Toronto Preview

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Before discussing the upcoming double-header at Toronto this weekend, I would like to acknowledge the loss within the IndyCar community this week. Famed broadcaster Gary Lee passed away Monday at the age of 63. Gary was a regular on the old Saturday Night Thunder USAC shows on ESPN in the late eighties and early nineties. I most remember him for his melodious voice and how he used that voice to make some very memorable calls on the IMS Radio Network from Turn Two during the Indianapolis 500. I would like to send my condolences to the friends and family of Gary Lee.

The final double-header of the Verizon IndyCar Series season is this weekend. In fact, it is the third double-header in seven weeks. Unlike the previous two, I’m really looking forward to this one.

The first twin-bill of the season was at Belle Isle, less than a week after the Indianapolis 500. I wasn’t that crazy about a double-header immediately after a crammed Month of May. I was also not looking forward to it, because it was…well, Belle Isle. The second double-header was just three weeks ago at Houston. That circuit didn’t really excite me, but it was the heat I was dreading – and I wasn’t even going to be there. As it turned out, the two races at Houston were very exciting and surprisingly good – and rainier and cooler than expected.

This weekend, The Verizon IndyCar Series is heading to the streets of Toronto – a track that I love – and the weather looks to be absolutely perfect. Saturday calls for sunny skies and a high of 80. I don’t think you could ask for better weather than that anywhere.

It’s long been established that I am an oval guy. I think we certainly need some more ovals on the schedule. But that’s not to say that I think all temporary street circuits should be abolished. They shouldn’t. It would suit me if some fell off the calendar, but Long Beach and St. Petersburg should always be a staple on the IndyCar schedule. The same goes for Toronto.

Like St. Petersburg, I’ve actually been to this track. Unfortunately, also like St. Petersburg, it was not during the race weekend. I was in Toronto about two weeks after the 1995 race. I made a point to go to Exhibition Place, where the race is held. I found some of the curbing, but was unable to get my bearings until I saw the Princes’ Gates, the familiar columns at the head of Turn One. From there I could pretty well tell where everything else was. It always helps to know where things are when you are watching a race on television. You can relate to the event a lot better.

This race has taken place at Exhibition Place every year since 1986, except for the 2008 season as it fell victim to the unification of the two open-wheel series and schedules. Prior to that, USAC ran a handful of races races at nearby Mosport Park between 1967 and 1978. Winners of those Mosport races included Bobby Unser, Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt. Winners at Exhibition Place include legendary names like Bobby Rahal, Al Unser, Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti (seven times), Paul Tracy, Dario Franchitti and Alex Zanardi. There are also five former winners among current drivers; Sébastien Bourdais, Justin Wilson, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon. Last year, Dixon swept the double-header weekend; the only time that has been accomplished in the five times double-headers have taken place. Will Power has the distinction of being the only driver to have won this event in both Champ Car and the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Of course, no open-wheel race can take place at Toronto without remembering driver Jeff Krosnoff and corner-worker Gary Avrin. They were both fatally injured with two laps remaining in the 1996 race when Krosnoff’s car launched over the car of Stefan Johansson heading into Turn 3 on Lake Shore Blvd. Krosnoff’s car went into the catch fencing, where corner worker Gary Avrin lost his life when he was struck by debris. It served as a sobering reminder that street courses are no safer than ovals and that this is still a dangerous sport. Please keep the two of them in your thoughts this weekend.

Scott Dixon needs to pull off what he did last year and win both races, if he wants to get into contention to successfully defend his championship. He currently sits in eighth and 140 points behind Helio Castroneves in the championship battle. This has been an un-Ganassi-like season, thus far. If they want any of their four drivers to be relevant in the final third of the season, they really need to step up their game. If things follow the form of this season, Dixon will probably have two solid runs in Toronto – but no wins.

I picked Tony Kanaan to win last week in Iowa. He came within two laps of making me look smarter than I really am. You have to go back to 2007 to find Kanaan’s last win on a non-oval. Something tells me he won’t break that string this weekend.

Although they came away with the surprise win with Ryan Hunter-Reay last weekend at Iowa, I still think that Andretti Autosport is in a mid-summer funk. I think that may continue through this weekend before it ends.

I’m tempted to go for a Penske sweep for the weekend. Although he doesn’t have a strong record at Toronto, I think Will Power has gotten over his embarrassment at Pocono and is back to being focused on reclaiming the championship lead from his teammate, Helio Castroneves. Helio, on the other hand, seems to perform better in the role of the hunter instead of the hunted. He’ll be solid at Toronto, but he won’t win. Surprisingly, Juan Montoya has a horrible record at Toronto. In two races in 1999 and 2000, his finishes are twenty-second and twenty-fourth respectively. I imagine that fact has not been lost on him this weekend. When Juan Montoya has something to prove, he can be very dangerous.

But I also think that a win could be coming from a smaller team. Simon Pagenaud is an easy pick on a street course – almost too easy. For no reason, I have this sneaking suspicion he may have a difficult weekend in Toronto. But my feelings are normally wrong and probably will be this weekend as well. But if I had to pick a winner from a smaller team, it would be fellow-Nashvillian Josef Newgarden, driving for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

So what are my picks for this weekend? There will be no sweep like there was last year. Ganassi will remain winless. Simon Pagenaud will struggle and Castroneves and Power will remain your points leaders, but maybe not necessarily in the current order. And the race winners? Juan Montoya and Josef Newgarden. Stay tuned. We’ll see. Enjoy the races!

George Phillips

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6 Responses to “Toronto Preview”

  1. Another terrific review, George, and I enjoyed looking back at the history of the Toronto race. As for my picks, I am once again going with Andretti this weekend. However, I am going to add Newgarden to the mix for several reasons. Newgarden and SFHR are getting better each week and I am enjoying watching it happen. My son, Jack is seeing a driver develop like this for the first time as a fan and I am happy for him that it is a guy like Newgarden. We are also a RHR family and we were floored by the win last weekend at Iowa as well as Newgarden’s second place performance. So, we have RHR and Newgarden. I expect Marco and Hench to have a great weekend, too!

  2. You said: ” It always helps to know where things are when you are watching a race on television. You can relate to the event a lot better.”

    That’s why I really wish they would label the corner. It would be much easier to watch on tv if I knew which corner they were in. Just put a “turn 5″ sign on the wall, or right on the track. By the time I get the track layout in my head, the race is almost over.

    • billytheskink Says:

      It’s remarkable that this has not been done at road and street courses, given how common it is at ovals. Really, what do they have to lose?

  3. After the first practice, Newgarden is looking very good.

  4. Go street races!

    Penske sweep is what will happen unless it becomes less about pure speed and more about when the cautions fly. I will say Power & Helio with Montoya hanging out on the podium both times.

  5. Yannick Says:

    Please allow me to ask a question that is not intended to be provocative: Can a driver be still active and likewise be a “legendary name”?
    Sebastien Bourdais, by being a quadruple champion of one of the series that got reunited in 2008, and Scott Dixon, himself a triple champion, surely can be considered legendary names, too, even though neither of them have won a race yet this year.

    That might or might not change at Toronto since it’s a track which many drivers should excel at.

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