Toronto: Steph’s Friday thoughts

IndyCar — By on July 7, 2012 8:47 am

I’m beyond excited to finally — finally! — be back at the track this weekend to provide coverage for More Front Wing, this time for my home race, the Honda Indy Toronto.

Let’s split things up for ease of access.

On the track. Right off the top: is there anyone in INDYCAR racing today with harder luck than Justin Wilson?

In one day, the guy: injured four crew members through a gearbox issue that was no fault of his own; had no choice but to stuff himself into the tires to avoid a much bigger wreck with Alex Tagliani, who was already there and in his way; and went into the tires again in the afternoon session in the exact same spot.

I’ll be watching to see whether that team has any front wings left.

Those four crew members, by the way — one from Dale Coyne Racing and three from Dragon Racing — were all treated and released, two in the infield care centre and two at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto. As of when I left the track today, it hadn’t been announced whether any of them would sit out the remainder of the weekend. I’ll try to find that out.

Another guy who couldn’t catch a break today: Josef Newgarden. In both practice sessions, his motor lost power and he stalled on track within five minutes of the initial green flag.

The Canadians aren’t faring especially well, either. James Hinchcliffe missed the entire afternoon session after experiencing a mechanical issue. He’ll face a 10-spot penalty on the starting grid after the team was forced to perform an unapproved engine change. He’s joined in that by Alex Tagliani, whose team opted not to finish out the miles on its “generation one” pre-Indy Honda engine and instead installed a fresh one after Iowa.

Also facing a starting grid penalty is Simona de Silvestro as HVM Racing needed to change their engine this week to the version with the latest upgrades from Lotus. This appears to have paid off somewhat, though: Simona was not last in either practice session today, which was a refreshing change.

Tomorrow’s qualifying session will be very interesting. In the qualifying groups as distributed by INDYCAR (which can be found in our Toronto Event Summary, group 2 is stacked and looks poised to break some hearts. On the other hand, those lucky enough to shuffle into group 1 have more of a fighting chance than usual of advancing to the fast 12. Oh, and it’s supposed to rain at about that time, too. “Intriguing” doesn’t really cover it.

As much as the drivers were singing the praises of the repaving on Lake Shore Boulevard – Dario called it “billiard table smooth” – many seemed to be fighting with the resurfacing on the other portions of the track, particularly the new concrete patch in turn 9. The consensus was that no one was really driving over that portion of the track so much as controlling the slide through it. It’s definitely a spot to watch.

Off the track. Hot. Hot, hot, hot.

And it was pretty crummy timing, too: the day that’s meant to be the hottest this weekend by far happened to fall on Free Friday.

Admittedly, I didn’t go outside all that much. (Can you blame me? It was about 104 thousand degrees out there!) I did tear myself away from the computer for two walks, though.

The first time I went out was at about 10:30 AM when I walked from the Allstream Centre to Thunder Alley and back. The crowd wasn’t packing the place, but it was decent. I stopped for a bite to eat at the new group of food trucks that’s set up right behind the pit lane grandstands. There are tons of different and tasty-looking food options there. I went for a traditional poutine at Smoke’s Poutinerie. I probably put on about 10 pounds just from looking at the thing, but it was worth it.

My second sojourn was at about 1 PM. I left the Allstream Centre and walked across pit lane, stopped into the paddock, crossed the pedestrian bridge, walked through the Direct Energy Centre, and took the underground tunnel back across to the Allstream Centre.

When I looked around in Thunder Alley and the paddock, I was a bit distressed — the crowds were a lot thinner than I was expecting. As I reached the Direct Energy Centre, though, I saw why: people had (wisely) gone inside to escape the heat. There was a very good crowd enjoying the air conditioning while checking out the Ferrari Challenge paddock and grabbing lunch at the food vendors in the main hallway.

The heat likely still deterred some people but the turnout was respectable, and Make-a-Wish Canada will likely be happy with the donations they should have received at the entry gates in lieu of Friday admission charges. (This program, by the way, is courtesy of the Ontario Honda Dealers Association.)

One big and very notable change at the event this year from the fan’s perspective: beer gardens are no more. The Honda Indy Toronto has become the first event of its kind in Ontario to take advantage of a change in liquor licensing law that permits fans to walk the grounds freely with open alcohol (which sounds like a big deal but actually only brings it into the 21st century with every other race on the circuit).

There’s just one thing that Green Savoree overlooked: with the beer gardens gone, there’s no apparent place for people to take those beers and socialize. There are the grandstands, of course. But people who aren’t sitting together appear to be out of luck. Expect to see some of the relationships with restaurants such as Hooters return next year to fill this gap.

Shameless self-promotion. Forgive me, but I’ve been busy producing content for several different venues lately, and I’d like to share those in the event that it may interest some of our readers.

Firstly, by the time this goes live I will have already completed an interview on CBC Radio One’s Saturday morning wake-up program Fresh Air, heard in Toronto and throughout the province of Ontario. I was asked to join host Mary Ito to talk about INDYCAR racing and specifically how it might appeal to women. A podcast is forthcoming, so please keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook to find the link when it becomes available.

I’ve also been very fortunate to be invited to contribute several articles to the Toronto Star and over the past couple of weeks leading up to race weekend.

IndyCar champ Franchitti grapples with new IndyCar challenges

Simona de Silvestro soldiers on in IndyCar Series

Maple’s David Ostella on fast track to great career

Freiberg won’t go Danica’s route

And on top of my work here at More Front Wing and at our Twitter account (@MoreFrontWing), I’m contributing to a Live Blog at all weekend long.

Saturday at the track. If you’re going to be at the track, don’t miss the informal tweet-up that’s been organized for 2:30 PM at the Toronto Motorsports booth in Thunder Alley. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it as the post-qualifying press conference is at that time, but I know some of the folks who are going and they’re good people. It would probably be a good idea to buy some Hinchtown merchandise while there, too. It makes the Mayor happy.

Oh, and be sure to take an umbrella and some running shoes, too (so that you can get inside quickly). It’s supposed to get wet.

More Front Wing’s coverage of the Honda Indy Toronto will continue all weekend along. Please check in daily for updates, stay informed with our Event Summary, and follow us on Twitter at @MoreFrontWing to get a grip on the latest INDYCAR news and views.