Toronto: Steph’s Saturday thoughts

IndyCar commentary — By on July 9, 2011 9:51 pm
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Just a brief update tonight as I’d like to make sure I get plenty of rest in preparation for tomorrow.

It was another day of gorgeous weather (if anything, a little on the warm side) and excellent on-track action at the Honda Indy Toronto. The crowd was decent — nothing spectacular but not bad for a Saturday — as both the Firestone Indy Lights and the IZOD IndyCar Series set their grids for tomorrow’s races.

In Lights, Stefan Wilson thought that he had won his first pole in the series until he was told that there had been a local yellow in place on his fastest lap and that the time was therefore invalid. This handed the pole to Esteban Guerrieri and Sam Schmidt Motorsports while leaving a very disappointing Wilson and Andretti Autosport still searching for a breakthrough. Both teams have looked very solid all weekend long, so the Lights race tomorrow should be a competitive one provided the field doesn’t string out early due to the low car count.

As for the IZOD IndyCar Series, the entire starting grid — and particularly Will Power as the polesitter — gives the appearance that qualifying was just another day at the office, but that was far from being the case. Power had some uncharacteristic weak laps in the second group and took some time to gather it together, and Dario Franchitti admitted in the press conference that he missed the mark a few times as well. Both Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe missed the Firestone Fast 6 — and so did Sebastien Bourdais, which in itself isn’t so surprising as the fact that he only missed it by one position while driving a Dale Coyne Racing car. There were similar stories throughout the field, but they all add up to one thing: it’s going to be a great race tomorrow.

This morning, INDYCAR held a press conference with Randy Bernard and a pair of executives from MGM Resorts to announce a joint venture. Guests booking a stay at any MGM property in Vegas between October 11th and 18th will receive two free tickets to the IZOD IndyCar Series World Championship on October 16th. The promotion can be booked by visiting http://www.mgmresorts.com/indy. The group also discussed some of the other plans surrounding the Vegas race: a gigantic fan village at the Mandalay Bay, car parades down the strip, blackjack and golf tournaments, the victory banquet on Monday night, and more. On top of that, the MGM executives expressed a strong interest in bringing the race into the city and onto a street circuit to better serve their guests. These last two points will delight some fans (the ones who enjoy street races and their festival atmosphere) and terrify others (the ones who don’t think racing belongs on city streets in the middle of barely related parties). RB’s got big things in store for Vegas, and about the only thing that can be counted on right now is that they will be polarizing. To learn more than that, we’ll have to watch for announcements to continue to trickle out over the next few weeks.

Speaking of trickling announcements, RB said today that the committee selecting the five challengers for Vegas is beginning to reach decisions and that announcements should start to be made very shortly. The drivers will be revealed in individual releases rather than as a group to maximize on buzz-building potential. Other than to say that six drivers have gone far enough in the process to return all of the necessary legal paperwork, he wouldn’t give up much about who would be involved. He did say that there will be test days available to the drivers in advance and that Dario has been asked to work with them. There will also be a test day to which the media will be invited on the Wednesday before the race for just the five outsider drivers.

On a couple of other minor points, RB didn’t express an interest in the newly available weekend at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal — he says he needs to concentrate on shoring up the other two Canadian races before he’s interested in adding a third. And when asked whether in light of the Fontana announcement he’s been talking to other ISC tracks, he replied, “Oh, yes. Lots of them.” It’s getting to the time of year to begin speculation about next year’s schedule, but comments such as this coupled with RB’s ability to hold his cards close to his chest mean this process will likely be much more of a guessing game than it has been for the past few years.

A quick note about qualifying procedure: it’s time to look at tweaking the time allotted to each group. The change this season that only allows one set of tires to be used in each round has meant that the green flag falls and cars just sit there trying to out-wait each other. If the tire rule needs to stay — and it’s disappointing if it does because the old format allowed for much more strategy and intrigue — it would increase excitement to at least shorten each round to just slightly less than what the teams currently believe that they need so that cars actually pull out when the green flag falls and stay out until the checkered. From the point of view of a casual fan sitting in the stands, the current method looks pretty goofy.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who came out to the tweet-up this afternoon. It was a small group due to the hot weather and the time of day, but it was great to meet the people who were able to make it. While there, I picked up a tidbit of information from Derrick Kostka of Toronto Motosports that’s worth sharing: he’s selling merchandise for both Paul Tracy and James Hinchcliffe this weekend, and he mentioned that while he sold significantly more Tracy items on Friday, the pendulum swung the other way today and he sold more Hinchcliffe swag. If this is indicative of what it seems to be — that Hinch’s performance today got the attention of local fans — then that might be the best piece of news for the future of this race that we’ve seen in a very long time.

Please keep an eye on @MoreFrontWing as I tweet live all through race day tomorrow. I’ll post another update to wrap up the day’s events and the weekend tomorrow evening.

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