After seeing the flooding the city of Toronto endured earlier this week, I wondered if the IndyCar Series would be racing the canals of Toronto instead of the streets of Toronto. Some of the pictures I saw on Twitter portrayed a course that might be submerged this weekend. Fear not – everything dried out and the weather forecast for this weekend looks good.
That’s good to know, since there will be – not one, but two races in Toronto this weekend. This is the second of three events scheduled for a double-header this season. The first was at Belle Isle, which produced a very clean race on Saturday before mayhem broke out in Sunday’s race. The same might happen again this weekend. Drivers need to be mindful that they need to protect their equipment during Saturday’s race, since they need to race again just twenty-four hours later. Unlike Belle Isle, they won’t even have to worry about next week’s race this Sunday, since the series doesn’t race again until the weekend of August 4th at Mid-Ohio – three weeks later. Drivers may feel like they can hang it out more, since there is plenty of time to rebuild the car after Sunday.
This has always been a fun (and fast) race to watch. The track at Exhibition Place on the shores of Lake Ontario offers a stunning view. There is something very picturesque about seeing IndyCars roar along Lake Shore Blvd with all of the majestic lake scenery serving as a backdrop with the beautiful skyline of downtown Toronto just to the east.
CART started running at the current site back in 1986. Except for 2008, when the race fell victim to the ChampCar/IndyCar unification – this race has been run every year since 1986. Bobby Rahal won the race that year, coming off of his Indianapolis 500 victory a few weeks earlier and on his way to his first of three championship seasons. Other notable names to win at Toronto are Al Unser, Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi, Paul Tracy, Alex Zanardi, Sébastien Bourdais, Justin Wilson, AJ Allmendinger, Dario Franchitti, Will Power and last year’s winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. The most famous name in the history of this race is Michael Andretti, who won an unbelievable seven times at Toronto.
Not only does this weekend feature two separate races, but it also is the debut for standing starts for the IndyCar series for Saturday’s race. I’m curious to see how this comes off and how it is perceived by fans. I’ve heard from a few people that are outraged at the idea of standing starts. They claim this is just another example of the series trying to be Formula One Lite. I really don’t see it that way. I applaud the series for trying something different that is standard procedure in other parts of the world, if they think it may spice up the show. But if the result of trying it a few times over the next couple of years produces nothing other than a collective yawn – then I think the idea should be abandoned. After all, this is an American-based series and flying starts are considered standard procedure in the US.
The eleven turn, 1.75 mile street course has produced some excellent racing in the past. I’m not generally a fan of street courses, but this is one of the better ones out there. It has fast turns, low-speed turns, key passing zones and a long straightaway. There have been many memorable moments over years that have produced some heated exchanges between drivers. It’ll be interesting to see if tempers are held in check this weekend, or if some payback occurs on Sunday for something that happens on Saturday.
On a somber note – every time there is a race at Toronto, I’m always reminded of Jeff Krosnoff and Gary Avrin. Krosnoff was an excellent driver that was fatally injured in the 1996 race at Toronto. History remembers him as a perennial backmarker, because he was driving for Frank Arciero’s team which was running the woefully undeveloped Toyota engine during its first year of competition. But Krosnoff was a very accomplished driver who was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the closing laps of the 1996 race. Corner worker and unpaid volunteer Gary Avrin was struck by Krosnoff’s car in the accident and suffered fatal injuries as well. Hopefully, these two men will not be forgotten and Jeff Krosnoff will be remembered for being a much better driver than his 1996 record indicates.
With two back-to-back races in two days on a fast, but tight track – it’ll be interesting to watch everything play out. The NBC Sports Network will be carrying the rest of the races this season. They start this stint out with a full plate. With two qualifying sessions, standing starts on Saturday and a second race in twenty-four hours on Sunday – they will be kept very busy.
The double header at Belle Isle offered up two surprise winners in Mike Conway driving for Dale Coyne on Saturday, and Simon Pagenaud giving Sam Schmidt his first IndyCar win as an owner on Sunday. I don’t anticipate any surprises at Toronto. James Hinchcliffe would love to get back on track after his first lap shunt at Pocono. His Andretti teammate, Ryan Hunter-Reay is the defending champion and second in points. Marco has been very fast in qualifying all season, but has had trouble closing the deal on race day. Although Michael Andretti has a stellar record at Toronto, I have this feeling they won’t do so well this weekend. Don’t forget, Charlie Kimball is coming off of a strong run at Pocono and he finished second at Toronto last year. He may be one to watch this weekend. Mike Conway is back in the car for Dale Coyne. He’ll certainly be worth watching after what he pulled off at Belle Isle.
There will be no sweep of the double-header, and I won’t even try to guess who will win each race. But I’m going to pick two drivers who have shown improvement lately and are hungry to show they can still win. What better place for two old rivals to regain lost momentum, than a track they’ve won on before? Who am I talking about? Dario Franchitti and Will Power. They will be your winners this weekend.