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.

George Phillips


34 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Toronto”

  1. The post race interviews were worth sitting through the crashfest. As for the new graphics, I liked them, but I have a large enough TV screen to see it. 🙂

  2. ryan gavigan Says:

    I don’t *quite* agree on the size of the new qualifying graphics. If it’s watched on SD it’s definitely hard to discern the car numbers (and nigh impossible for time #s), but on HD (watching from a couch 10 ft away from a 50″ screen with 40yr old nearsighted eyes) they were clear and just fine.

    • Oilpressure Says:

      I have HD, but my eyes are 52 years-old. Maybe I need better contacts.

      • ryan gavigan Says:

        perhaps with the car number box they could keep the car’s color scheme, with just a green or red bar at the top of the box indicating on or off track.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I thought the worst part about this race wasn’t the number of incidents, it was the nature of so many of them.
    Incidents as a result of hard racing are fine, and there were some yesterday (Tracy and Hinch come to mind).
    Incidents as the result of boneheaded driving are understandable, everyone makes mistakes. You’d like there to be zero, but a couple are forgivable. We saw a few too many yesterday. (what was Sato doing?)
    But as often as either of these occured yesterday, if not more so, we saw incidents that were the result of drivers having absolutely no respect for one another, the officials, or the fans. Contact that was intentional (Briscoe, Hunter-Reay), contact that was probably not intentional but understood as a possibility that held few consequences for the passer (Castroneves, Franchitti, Viso), “dirty pool” on starts and restarts (everyone, especially Rahal), it was a race full of appaling incidents. It was a digusting race regardless of who won (except maybe Dixon, who ran as clean as anyone and probably made more on track passes than any contender), but Franchitti’s victory was all too fitting.

    The officials should shoulder some of the blame because they don’t do anything to make the drivers respect them, much less one another. If ever there was a time to give out an inconsistent penalty it was when the points leader spun the only driver close to him in the standings…
    But I have to assign most of the blame on the drivers, because they have shown on several occaisions over the past few years that they are capabable of respecting each other and the fans and putting on a good race (even on a street circuit).

    I think the best way to get the drivers’ attention after this one is for the series to retroactively declare it a non-points race. Yes, the idea has no chance of happening and would make IndyCar look bad to the national media, but this morning all I care about is making sure we don’t endure another Toronto and taking away everyone’s points would help that cause.

  4. H.B. Donnelly Says:

    “…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.”

    Can’t have said it better myself. At first, when Rahal, Viso, De Silvestro, and Hunter-Reay found themselves inexplicably at the front of the field, I got excited and thought maybe one of these cars would have a shot. Then the Target cars once again found their way to the front, then Dario and Power made contact, then Dario and Graham couldn’t figure out how restarts worked (Dario is clearly unwilling to ever be next to another car on a start/restart; both cars, or perhaps Chip himself, should have been penalized), then Marco took out every long-shot at the front of the field, then RHR punted Rahal and left the Target cars with no one but themselves to fight. That ending was terribly disappointing for me, and I don’t think I’ve ever been less enthused for the end of a race.

    A couple of things I’d like to hear your thoughts on, George: the “Penalty” to Dario that apparently never was called except for on every media outlet at the race (and the subsequent waffling by Al Jr.), the lack of 2-wide restarts as stated by the rules and the fact that everyone still blames them for all the wrecks.

    (parenthetically on that last bit, I notice that many drivers find it easier to go 2-wide through 3-4-5-6 at speed than down a wide straightaway while accelerating…lame!)

  5. Even this Franchitti fan was disappointed that no one really had anything for the Target guys at the end-especially for such a strange race.
    I’m not sure that so many of those “dirty driving” incidents were penalty-worthy intentional wreckings. I’m inclined to believe the guys in the booth about the Briscoe/TK contact (Briscoe was catching an oversteering car)-though I certainly understand TK’s anger.
    You can say that my Franchitti fan status and the poor camera angles give me no leg to stand on, but I don’t want to blame Dario for the Power spin, either. Power’s line through the corner just looked strange. And Tagliani had some pointed words about Power’s driving on Twitter.
    Everything else in the race kind of blurred together, especially in the second half, and we were left with a number of crashes and cautions that determined the top finishers. Hopefully Edmonton will be clean and controversy free. That happens a lot in Indycar these days, right?

  6. Versus botched the Dario-Power incident by saying there was one issued when there never was–see Cavin Twitter.

    Bob Jenkins continues to talk himself into corners and puts me to sleep with his cadence. It reminds me of a 90s computer talking program. He is the worst play by play man in motor sports. Give me Bob Varsha please.

    Very interesting to see Dixon continue to pretend he only has one teammate. Think he feels Graham is a threat to his #9?

    • According to what I have heard from folks with inside knowledge TCGR, no one–not the drivers or the crew–considers the junior varsity part of “their” team. And why should they? Dario and Scott have nothing to gain from this. Seems to simply be Chip’s way of holding onto Graham to season him a bit more before Dario retires.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      I don’t respect Jenkins at all. I love Varsha, Beekhuis, Lee, and Miller!
      Dixon has 1 teammate. The junior-varsity satellite team of rent-a-racers hasn’t been with Dixon for years of successful sharing or championships.

  7. Andrew Gilroy Says:

    I have watched the race again on DVR and reviewed many incidents and tried to see where the blame falls. Toronto is a VERY narrow course that makes passing and safe correction of driver error or aggressive driving mistakes quite challenging to say the least.
    The most important review was the incident involving Power and Franchitti. Power opened the door and Dario stuck the nose in there. It was a racing move with no malicious intent.

    No matter how right or wrong either party was, Will takes full blame because of the words that came out of his mouth bashing Dario, the league officials, and Alex “Wanker” Tagliani. Roger Penske leads by example and his team should take note of his strong/silent demeanor. Roger was on Wind Tunnel and didn’t even flinch or say one word out of place. Will needs to learn a bit of composure to compliment his skills.

    • It doesn’t matter if “Power opened the door and Dario stuck the nose in there. It was a racing move with no malicious intent.”

      Indycar set the precident earlier this year when Helio wasn’t penalized but Tracy were. They stated:

      “With Paul Tracy and Ryan Hunter-Reay, they both improved their position by taking somebody out.”


      “For sure, Paul Tracy and Ryan Hunter-Reay were aggressive driving, trying to make a pass and didn’t get it done. They were blatant. There’s the avoidable contact. Helio’s was not.”

      By that standard, Dario’s move should have been a penalty.

  8. If RB thinks that the NASCARization of IndyCar is the road to salvation, so be it…but this long time OWR fan will be out of here if the trend continues. Rubbin’ ain’t racin’, and I’m sick of trash talking.

  9. Bruce Philbrick Says:


    Not knowing the definition of “WANKER”, I found a profound definition in Wikipedia.

    Fortunately Will did complete his use of the word “WANKER” with its appropriate hand gesture!

    Oh, my goodnes !

    More than a few faces would still be blushing …….

    On to the next race…

    • Bruce Philbrick Says:

      A correctiom….My comment in the third line should read, ” Fortunately Will did not complete his use of the word “Wanker” with its appropriate hand gesture !”

      • Hi speaking as a Kiwi, ‘Wanker’ is from the school playground spoken by kids who really don’t know its meaning but know its a ‘rude’ word. Usually the target has broken/stole something from the accuser! Couldn’t stop laughing when I heard Will say it. I bet he wanted to say something stronger (secondary school level) but toned it down a little (primary school level). 🙂

  10. Simona Fan Says:

    The big problem with this race was that Chip Ganassi was interviewed about the penalty to Dario and said that “Power opened the door and then closed it”. Then, when the penalty was overturned, and they interviewed him, he said that he never heard about any penalty. AND NO ONE CALLED HIM ON IT. Not Lindy Thackson (although she did pause for a while in shock), not the guys in the booth, no one. No one said “Hey, you gave us an interview about the penalty, why are you now saying that you never heard about it?”

    Ganassi is a liar or has Alzheimer’s. One or the other. Penske said he heard the order come down the radio for the penalty. Al Unser, Jr. says it was never even considered a penalty AFTER Versus already had said that Banhardt issued the penalty and then was overruled by Al and Tony. Al doesn’t remember overruling Brian?

    THAT’S when I got upset. It was a great race up until that point. Ganassi lies on national TV about what he knows, IndyCar caves and two red cars are dancing in the winner’s circle.

    I turned turned the DVR off and stewed in my recliner feeling like I’d been cheated out of what should have been a great race.

    • My impression was that the “penalty” was reported over the media outlets-Versus TV and IMS radio (what Roger said he was listening to on Wind Tunnel), but nowhere else-particularly race control, which is what counts.
      Indycar can’t control if the media picks up something erroneous and reports it-that certainly doesn’t make it official.
      I don’t recall Ganassi acknowledging that Dario had officially receieved a penalty,, just him fuming about Power. However, I could be wrong. I’d have to watch it again.
      And I take anything anyone with a horse in the game has to say, be it Ganassi, Penske, Power, Franchitti, etc. They all have their own agendas. IF a penalty were called, it’s within Chip’s rights to argue it for as long and hard as he wants (until they stop scoring Dario). After all, he won the race. I doubt he would have if he’d pulled in to serve a penalty.

      • Simona Fan Says:

        Alright, alright. I don’t like calling someone a liar unless it’s absolutely warranted, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he meant he never heard anything from race control about a penalty. It’s not what he said, but maybe that’s what he meant. We still saw bad driving from Dario, and then a bunch of underhanded crap from Dixon and Rahal in the closing laps.

        The bigger problem is the Versus crew and where there getting their information. We hear one story. Then they clarify it. Then we find out yet a third story after the race. Who are they getting their information from. They’re paid by IndyCar (via Versus) so they might as well be considered Indy car spokesmen. They should have better access to race control than any of the teams. Why can’t we get a single story out of them?

      • Simona Fan,
        I agree with you that the Versus communnications problems are very serious. You’re right, Indycar needs to see them as a representative-since that’s where the fans on the couch get their information. They propagated a lot of misleading/incorrect/confusing information on Sunday, and that’s a big problem for several reasons.
        I am particularly looking forward to Trackside this week to hear what Kevin Lee has tosay about it,

      • Brian McKay Says:

        I assumed that Mr. Penske, Versus, and likely Mike Hull heard on the “Race Control” that officials were considering a penalty.

        I am not as emotional as Pressdog and race team members tryin’ to win and to make a living, but I was perturbed and disgusted so that I did not feel like sitting at my computer screen to watch the media room interviews after the Versus show.

  11. carburetor Says:

    I thought this race was entertaining, but very sloppy. It may be just me, but I think this circuit is way too narrow to avoid contact when the speeds of so many cars are so similar. I will say that, in the spirit of Pressdog, there are some real clowns developing in this series, and it is becoming a bit of an embarrassment to see them each race, i.e. Paul Tracy (great commentary by Wheldon on Tracy’s antics), and T Sato (how is he even in a race car?). Biggest shock of the race–and I mean truly a shock given the carnage in this race and the alleyway narrowness of the track–was that EJ Viso did NOT wreck! Isn’t that some sort of record for him? I don’t see anyone preventing Ganassi/Franchitti from cruising to the championship…

    • billytheskink Says:

      Thank Justin Wilson’s car control for Viso not wrecking. Wilson had a classy drive in a classless race.

      • Hey, somebody else noticed the Wilson/Viso “non-wreck” in the same place as the Dario/Power “championship ender”! I mean, Viso wound up with a cut down tire, but Wilson did everything in his power to make sure he didn’t just punt EJ out of the way. Dario sure didn’t react the same way Justin did (you can say what you will about the difference in number of race wins and championships between those two guys right here), and I’d say that if Dario had done what Justin did (either hesitate one more instant before picking up the throttle or jamming on the brakes like Wilson did), there would have been no contact. There’d have been no controversy, and we’d likely still have a championship race on our hands.

        I’m a Dario guy, but the whole thing, from the Power/Dario thing to Rahal’s games under yellow to Dixon’s boxing RHR out on the last restart (as the 3rd place restarter, Dixon should have been on the outside of Turn 11, allowing RHR alongside for the two-wide restart; instead, Dixon apexed the corner, forcing RHR to slam on the brakes, dropping back and then resulting in the desperate move that took Graham out once and for all), the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. To then hear from Dario in victory lane that “a lot of top Target guys are here”…well, that feels an awful lot like something other than a coincidence to me.

      • Brian McKay Says:

        I noticed also.

  12. I hate to say this because I know the folks in Toronto love their racing, but it occurs to me that parts of that circuit are JUNK. There are segments of the circuit that are so narrow that they virtually assure that there is going to be contact. Sure, the drivers are grown ups and should be able to determine where single file is the rule, but I saw areas of the track where any deviation from a “parade” was risking hitting something or someone. If you don’t have anyplace to go when someone gets into trouble, it’s not racing, it’s good ol’ Friday night demolition derby, which is about what we saw yesterday.

    The comments by some of the drivers were choice. Maybe that’s one thing about NASCAR that we SHOULD copy. Maybe not to the extent of fisticuffs, but please, guys, we KNOW you’re pissed because so-and-so put you ito the tires or the wall or somebody else.

    I thought Danica was going to have a hissy fit when Michael told her to get her ass back in the car and go back out there racing. I thought at first she had a point, but when you think about it, at the rate cars were crashing, she might have improved her position a few spots. Don’t worry, Princess, next year in NNS you won’t have to worry about those bad old road courses.

    As to re-starts, someone (and I do not remember who,) hit the nail on the head. If someone doesn’t want to get in position, send the sorry SOB to the back after the second wave off! These drivers seem to be trying to dictate what the rules are going to be and that is NOT their job. Unfortunately, when race control flies the green when only the first two cars are lined up, they’re not helping.

    • Travis R Says:

      Well said, Skip. I wanted to say the same thing about the circuit: there are simply some places that need to be reworked to be race-friendly.

      Nonetheless, it was refreshing to hear the drivers’ emotion.

  13. sincere emotion is good. fake emotion is bad.

    the best drivers in the world need to understand that they don’t have fenders and that when they “punt” a car, they’re quite likely to break the pointy thing on the front of their own car.

    toronto too narrow.

    entertaining, but sloppy, as others have pointed out.

    I’ll bet Kentucky will be happy to have INDYCAR back so they can quit worrying about traffic jams.

    good: ganassi team. simona! hinch! seabass. bumpercars! skyline. crowd.

    bad: bumpercars! INDYCAR drivers who watch too much NASCAR.

  14. Brian McKay Says:

    George, I like almost everything you write, and how you write it. And I often notice who or what you refrain from mentioning (deliberately or not).
    BTW, Team Penske’s 3 wins are not shabby. Or Will Power’s team’s 3 wins aren’t shabby. We witness drivers (like Helio and RHR) going banzai trying to eke out one win! But I’ll agree that it’s potentially “disruptive to both teams to have Cindric move from one to another” to try to help WP toward a championship. Didn’t help Power finish or win…

  15. Ben Twickerbill Says:

    For more of what we witnessed this past Sunday in Toronto.
    Check out the International Demolition Derby site below, out of La Porte Indiana.


  16. Cue the circus music!

  17. ClamBarLover Says:

    Penske needs to bring Rick Rinaman back to Helio.

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