Random Thoughts On Toronto
Well, that was certainly interesting. The 2011 version of the Honda Indy Toronto ended up being a comical crash fest, although I’m not sure that Will Power found the humor in it. To steal a line from Pressdog, there were no less than half a dozen times when it would have been appropriate to yell, “Cue the circus music!”.
We should have known what kind of day it was going to be when Ryan Briscoe punted Tony Kanaan on Lap Two. That would be the first of many entanglements throughout the day. Fortunately, no one suffered any physical injuries, but a few egos were bruised.
The most pointed comments rightfully came from Will Power who didn’t hold back about the boot he received from Dario Franchitti. Power also had a few choice words for Alex Tagliani who finally put Power’s day out of its misery – also introducing the word “wanker” to the Versus airwaves describing Tagliani’s driving style.
But there were other choice words from various drivers. Kanaan was justifiably upset with Briscoe. Danica Patrick let her anger with Takuma Sato be known. Graham Rahal didn’t hold back when he said that Ryan Hunter-Reay’s brain quit functioning when he strapped on a helmet, while Scott Dixon called Rahal an idiot and then a “pain in the a—“ and that he got his just desserts for his driving antics.
We fans have been griping about drivers that sound like robots in interviews. For the last several years, drivers have been quick in politically correct soundbites that always mention a sponsor’s name, but obviously conceals what they are really thinking. Now that drivers are opening up and saying what’s really on their mind, fans are calling them whiners and three year-olds. You can’t have it both ways. Personally, I prefer hearing Will Power calling a fellow driver a “wanker”, like he did yesterday, and letting a few expletives fly as he did a couple of weeks ago in Iowa; than giving the buttoned-down, corporate answer. That is, so long as it’s genuine. It’s when drivers cross the line and give contrived and controversial answers, that the whole process devolves into the world of WWE and NASCAR
By the way, Dario Franchitti won the race and now leads Will Power by fifty-eight points. Credit Dario for taking “at least fifty percent of the blame”; but I still felt as though he should have been penalized for avoidable contact. It wasn’t the most flagrant violation – that honor goes to Ryan Briscoe.
I don’t think I would go so far as to say it was a good race. There was some good racing at times, but the miscues by too many drivers trying to force the issue took away from this being a good race. It was entertaining and kept me interested, but for the wrong reasons.
TV Coverage: Going back to Saturday, Versus introduced some new graphics at the top of the screen designed to make it easier to keep track of which drivers were in the top six of each segment, and which were on the outside looking in. It sounded good in theory, but my tired old eyes had a hard time being able to see it. I realize that they have to shrink the size fairly small in order to get twelve (or more) car numbers visible on the screen, but it was tough to read from my chair. Plus, those that were not in the top-six were lighter and transparent making it really tough to make out. I don’t really have any suggestions, but it still needs some tweaking.
Dan Wheldon did his usual superb job in his role as guest analyst. I’m really sorry to see him go, now that they have Wally Dallenbach back in the booth. I thought that having four people in the booth would have seemed crowded during the telecast, but I thought the commentary was great.
I was a little underwhelmed with the “Dan & Dan" segment before the race, when Dan Wheldon took Dan Aykroyd for a spin in the new Honda Civic Pace Car. I guess I expected more reaction from the 59 year-old Canadian, but he didn’t seem to say a whole lot. Just a few “wows” was all we heard from the man who played Elwood Blues and Louis Winthorpe III in some of his more memorable roles. One oddity that I noticed was when they took the turns or hit the brakes, Aykroyd’s body seemed to be flung all over the place while Wheldon seemed to stay perfectly still.
There were no noticeable gaffes from the Versus crew. All three pit reporters did an exceptional job on an especially busy day on pit road. Kevin Lee and Lindy Thackston both did good jobs of asking the tough questions in heated moments to Will power and Chip Ganassi respectively. Robin Miller brought his usual unique perspective to the telecast.
This will sound ironic coming from someone who has made it a habit of mugging for the Versus cameras the last two years at Barber; but someone needed to do something about the kid that kept jumping up and down behind Kevin Lee throughout the IndyCar Central Pre-Race show. One jump was enough to get his friends and family to notice him, but he was a total distraction as he continued to resemble an unwanted pogo stick in the background. I didn’t even know what was being said on the set, for the brat in the background. I kept waiting to see a Versus employee strangling him in the background, but it never happened. Where is Charles Burns when you need him?
Penske Paint Jobs: I understand that in this economic climate, that it is tough to put an entire season together for a sponsor these days – even if you’re Roger Penske. More and more teams these days are forced to rotate sponsors around so that a driver like Justin Wilson may be in a red & black Z-Line Design car one week and a purple & yellow Dad’s Root Beer car the next. It can be confusing to fans, but I get why teams are forced to do it.
What I don’t understand is why Team Penske rotates paint schemes among drivers. This week, Helio Castroneves was driving the yellow Penske Truck Rental scheme that teammate Ryan Briscoe drove this past spring at Barber and Long Beach. Earlier this season, Helio drove a car sponsored by GuidePoint – then Ryan Briscoe drove the GuidePoint car at race or two. It gets very confusing. Even some die-hards have a hard time telling the difference at first, but for those casual fans that the IZOD IndyCar Series covets so much – it gets very confusing to have the same looking livery bouncing around between teammates.
Penske woes continue: One of the stranger storylines was the switch that took place at Team Penske. For the first time in the 197 starts that Helio Castroneves has had at Team Penske, Tim Cindric was not in his pit calling the shots. Cindric was in Will Power’s pit overseeing things to see if they could straighten out Power’s pit stop woes. Cindric himself admitted he had mixed emotions about it. To me, it looks like they’ve given up on Helio’s season at the halfway point.
I’ve always been of the opinion that a team is a team. Clive Howell is the leader of Will Power’s team. The spin on Friday was that Howell requested Cindric to make the move. Hearing Cindric’s version on Sunday, it sounded as if it was not entirely Howell’s idea. If Howell is not doing a good job, replace him with someone who can. Don’t have Howell sitting as a figurehead while Cindric calls the shots in Power’s pit box.
Tim Cindric and Helio have formed a bond over the past twelve seasons. Helio is struggling this season, but I think it is disruptive to both teams to have Cindric move from one to another. It makes one question Helio’s long term future with Team Penske.
Except for Power’s three wins this season, it has been a very disjointed year at Team Penske. From revolving sponsorships and a virtual no-show at Indianapolis, to botched pit stops and slow cars – what is going on there? As one who has been a fan of Roger Penske and his teams for more than forty years, it’s puzzling to watch how quickly things have unraveled at a team known for immaculate preparation and the pursuit of the unfair advantage.
The Evil Empire: A few years ago, the IZOD IndyCar Series had the “Big Three”; which was comprised of Andretti-Green Racing, Target Chip Ganassi and Team Penske. Then as AGR morphed into Andretti Autosport as it fell into mediocre obscurity, the two remaining teams that won everything were known as the “red cars” because of the colors of the Marlboro and Target cars of Penske & Ganassi. With the Target cars finishing one-two while Team Penske did well to have one car (Ryan Briscoe in seventh) finish in the top-seventeen; it seems there is now only one true dominant team in the series. It pains me to say that it is Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
Call them the Death Star, the Evil Empire or whatever you want, they are the only team that currently has their act together week in and week out. Is it that they are now so good, or have their competitors just tailed off? One thing is certain – if this series is going to make it in the long-term, they need to have more than one team at the top. Otherwise, they won’t even be able to keep the die-hards interested. Penske, Andretti, KV and a few others need to step up their game and not let Ganassi run away with this championship.
All in all: I felt sorry for the fans in Toronto. They have a knowledgeable and rabid fan base there and they deserved a better race. It’s not that it was that bad. For the first half, there was good racing throughout the field. But somewhere past the halfway point, things took a turn for the ridiculous and drivers looked like they forgot how to drive. Maybe it’s a byproduct of having not been on a road course in two and a half months, which would be another argument for spreading ovals and street/road courses more evenly throughout the schedule. Still that’s no excuse for the careless driving we saw Sunday. I saw better decision-making during the Firestone Indy Lights race.
There was a large amount of carnage and teams will need the upcoming off week to rebuild a lot of damaged racecars before heading to Edmonton in two weeks. That course has been redesigned and should offer a lot of passing areas. With that in mind, maybe the drivers can decide to use better judgment. At least it’s on an airport with lots of runoff areas instead of concrete walls and tire barriers. We’ll see.