Now that Boston is mercifully off of the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, we are heading into the last race weekend held on a temporary street circuit. Considering that I’ve never been to any type of temporary street circuit, my opinion really doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight.
Most people consider the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to be the pinnacle of street courses. Some refer to Long Beach as the Monaco of IndyCar racing. I’m sure it’s a great event to attend, with the warm sunny atmosphere as a lot of the east is just beginning to thaw out from winter. With the close proximity to Hollywood, Long Beach tends to bring out celebrities in droves – adding more to its appeal, if that’s your idea of a good time. Personally, I’ve never considered the presence of Kim Kardashian necessary in order to determine the success of an event – but that’s me.
Others consider the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to be the best street race. The long airport runway leading into the sweeping right-hander before winding through the streets of St. Petersburg, are just part of the allure. Lately, St. Petersburg has served as the IndyCar season-opener. Combine that with the usual tropical weather and the yachts sitting in the harbor, and you’ve got a very nice atmosphere where the racing is generally better than average.
Belle Isle? Please.
For my money, the best street race going is found north of the border at this weekend’s race – the Honda Indy Toronto. Now I know some consider that naming the best street race is akin to listing your favorite type of mildew. While they are not my favorite type of track, I don’t detest them like some do. In their day, they served their purpose.
Most permanent racing facilities are far removed from metropolitan areas, where the highest concentration of people live. I know for a fact that Barber Motorsports Park is more than fifteen miles from downtown Birmingham. Road America is less than five miles from Elkhart Lake, which is charming, quaint and beautiful – but there are less than a thousand residents in Elkhart Lake. Nashville Superspeedway is forty miles from downtown Nashville, which was one of the many factors that figured into its demise.
Fontana is far removed from downtown Los Angeles. It’s more in the desert surrounded by warehouses, industrial plants and windmills. Charlotte Motor Speedway is a good forty minute drive from downtown Charlotte. These are the tracks I’ve been to and know about. From what I understand, Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland are far removed from any metropolitan area that might share their names.
With street courses, the race comes to the people. Such was the idea with the Boston Grand Prix that never even got out of the gate. It was also the motivation at such failed tracks as Denver, Houston, Vancouver, Edmonton, Cleveland, The Meadowlands (ugh), Baltimore, Las Vegas, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, etc. You get the picture. While some tracks have worked, many others have hit the skids.
But a few have worked over the long-haul and Toronto is one of them.
What I like about Toronto is that it is a very complex track. There are a couple of slower sections, but also many high-speed parts of the track. It is also a very picturesque track – from the Prince’s Gates at the head of Turn One, to Lake Shore Boulevard alongside Lake Ontario with the skyline of Toronto in the background. It makes for a very fast, yet pleasant setting. I’ve never been to the race in Toronto, but I was on the track about two weeks after the 1995 race. Many tire tracks were still brushing the curbing as I stood at the Prince’s Gates and looked back towards the entrance into Turn One and beyond to the main stratightaway.
You can never mention IndyCar at Toronto without thinking of the horrible crash that took the lives of driver Jeff Krossnoff and corner-worker Gary Avrin. Drivers understand the risks of racing every time they climb into a cockpit. Corner-workers volunteer out of the love of the sport and don’t often take those risks into account. It was twenty years ago yesterday (July 14, 1996) that we lost them both. Please keep Jeff Krosnoff and Gary Avrin and their families in mind this weekend.
All eyes will be on points leader Simon Pagenaud. This is his type of track. It was at Long Beach that he won the first of his three consecutive races which helped give him the seventy-three point lead that he now enjoys. As Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee pointed out the other night; Pagenaud’s problems have been due to mechanical issues –not a mistake on his part. Can he make it through an entire season without making a single mistake? It’s not likely, but if he does – he deserves to be champion. But if he doesn’t, the unforgiving concrete walls at Toronto will magnify the slightest mistake and Pagenaud’s lead will suffer the consequences.
I’ll be interested to see how Josef Newgarden fares. He is the defending champion at Toronto, so he obviously knows how to win there. He will have had another week to recover from his injuries he received at Texas. If how he drove Sunday at Iowa is an example of how he drives with injuries, you just wonder how he’ll be when he’s 100%. It’s been almost a week and I’m still in awe of what I saw from Newgarden on Sunday.
Besides Newgarden, there are four other former winners of this race that will be on the grid – Sébastien Bourdais, Will Power, and Scott Dixon have each won twice at Toronto, while Ryan Hunter-Reay’s lone victory came in 2012.
One driver who really needs a good finish is Graham Rahal. Unfortunately, this is not one of his best tracks. Last year, he finished ninth. That was only his third Top-ten finish at Toronto. He also had a fifth in 2010 and a sixth in 2014. Beyond that, his results at Toronto have been abysmal. But Rahal has been up and down all season. After a dismal performance at Iowa, don’t be too surprised if Rahal bounces back for a strong finish this weekend.
But Rahal won’t win. Neither will Pagenaud or Will Power. This week’s winner will be last week’s winner and last year’s winner – Nashville’s own Josef Newgarden. He’s got the hot hand and knows he needs to win races if he wants to still be in title contention after he sits out the conclusion of the Texas race in late August. Toronto is one of his best tracks and he knows how to get it done – again.