FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Toronto

First Impressions, IndyCar — By on July 8, 2012 7:21 pm
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PAUL’S IMPRESSIONS:

For the first time in seemingly ages, the drivers of the IZOD IndyCar Series looked as if they were going to get away from the streets of Toronto without looking like a bunch of clowns.

Almost.

After the bulk of a race that was fairly competitive and interesting, things went south quickly within the final 10 laps. Once again, many of the drivers looked like amateur Saturday nighters as cars piled into each other like bowling pins.  The end result was that a number of drivers had wonderful runs negated, drivers who should have posted finishes in or near the top five were left steaming, and Ryan Hunter-Reay showed everyone that he is not a one-trick pony by backing up a pair of short-oval victories with an emphatic street course win.

A number of drivers deserve praise for some truly fantastic runs today.  Congrats to runner-up Charlie Kimball, whose second-place finish was well ahead of his previous career best of eighth, even after an early altercation with teammate Graham Rahal.  Josef Newgarden was well on his way to recovering from a forgetful weekend and rounding out the first All-American podium since the 2006 Indianapolis 500 when a blatant block by Simon Pagenaud ended Newgarden’s day in the turn 3 tires.  Second-year driver James Jakes also posted a career-best finish of eighth.

It was truly a sign of the new year that the highest-finishing Penske or Target Chip Ganassi driver was sixth place finisher Helio Castroneves.  One has to look all the way down to 15th position to find Will Power and 17th position to find Dario Franchitti, the higher of the Target Chip Ganassi pair.  It is truly refreshing to see the variety of teams and drivers making noise in the races and in the championship this year.  The fact that 10 teams were represented in the top 10 positions is astounding.  The fact that TCGR wasn’t one of them is perhaps just as shocking.

One thought I did have through much of the race was that the new defending rule seemed to neuter turn 3 a little bit and make it seem quite a bit less exciting than in years past.  I’m not a fan of saying the lead car must yield the inside line, but allowing the lead driver to take away the inside line makes passing extremely difficult there.  It is almost impossible for a driver to complete a pass on the outside of turn 3.  There did seem to be some passing there eventually but not quite as much excitement as in years past.

All in all, it was a pleasant race.  There was some good action throughout the day, and it was mostly a clean race (sans those last 8-10 laps).  It probably won’t go down as the most exciting race of the year and the next two weeks won’t be mired in controversy heading into Edmonton, but I think it was a good show that will bring the fans back again next year.

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STEPH’S IMPRESSIONS:

Well, the drivers almost managed not to look like bumbling fools again this year.

Of course, two of the drivers who came to meet the media after the race insisted that the problem was forcing a double-wide restart on a track that hadn’t been swept, which meant their tires were covered in marbles. I’ll buy that.

Up until that point, it was nearly impossible to believe this is more or less the same group of drivers that has contested this race for the past few years.

Since I was at the track today I have a wrap-up post scheduled for tomorrow morning, and I’ll have much more to say there. For now, I’ll distill things down to a few key points:

- I still can’t believe they all got through turn 3 on the first lap incident-free with much of the field still two-wide. That’s not supposed to work!

- James Hinchcliffe’s early departure was heartbreaking for him and for the crowd. James looked like he was on the verge of tears when he got out of the car. But I was excited about it in a very small way because it gave me the opportunity to see just how invested in him the people of Toronto have become. When Randy Bernard says that he sees James Hinchcliffe as the future of INDYCAR, he ain’t kidding.

- I really thought for a while that Simon Pagenaud was going to run away with this thing. Incidents post lap 80 notwithstanding, he’s not far from his first win. At all.

- If someone had told you on May 1st that Ryan Hunter-Reay would be leading the championship by July 15th, would you have believed it? I wouldn’t have. Not in a million years.

- We’re not supposed to read each others comments before these, but after sneaking a look at Paul’s half above I can’t help but rebut one thing he said: if Kimball’s pass for two positions in turn 3 wasn’t exciting enough racing, I’ve got nothing for him. I have zero problem with making the drivers work for passes in turn 3. It looked like racing in Toronto the way I remember it, and that’s just fine by me.

Despite the late-race foibles, this race had action, strategy, and storylines in spades — and it proved handily that we’re setting up for a hell of a run for the championship. It doesn’t get much better in my book.

Please check back tomorrow for much more information and commentary on Sunday at the Honda Indy Toronto.

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