The Verizon IndyCar Series heads north of the border to one of my favorite cities – Toronto. I sound like I’m a frequent visitor there. In all honesty, I’ve been there twice in my life – once in 1972 as a teenager, and then twenty years ago in 1995. So I would be less than genuine if I gave the impression that I’m a world traveler.
But my 1995 visit did give me a very good feel for the city, as I visited with some locals in their home and got to dine in the not-so-touristy restaurants. It was also my only visit to Exhibition Place, the area where this Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto will take place. I was there about two weeks after the 1995 race. I was able to stand at the Princes’ Gates and drive along some of the course where they still had the curbing down.
Of all the street races I have seen come and go between CART, Champ Car and IndyCar, the Honda Indy Toronto may be at the top of my list to attend someday – possibly ahead of even Long Beach and St. Petersburg. Long Beach has the history and the star-power of not just Hollywood, but also from various forms of motorsport. St. Petersburg is always at or near the start of the season, and it also has the allure of a warm-weather destination while most of the country is still thawing out from winter.
Toronto offers a combination of Canadian star-power and cooler weather now that we’ve all had our share of hot weather. Nashville’s long-range forecast for next weekend calls for temps approaching three-digits Fahrenheit. I doubt that Toronto will be that toasty this weekend.
But what separates Toronto from those other two venues, in my opinion, is the raciness of the track. The eleven-turn, 1.755 mile temporary street circuit is blindingly fast – especially along Lake Shore Boulevard, which runs alongside Lake Ontario. You would be hard-pressed to find a prettier urban setting for a race than the lake and the City of Toronto as a backdrop.
The front-stretch on Princes’ Boulevard with the Princes’ Gate at the head of Turn One not only makes for a dramatic setting, but an interesting turn as the field navigates a turn slightly greater than ninety-degrees as it turns right and eventually meanders toward Lake Shore Drive. For a street circuit, there are several places to pass. But drivers had better be quick and decisive, because they opportunity to pass will close quickly as many have found out the hard way – like Canadian Paul Tracy and Helio Castroneves found out in 2009.
We were reminded in 1996 that the danger of motor racing is not limited to ovals. Likeable rookie driver Jeff Krosnoff lost his life in a horrifying crash when he locked wheels with Stefan Johansson. Without getting too graphic, Krosnoff’s car went airborne and the right-front tire struck volunteer corner worker Gary Avrin. Both were fatally injured. Just as I think of Greg Moore during every IndyCar race at Fontana, I always remember Jeff Krosnoff and Gary Avrin during each race at Toronto.
Without going on another one of my diatribes against double-headers, suffice it to say that I’m glad this year’s event has only one race. The Pan-Am games are taking place in Toronto during the normal time for this event, which explains why it has been moved to June this year. Whether IndyCar decided that a second double-header in two weeks was too much, I’m not sure – but there will be only one race this year. Last year, Saturday’s race was rained out and took place on Sunday morning – the morning of the scheduled second race. That called for two races in one day. This year’s event will have no such possible grind.
The weather is looking much better this year. That’s good. IndyCar doesn’t need another non-oval affected by rain this season.
Conor Daly is back in the Hinchcliffe car this weekend. Unfortunately for Daly, this may be his last chance this season to show what he’s got. It appears that Ryan Briscoe will be in the car for the foreseeable future, once he returns from Le Mans. Daly may end up in a Dale Coyne car again or in another substitution role elsewhere, but who knows?
Speaking of Dale Coyne, his drivers this weekend will be Tristan Vautier and Rodolfo Gonzalez
Open-wheel racing has been racing around Exhibition Place since 1986. Prior to that there were four races held over a twelve-year stretch at Mosport. Some of the legendary names that have won at either track include Bobby Unser, Dan Gurney, AJ Foyt, Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Jr., Paul Tracy, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, Sébastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti, who won it three times. Did I mention that Michael Andretti won at Toronto an astonishing seven times between 1989 and 2001?
Which driver will add their name to this impressive list of drivers? Surprising, Helio Castroneves has never won at Toronto. In fact, Team Penske only has two wins total at this track; Paul Tracy in 1993 and Will Power in 2010.
Logic will tell you that a Chevy will win this weekend. After all, a Chevy has won every race this season that hasn’t been affected by rain. When cars are able to run as fast as possible, Chevy wins. Right?
With all of the talk of Honda possibly leaving the series after twenty-two years and their aero kits being outperformed by Chevy – I think this is the weekend that Honda will somehow come away with a win in the sunshine. What better place than a race sponsored by Honda of Canada? Which driver will be leading the charge for Honda and coming away with their first win in quite a while? The Honda driver that has been consistently fastest all year long – Graham Rahal. It’s time.