Random Thoughts On Toronto

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When the weather forecast for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto made it apparent that the race would be another event affected by rain, I wondered what the Verizon IndyCar Series could do to catch a break. The race weekend at NOLA was all but a total washout, first day qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 never happened and both races at Detroit were greatly affected by rain. Add to that the fact that last year’s double-header at Toronto had to be run in one day due to heavy rains on Saturday.

But unlike these other examples, I felt like the rain actually enhanced yesterday’s race at Exhibition Place in Toronto. There was just enough moisture down on the track at the beginning to declare a wet start. The conditions made driving more difficult, but not treacherous. It just added another element to the race, which ended with a one-two finish for CFH Racing. Nashville native Josef Newgarden won his second race this season, with teammate Luca Filippi coming in second.

Of course, I love watching cars go fast. That’s the number one ingredient of racing. I’m not a fan of fuel-mileage races, but I enjoy watching different race strategies tried by the teams play out. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. At times, there is luck involved. The right combination of speed, strategy and luck often make for a good race. Such was the case yesterday.

Since speed is the top ingredient, it comes as no surprise that there were only two Hondas in the Top-Ten. This time though, they were the last two cars in the Top-Ten. Graham Rahal was the highest finishing Honda in ninth and Takuma Sato was tenth. The Top-Eight positions were all Chevy’s. Had there been more of a deluge, things may have been different. After all, the only two wins Honda has to show for this year came in rain-shortened races. When the heavy rains cleared out before the green-flag, so did Honda’s chances of springing the upset.

Then there is luck. It was pure luck that Josef Newgarden pitted just before a full-course caution. By the time the rest of the pit stops cycled through, Newgarden found himself in the lead. Am I suggesting that Newgarden lucked into his win? Not for one minute. Once he found himself up front, he seized upon the opportunity and drove his heart out throughout the second half of the race. It was also pure bad luck that saw the strategy of Helio Castroneves thrown out the window due to another yellow caused by Stefan Coletti. The absence of either of these yellows at the time they took place could have made for a completely different result.

That’s what we do on Monday mornings. We throw out the hypothetical “ifs” and “buts” and debate what might have happened if such and such had happened. But the race results were real, not hypothetical. Josef Newgarden drove one heck of a race and confirmed what we’ve all known about him for some time – that kid from Nashville can drive!

TV Coverage: Anytime you can add Steve Matchett to a race broadcast, you have raised the bar significantly. In only his second appearance this year on the NBCSN IndyCar telecast, Matchett helped the network achieve what I thought was their best broadcast of the season.

The only holdover from last week’s booth at Texas was Paul Tracy. Leigh Diffey was back in the anchor chair; while Matchett subbed for Townsend Bell, who was earning a podium while driving at Le Mans this weekend. No offense to Bell, but anytime you have Matchett serving in a substitute role, you’ve upgraded your entire broadcast – he’s that good.

Tracy gave his usual keen insights that we’ve grown to expect from him, while Diffey was his usual excitable self.

I thought the pit crew was superb also. Kevin Lee was excellent as always, but Jon Beekhuis was in for Marty Snider. That’s a huge upgrade, if you ask me. I’ll make that trade any day.

Katie Hargitt was in for Kelli Stavast. If I’m not mistaken, this was Hargitt’s first IndyCar broadcast. She has been doing work for IMS Productions and was frequently found on the video boards throughout this past Month of May at IMS. She was not perfect, but had a solid debut. And don’t let her perky personality fool you. She’s a racer through and through. She started racing quarter-midgets at age nine before graduating to midgets. She also took part in the Lyn St. James Driver Development program. She graduated from Ball State with a degree in Telecommunications and Journalism. She is a welcomed addition to the IndyCar broadcasts.

How did he do that? Although I’ve not gone back and re-watched the telecast, I’m still not quite sure how Helio Castroneves finished third. It seemed he was taken out of contention at the halfway point, when a pit strategy was foiled by an inopportune yellow. The last I remember was hearing Roger Penske telling him he was sorry and they would be going to Plan B as he was leaving the pits.

The last time I remember looking at the scroll after that, it seemed that Helio was mired around seventeenth and seemed destined for a poor finish.

Then as Newgarden and Filippi were making their final charge in the last fifteen laps; there was Helio sitting in third, which is where he ended up. Maybe I missed something, but how on earth did Helio make it from way back in the pack all the way up to a podium finish?

Hinch on the grounds: As good as it was to see a video of James Hinchcliffe last week at Texas, it was even better to see him walking around the grid at Toronto yesterday, just before he gave the command to start engines. That may be the new answer for a trivia contest – being the only person to give the command at two consecutive races.

Hinchcliffe gave a couple of interviews during the week about his injuries and his ongoing recovery. We learned that he had to be given fourteen pints of blood en route to Methodist Hospital immediately after his crash. Not surprisingly, he has very little memory of the crash or the moments afterward. He also informed everyone that he is to have another unspecified surgery at some point, which will be crucial to a full recovery. He also confirmed it is highly doubtful that he will be back in the car this season.

Earlier in the week, Hinch had said he was disappointed that he would be unable to attend the race near his hometown in Ontario. But in a reversal, his doctors cleared him to make the trip, where he served as Grand Marshall.

Hinch gave no interviews to anyone this past weekend. He simply wanted to be left to enjoy the atmosphere and roam the paddock to see old friends. I don’t blame him. Here’s hoping he had a great time and that he takes his time getting back into the car.

The Trews: Here’s where I’ll lose a lot of you for the rest of this post. It’s also where I’ll show my advanced age and come off as a surly curmudgeon.

Many Americans love the Jimi Hendrix version of our National Anthem, saying it puts a fresh twist on a stale song. I get that. Just don’t count me as one of them. It will probably not be a huge surprise to many that even though I admired his talents as a musician, I was never a Hendrix fan –nor did I care for his hard-rock version of the National Anthem.

Consequently, I did not care for yesterday’s rendition of either country’s National Anthem by The Trews. I thought they did an equal disservice to The Star-Spangled Banner as well as to O Canada.

I’m used to hearing the US National Anthem butchered before sporting events. But usually, Canadians seem to treat their own National Anthem with more dignity and reverence than we Americans do ours. Such was not the case yesterday.

The Trews is a four-member Canadian band originally from Nova Scotia but currently based in Toronto that features two brothers, Colin and John-Angus MacDonald. Although I’ve never heard of them, they may be a great rock group. But I prefer the National Anthems from either country to be performed with a little more dignity. But that’s just me.

Push to Pass: What was the reason given for not knowing how many “push to pass” a driver had left? It sounds like IndyCar suddenly decided to make it a secret. Either a driver had some left or they didn’t. I’m not a fan of Push to Pass anyway. I’ve always considered a contrived gimmick. But if they are going to have it, it makes for better television if we know how many a driver has left.

Was this a conscious decision by IndyCar to do it this way, or was this a one-time technology snafu? I never heard a thing about it until about halfway through the race broadcast.

What’s next? One of the more notable drives of the day was by Conor Daly, who was subbing for the injured James Hinchcliffe. Although he started nineteenth, he moved up all day and finished a respectable twelfth. One notable pass was when he schooled former series and Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. He made a daring move on the outside and made the pass stick entering the turn. Hunter-Reay was left in the dust.

It now looks like Ryan Briscoe will be taking over the Hinchcliffe car for the remainder of the season. Daly has proven that he has talent – especially on non-ovals. Briscoe is more experienced and a proven race winner. It makes sense for Sam Schmidt to go with him for the rest of the season. But I would think that Dale Coyne would go with Daly in one of his cars for some of the upcoming races. If another opportunity to sub for an injury situation ever arises, I would think that Daly would be at the top of any owner’s short list.

Popular win: Yesterday’s win was a very popular win with fans and throughout the paddock. Josef Newgarden is a very popular American driver, whose star is on the rise. My biggest fear is that Gene Haas will hire him away for his American Formula One team he plans to field.

Newgarden is a young, bright and articulate driver that is quickly becoming a fan favorite. After finally scoring his first win at Barber Motorsports Park back in April, it took him less than two months to get his second. It can only get better from here.

But Newgarden is not the only reason that this was such a popular win. He drives for CFH Racing, which is the resulting combination of two of the most popular underdog teams in the series. Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher are both fan favorites. They built their fledgling teams the right way and took them about as far as they could go individually. Now that they have merged, their combined forces are more focused; but they still have an uphill battle to take on Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi and Michael Andretti each week. Yet CFH Racing came away with a one-two finish with all the “big boys” trailing behind. That’s what made this so special for Newgarden, Filippi and their team.

All in all: Like Texas, there was a lot going on at all times during the race. There just wasn’t a lot of carnage on the track. Aside from Coletti smacking the wall, there was not a whole lot of car damage other than a few aero pieces here and there. Like Texas, there were a lot of different strategies at work – and there was a little luck.

I enjoyed this race. Was it edge of your seat excitement? No, but I was very entertained. Unlike Toronto, it was a beautiful day in Nashville. Susan and I were both very content to be outside all day, enjoying the sunshine. But we had seen the note on social media that the race and the broadcast would be starting early. We came inside in the middle of a perfect Sunday afternoon to watch this race. Neither of us felt cheated. To both of us, this was a more enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon. That’s about all that needs to be said.

George Phillips

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17 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Toronto”

  1. I believe Indycar decided to keep PTP a secret because teams were watching tv in the pits and using the info. Best twisty of the year. Good for Newgarten and CFH.

    • billytheskink Says:

      That’s right, Indycar/Derrick Walker made PTP usage a secret to discourage drivers from using it for defensive purposes, to prevent passing. I think this makes it much more like Formula 1’s DRS, though there the leading car is explicitly forbidden to use the gimmick to defend.

      Back when ChampCar started using PTP, sorry “Ford-Cosworth Power-To-Pass”, Tommy Kendall christened the defensive use of the extra horsepower on-air as the “FU button”. There were spit takes all around.

  2. Overall I enjoyed Toronto. If Penske and Ganassi aren’t winning, and especially if Newgarden is, then I’m happy. Toronto tends to be a good race for Indycar and this year continued that trend. Penske and Ganassi domination is really ruining Indycar for me. They haven’t won as many races as expected (thankful for rain) but they’ve led almost every practice session and every qualifying session. It’s gotten to the point where I no longer watch/listen to practice or qualifying on Race Control, because I could care less about Penske or Ganassi. Luckily the rain on Sunday meant a more interesting winner. I really want to see Newgarden get his first oval win. CFH is usually a good oval team but they were worse than Coyne at Texas. Hopefully the off weekend gets them time to improve for Fontana. It is a bit frustrating how Newgarden has had 3 bad incidents since his win, because otherwise he could at least contend for a top 5 spot in points. Right now despite two wins he’s only eighth. Newgarden’s season reminds me of James Hinchclffe’s 2013, but hopefully it has a better follow up season.

    Daly losing the ride to Briscoe is insane. While Briscoe has won raaces in the past, that was with Penske. When he went to the 2nd tier Ganassi car Ryan Briscoe was nothing special, and so the expectation that he’s going to preform a lot better than Daly (or any other) driver a Sam Schmit is not necessarily true.

    Secret P2P is supposed to make it less about defending. Which I get in theory, but making P2P secret to me just gives Indycar another way to cut fans out of the loop, which isn’t cool.

    • I’d like to see Daly get a full time ride too, but I don’t think you can fault SPM for going with Briscoe. Look at the remaining races. 2 big ovals, 2 little ovals, and Sonoma. Brisco has won at Milwaukee and Sonoma, finished 2nd at Iowa, and has always run well on the big ovals as evidenced by his performance at Texas for SPM. As a car owner looking for results it seems like a logical choice.

  3. There’s always a bigger element of luck in street races, what with the heightened chances for crashes, etc. For me, one of the compensations for the lack of brute speed and two-wide racing you get on ovals is that element of random you get on street races, which only gets bigger when rain comes, which is why I love rain races. When I heard Toronto was a wet start, I tuned in and the race held my attention. If it had been a dry start, I probably would have checked the DVR later. Newgarden is super refreshing. He freely admitted they caught a break in the post-victory interview. Very little posturing and self-important bullshit from him. It’s easy to like the guy. Not that this race was smelly, BUT a popular winner is a great deodorant for a smelly race. It can be a parade for 99% of the laps and a fan favorite catches a break and wins .. GREAT RACE. The booth crew is exponentially more important to viewing enhancement on a twisty. I think IndyCar fans tend to get the B Team in the booth, honestly, so it was great to have Diffey and Matchett in the booth this time. Bell and Tracy seem to focus a little to much on bantering with each other and not enough on informing the fans of what’s going on, IMO.

  4. Plan B was for Helio to pit as late as possible in the last pit cycle. It allowed him to run full out on a light fuel load as the others cycled through their stops and came out with full fuel loads. When he did pit he was able to short fill and get out quickly. Nice strategy move by the captain, and Heliotrope laid down some fast laps during everyone else’s pit cycling

  5. I immediately thought of George yesterday when the Trews started the National Anthem. I thought they treated theirs better than ours. I love electric guitars ,but not for the Star Spangled Banner. There is something not right about infusing rock based guitar into a revered National Anthem.

    The race was really good. I don’t usually get that excited for the Toronto street course but the rain added another intriguing element , and raised the stakes to a entertaining race. Its also tough to beat the Canadian enthusiasm.

    How could one not like Joseph Newgarden? Will the date change for the Canadian Grand Prix next year? Is this just an anomaly due to the Pan Am Games?

  6. jhall14 Says:

    Entertaining race yesterday. Always a better than usual race when a Penske/Ganassi team does not win.

    I applaud the PTP being secret.Too many times a driver would be told by his team the other car is on PTP and he then defends. To me, that makes it all thje more better. I defend that by saying in football, the defense does not know what play the offense is running, thus no defense for the PTP.

    Good racing in the pack and as usual, NBCSports always watches the battles back in the pack, which ABC does not. While I was never a Tracy fan as a driver, he does come off with great commentary…aka his comment on throwing a punch at Tagliani one year.

    Really hope Conor Daly lands a ride for next year and also remainder of races this year. He has more than justified his talent in these cars. I commented on Twitter last night from a tweet by Steve Wittich concerning up and coming drivers such as Spencer Pigot and his win this weekend. Either more rides be available, such as cars, or moving some people out of their current rides. I am not in favor of replacing any Americans in current rides, but there seems to be more than enough qualified that are coming up the ladder system to put in these seats in the next few years, my opinion.

    Looking forward to Fontana. Hopefully another CFH win. Ed has seemed a little full of himself the last year, here is hoping he can put it all together and get a win there.

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    I got up late and have little to add beyond what has already been written here. I got up late due to a bit of a hangover caused by celebrating the Hendersonville Kid’s win with a jar of JD. I also tried some Chattanooga Whiskey which is actually made in Indiana as I thought that was also appropriate.

    The PTP change was covered in detail somewhere during the week.

    I enjoyed the race. A good result for CFH and a good result for the series. Now for some left turn racin’.

  8. SOCSeven Says:

    Hinch said that his 14 pints of blood on the way to the hospital (when the human body can only hold 12) was like an oil change.

    Yeah, that’s Hinch.

  9. billytheskink Says:

    Are we sure this was a Toronto race? That was far too sane. I think watching the lunacy in the Indy Lights races must have scared the Indycar drivers straight. That or everyone is worn out from 6 straight weeks of race activity.

    A late caution would have destroyed Castroneves’ (and Kanaan’s) strategy, much as everybody pitting for slicks within two laps of Marco Andretti destroyed his. As a testament to the typical craziness of a Toronto race, what would be a standard strategy at most road courses (pitting as late as possible) was considered a risk. Most of the leaders pitted when the fuel window opened, obviously anticipating another caution.

  10. hey George. not a street race fan but yesterdays race was decent. in really happy for cfhr and there drivers. but just as happy for helio on his day and super happy to see hinch. hes one of the nicest and good guys in the paddock.

  11. The two key points of the race were the caution before Newgarden pittef and the lack of a caution before the last round of pit stops. A lighter car on old tires was faster than new tires and full fuel. That is how Helio jumped up and how Montoya (and maybe Power-I cannot recall) passed Dixon. I just wish we were given lap times to show this.

    Newgarden’s win reminded me of Dixon’s at Mid-Ohio last year. He caught a caution at the perfect time then grabbed the race by the throught and won it. Well done JN.

    Newgarden doesn’t have a Superlicense and won’t qualify for one unless he wins the Championship. There is langauge that leaves some room for debate, but I think that is for F1 guys who go on sabbatical like Schumacher. I think Newgarden is more likely destined to replace TK, Helio, or Montoya in the coming years. Rossi will be the Haas F1 American driver.

  12. It might seem a little crazy to reply to your national anthems comment, but here goes: It seems to be the norm and not the exception these days that country stars and divas and whoever make the anthem “their own”, which I find disrespectful. So I really appreciated that the singer sang the the song “straight” – with its actual melody and tempo. That’ s what’s most important to me. I like electric guitar, so I have a certain bias, and I thought the guitarist did his work pretty straight too – not at all over-the-top. OveralI, I liked the Trews’ version way more than the usual self-promoting presentations.

    Thanks for taking the time to do the blog, George. I appreciate it.

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