Random Thoughts On Toronto

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For the second year in a row, the Honda Indy Toronto was won by a car that was not the fastest in the field, but one that was able to stay out front once it got there. Josef Newgarden pitted just as Tony Kanaan buried his car into the Turn One tire-barrier on Lap 23, which brought out the second and last full-course yellow of the day. While the timing was extremely fortunate for Newgarden, it had the opposite effect on the day for Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal.

Those three had yet to pit when the caution came out, meaning they were cycled to the back of the field. Castroneves was leading at the time and rejoined the field in fourteenth place after getting serviced under the caution. This is not the first time this has happened to Castroneves while leading. Remember he found himself in the same situation at Belle Isle a year or two ago. He had the car to beat, but he was left out for one more lap and an untimely yellow came out. Helio came back out in fifteenth that day and I think finished eleventh. Yesterday he finished eighth.

The same thing happened last year at Toronto. Scott Dixon dominated the race and had the decidedly fastest car. But he was caught out by a late yellow, which allowed Will Power to steal the win away from Dixon, who finished an unremarkable eighth.

Still, Castroneves gained five critical points on Scott Dixon and now trails Dixon by only three points in the championship battle. Dixon’s day looked like it was over before it barely got started, as he and Will Power collided as they approached Turn Three on the opening lap. Dixon suffered a cut tire and had to limp around to the pits, while Power had terminal damage to his suspension and finished last. But Dixon soldiered on and salvaged a tenth place finish to stay in the points lead. Making the most out of a bad day is a trait that has won championships before for Dixon. Don’t be surprised if this seemingly forgettable finish yesterday ends up making a huge difference in the championship.

If you were to look at the box score of this race, you would see two caution periods and one actual change for the lead (not counting pit stop shuffles) and come to the conclusion it was a boring race. It wasn’t. There was so much action behind the leaders that it was hard to keep up with. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud provided some of the entertainment as they banged wheels on a few occasions. Sebastian Saavedra also made a spirited charge to the front of the field before falling back into reality at the end to finish eleventh.

Although Chevy won the race, they only placed two other cars in the Top-Twelve, which has to be frustrating for Honda. Pagenaud and Castroneves finished fifth and eighth respectively accounting for the other two Chevys in the Top-Twelve. Alexander Rossi had a very good day to finish second after starting eighth. Hometown favorite James Hinchcliffe earned his second podium in Toronto by being another beneficiary of Kanaan’s yellow.

One of the major storylines of the day never came to pass – rain. The skies looked black to the west for the second half of the race. Everyone kept thinking it was a matter of time before rain started falling and we would see another flurry of pit stops as teams tried to best guess when to go to the treaded rain tires. It never happened. Two hours after the race was over, there was still no rain at Exhibition Place. But from what I could see in the TV shots, rain looked imminent, so I don’t think the TV crew was merely trying to hype up the suspense.

Was this the best race on a street course that I’ve seen? No. It wasn’t even the best race I’ve seen at Toronto in the past three years. Was it the worst race ever on a street course? Hardly. Toronto is not usually known for prolonged wheel-to-wheel action, but I think it is usually a better race than Long Beach or Belle Isle. It’s fast and there are decent passing zones.

What we saw yesterday was a typical race at Toronto. There isn’t much edge of your seat excitement, but it’s not sleep inducing either. For those that think I forgot about St. Petersburg in that comparison – I think that we’re always so happy to see racing again, we think any race at St. Petersburg is a good one – so I omitted it on purpose.

TV Coverage: I thought it was another good showing by the NBC crew (who happened to be on CNBC for the live broadcast). I really like Anders Krohn as a pit reporter. He made his IndyCar broadcast debut last week at Iowa and had another strong outing yesterday at Toronto. He does not have the smoothest delivery, but there is something very likeable about him. He exudes enthusiasm and seems very excited to be doing what he’s doing. It shows.

I also think Kevin Lee got one step closer to nailing down the gig full-time for next season. He is another one that seems to love what he does and understands that the race is the star of the show – not him. If only some broadcasters in other racing series realized that, their broadcasts would be so much more enjoyable.

To me, the highlight of the telecast was when Paul Tracy interviewed Helio Castroneves. I would have preferred it if it went longer and they got more into the 2002 Indianapolis 500 finish. But it was still good to see those two sitting down together and Tracy taking a lighthearted approach to a subject that probably eats away at him every single day of his life. For the record – I always thought Helio won that race even when trying to look at it impartially. Don’t hate.

Stop the stupid nickname: Speaking of Paul Tracy, I would like to formally start a movement to ask Tracy to please abandon the stupid nickname he has laid on Will Power for the last two or three weeks – Slick Willy P. It’s not funny, it doesn’t apply and it just sounds stupid.

I’ve really become a Paul Tracy fan with him in the booth. He has been a pleasant surprise and his insight is very informative. But quit trying to force a bad nickname that no one else is using. It’s annoying.

Brief flashes: Not only did Saavedra look decent in spots before fading at the end, other young drivers had better runs than their final results showed. Spencer Pigot came on fire near the end of the first stint, as his black tires became superior to the red ones practically everyone else started the race on. Pigot started thirteenth, but ran as high as fifth before his first pit stop. He finished one lap down in eighteenth.

At times, rookie Ed Jones looked outstanding as he executed a textbook pass on veteran Tony Kanaan. Unfortunately, Jones suffered what may or may not be a Honda engine failure on Lap 75 and finished twentieth.

Youth Movement: In the post-race press-conference, podium finisher James Hinchcliffe stated an observation of his that at age thirty – he was the oldest driver on the podium. Race winner Josef Newgarden is twenty-six and second-place finisher Alexander Rossi will turn twenty-six in September. While everyone frets about the pending retirements of drivers in their forties, it’s nice to see that there is a good crop coming up to replace those that are currently in their prime in their mid-thirties.

The Move: He may be the second-oldest driver in the field and possibly headed to sports cars unwillingly, but Helio Castroneves showed everyone he still has the bravado he had twenty years ago yesterday when he took the lead at the start. Castroneves started third and appeared to be falling in line before Turn One. But when pole-sitter Simon Pagenaud turned his attention to holding off Graham Rahal on the outside, Castroneves darted past both cars on the inside to take the corner and the lead. He led the next twenty-five laps, before pitting late and relinquishing the lead under the yellow.

That was a move for the ages and will be present on highlight clips for years to come. It was not something we’ve come to expect from drivers at the end of their careers.

Andretti Resurgence: If you take winning the Indianapolis 500 with Takuma Sato out of the equation, it has been a season to forget at Andretti Autosport. At least twice, all four Andretti cars have fallen out of races this season. As a beneficiary of double-points at Indianapolis and the high-paying qualifying at Indianapolis, Takuma Sato is the highest ranked AA driver in seventh. Alexander Rossi is now eighth in championship points. Ryan Hunter-Reay in thirteenth and Marco Andretti is fourteenth in the championship standings.

But the team had one good weekend this past weekend. They had three cars in the Top-Six, with Sato being the one driver with a bad finish by coming home in sixteenth place. Rossi finished second, the beleaguered Marco Andretti had a much-needed good finish and came in fourth, while the snake-bit Hunter-Reay finished sixth. This team needed a good weekend in the worst way. Maybe now they can close out the season with some momentum for next season.

Too Familiar: Did you notice it? I noticed it. Kevin Lee noticed it. Before the race, James Hinchcliffe was having drivers autograph his fire suit in gold to differentiate from fans signing it in silver. His firesuit was to be auctioned off to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

While he was being interviewed by Anders Krohn for the pre-race show, Hinch asked Simon Pagenaud to sign it. The camera panned back to show Pagenaud squatting down and signing the front of Hinch’s suit right on an area that is just a little too familiar – if you catch my drift. As soon as it became obvious what he was doing, the camera quickly cut away as Hinch said “Wow, that didn’t tickle”. I saw it and pointed it out to Susan. As they were going to commercial, Kevin Lee deadpanned with “I’ve always said that IndyCar drivers are very friendly with each other; maybe they are a little too friendly sometimes”.

That was a good way to handle an…um…awkward, but funny, moment.

All in all: There are races that I want to go to one day, and others I don’t really care if I never go. Toronto is on my list to go to one day. I said last week that it is probably my favorite street course race. Some might say that is like picking their favorite root canal. Between ovals, natural terrain road courses and temporary street circuits – the street courses are my least favorite. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t like them. I think they have their place on the schedule and they definitely serve a purpose.

I said Friday that Toronto is my favorite street circuit. I think we saw why yesterday. There are many passing zones, but the bumpy track really makes the drivers earn their keep. While I would prefer drivers not get taken out of contention by an ill-timed yellow, that’s the luck of the draw. Josef Newgarden should not feel like he backed into that win yesterday. Once he got out front, he stayed there. He deserved it and good for him.

The championship battle is very tight with five races to go. The Top-Four drivers in the championship are separated by a mere twenty-three points. Scott Dixon leads Helio Castroneves by only three points, while Simon Pagenaud trails by only twenty-one and Josef Newgarden is only twenty-three points behind Dixon. While the Top-Six is a battle between a Ganassi driver, four Penske drivers and Graham Rahal – this looks like it’s going to be this close going into the final weekend of the season. It should be very interesting.

George Phillips

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4 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Toronto”

  1. Ron Ford Says:

    As the sun comes up over the brewery here at the start of another work week, it is conforting to see that George has already posted another excellent race recap. I saw and heard what he saw and heard, so I have nothing to add other than this: In my admittedly fading memory, a risky move at the start of a race such as Power made yesterday seldom pays off except perhaps for the parts supplier.

  2. Shyam Cherupalla Says:

    My observations that George didn’t quite touch upon so here it goes. So how long are we going to tolerate the yellow lotto from shuffling the leaders to back of the mid pack? I am not pointing out Joe Newgarden’s lead, he was at the right place at the right time to pit in and got out ahead of everyone. However if the Pits were always open the leaders would have been able to pit on the next go around lap and still got ahead of many of the back markers, albeit behind Joe Newgarden. And that would have provided for some action with the fastest cars perhaps challenging for the lead. At the end if they didn’t win the top three guys would have finished close to top 5 since they had dig out of being all the way back.

    Don’t you guys as Indycar fans think this is such an absurd unfairness to the leaders who toiled all weekend long trying to be on top only to get shuffled due to a driver not being able to keep the car on track. All they have to do is keep the pits open with new Virtual car technology and other forms of slowing cars down without being a safety hazard. Its a sorry excuse to keep mentioning that out of safety concerns is why the pits are being closed. And how about this last point, conveniently its Tony Kanaan that caused the Yellow, perhaps to shuffle the leaders back so Dixon would not lose his championship lead? Perhaps a conspiracy theory, but I have seen that happen with Ganassi drivers working together.

    Last point/ why the hell did it take 6 laps to go back to green when both crashed cars limped back to pits by end of lap 1 of the leaders?

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Very interesting to see the red tire wear out as advertised and become the non-preferred tire. Getting off reds the moment your fuel window opened up was a sound strategy, though not one everyone employed (I can think of 3 cars in particular…). It was somewhat refreshing to see a relatively clean Toronto race, as this has turned into a (granted, interesting) wreckfest on a number of occasions.

  4. It was a motor race. I enjoyed it.

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