Josef, how would I approach the rest of this race? I just really brought my inner Joseph out.”
But for now, Newgarden has bragging rights over Hinchcliffe in Toronto, where he has won twice (2017 and 2015). Hinchcliffe’s best results have been the past two years with back-to-back third-place finishes.
Newgarden put in the seventh fastest time at 59.63 seconds during practice on Friday.
Dixon, of New Zealand, notched the top lap time of 59.07. Takuma Sato of Japan had the second-best time of 59.51. American Marco Andretti finished third at 59.52.
Hinchcliffe had the best result among Canadians with the 10th-best time of 59.81.
Robert Wickens of Guelph, Ont., put in a top run of 59.98 for 13th and Zachary Claman De Melo of Montreal clocked in at 101.18 to finish 23rd and last.
Newgarden said it could be hard to adjust to IndyCar’s new aero kits – which he said have 25 per cent less grip – on some of the concrete patches featured on Toronto’s street track.
“I think it’s going to be a real challenge to find something that stays underneath you all day and find something that works on this track,” he said, adding there should be many opportunities for passing as drivers struggle with tire degradation.
“It’s a real engineering challenge in addition to the driving portion of it.”
But if Newgarden can pull it off, he can join some elite company. Three-time winners in Toronto include Australia’s Will Power, Scotland’s Dario Franchitti and fellow American Michael Andretti, who holds the record for the most victories at seven.
“For us to get three wins here would be unbelievable,” said Newgarden, noting he completed the same feat at the Grand Prix of Alabama earlier this year.
“Just because it is so difficult to win here. You can have the best cars, it’s a little like (the Indianapolis 500) in some ways, where you can get caught out quite easily. Everything’s got to line up, and if does, it feels pretty sweet.”