Toronto Preview

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If I asked you which race on the current Verizon IndyCar Series schedule was the fourth-oldest in terms of number of races run, would you be able to answer? Would you be surprised to learn that the answer was the Honda Indy Toronto? I was. I suppose they are counting the four races run at Mosport Park that took place in the sixties and seventies, but I was still surprised at that stat.

The race as we know it started running at Exhibition Place in Toronto in 1986. The most signature structure for the race is the Prince’s Gates, built in 1927, that sit at the head of Turn One. They have run this race every year since then except for 2008, when it fell victim to the unification of Champ Car/IndyCar. But after a one-year sabbatical, the race returned in 2009.

While many say Long Beach is their favorite street course, mine is Toronto. To me, the cars just look faster coming off of Turn Two and screaming down Lake Shore Boulevard alongside Lake Ontario, before heading into the more technical part of the track.

This is one of two street circuits I’ve been to, but not on race weekend. Susan and I went to St. Petersburg about three months after the race in 2012. We followed most of the track around in our car, until we got to the part that runs on the airport. In 1995, I found myself in Toronto for work about two weeks after the race and made a special trip to Exhibition Place just to see it for myself. I found many sections of curbing that still had fresh tire marks on them. One of these days, I plan to be at these venues during the race.

It seems like every year at this time, I look at the list of past winners of this race and am impressed at those that have won at Toronto. Bobby Rahal won the first race at Exhibition Place in 1986. Other famous names that have stood atop the podium in Toronto are Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Jr., Michael Andretti (seven times), hometown hero Paul Tracy, Alex Zanardi, Dario Franchitti, Christiano da Matta, Sébastien Bourdais, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon. What do all of these names have in common? They have all won the IndyCar championship at least once. What does that mean? Well, nothing really – but I found it kind of interesting.

Josef Newgarden won the race two years ago for CFH Racing, while Will Power won it last year for Team Penske. Curiously enough, Team Penske has only won this race three times since 1986 – once with Paul Tracy in 1993, and twice with Will Power in 2010 and 2016. To be fair, they were not entered from 2002 through 2007 after they made the move from CART to the IRL. Still, you would have thought they would have a better record than that.

Of course, every time that the Toronto race comes around – my thoughts go to driver Jeff Krosnoff and volunteer corner-worker Gary Avrin, who lost their lives in the 1996 race. It was twenty-one years ago, but that accident is still as fresh in my mind as if it happened last week. Please keep those two and their families in your thoughts this weekend.

One change announced yesterday sees Sam Schmidt dumping Mikhail Aleshin in favor of Sebastian Saavedra. It seems that Aleshin’s financial backing was much less this season compared to past years, which made him very vulnerable with the rate he was crashing cars this season. It seems that Aleshin’s crash at Iowa was the last straw. In my opinion, Schmidt downgraded with Saavedra. The difference is, Saavedra brings the AFS money that has backed him most of his career. I guess Sam Schmidt figured if he was going to have a driver continue tearing up his No.7 car, his driver needed to have some substantial backing to absorb the damage. From a fan’s perspective, it’s a shame. Aleshin’s was fun to watch. Yes he tore up cars, but he did it with flair. Saavedra simply does it with stupidity.

The points battle tightened up considerably last week with Helio Castroneves winning in Iowa and points-leader Scott Dixon having a mediocre day by his standards. Castroneves now trails Dixon by only eight points with six races to go. Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato are a little further back but still within striking distance, should the top-two in points stumble.

I do think that Team Penske and Chevrolet will win this race, just as they won the last Honda-sponsored race (Barber), while Honda won the double-header Chevy sponsored race (Belle Isle). That’s just the way this season has gone. While Helio Castroneves may actually leave Toronto as the points-leader, he won’t win the race. Neither will last year’s winner Will Power. This year’s winner will be the winner from two years ago – Josef Newgarden. We’ll see.

George Phillips

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5 Responses to “Toronto Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Honda has yet to lose on a street circuit this year, though they have not embarrassed Chevrolet there. Could be a good chance for Dixon, Hunter-Reay, and Rahal in addition to the Penskes.

    Though he never won, Penske’s best driver at Toronto was probably Danny Sullivan, who finished 2-2-2-3-4 for the Captain at Exhibition Place.

  2. Chris Lukens Says:

    I also think dumping Aleshin is a mistake. He is always a thrill to watch and in fact he reminds me of another thrill to watch. The one from West Hill. Paul Tracy was a wreckers or checkers type guy early on and his career seems to have turned out OK.

    • At least Mikhail was there at practice today working with Sam in their pit stand. I enjoy him very much, but this year hasn’t been a memorable one (at least not a positive one). Saavedra would not have been my first choice, but he brings funding.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Sam has confirmed that Aleshin will be back in the car at Mid-Ohio. Perhaps Natalia brought him a suitcase full of rubles.

  3. tonelok Says:

    I think I’m going to miss Aleshin a little.

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