Toronto: Steph’s Saturday thoughts

IndyCar — By on July 8, 2012 7:37 am
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The forecasted rain made its way through early and gave way to partly sunny skies on the second day of track activity at the Honda Indy Toronto.

Meanwhile, in the paddock, the mud-slinging has begun already.

On the track. I’ll confess immediately: I was so flat-out busy today that I didn’t get a chance to leave the media centre once.

That said, I had video via the track feed, so as far as making observations goes I suppose I was still significantly better off than people stuck at home.

One of the very first things I noticed early in the morning practice session was Justin Wilson’s front wing assembly. It was built from one of the damaged wings from yesterday — complete with scrape marks still visible on the end of it — and had unpainted wings fitted onto it built from spare parts. I immediately dubbed it FrankenWing. (It seems to have served him well, though. More on that later.)

Another point from the morning: Will Power and Simon Pagenaud made contact again today. This time, Pagenaud went too hot into turn 3 and collected Power with him. Pagenaud went to apologize to Power after the session, but Will later said that he gave Simon the “Australian go away.” He added that things were all good between the two drivers and that he just wants a clean race. (Simon wasn’t the last person Will had words with today. More on that later, too.)

Between practice and qualifying, More Front Wing received a response to an inquiry we made with Lotus on why the updated engine wasn’t available for HVM Racing’s test at Mid-Ohio earlier this week:

“We wanted to fine tune some other software settings for limiter and gearshift parameters at Mid-Ohio and didn’t want to mileage the new spec engine to do that,” said Vincent Pereme, Motorsport Engine Manager for the marque. “Those parameters could easily be transferred from the old spec engine to the new one. We like that we arrived here with a fresh engine and you can see the difference.”

It wasn’t enough to help Simona de Silvestro advance out of group 1 in qualifying, but she’s definitely walking with a lighter step this weekend (presumably because she’s no longer last all the time).

Speaking of qualifying, it was as intriguing as expected and then some.

The first group didn’t really hold any surprises, but that was the easy one. Group 2 was the one that was the big question mark — two Penskes, both TCGR cars, and all of Andretti Autosport and KV Racing were included. Somebody was going to come out unhappy.

As it turns out, that somebody was KV Racing, which didn’t manage to advance a single car to the second round. And to add insult to injury, EJ Viso had some sort of issue coming down the backstretch very late in the round, and — despite having time to duck into the turn 3 runoff and get out of the way — he continued to limp his way to his pit while other drivers were running hot laps around him, creating several close calls along the way. For that particularly bone-headed move, Viso was docked his two fastest lap times and is therefore provisionally bringing up the rear of the field tomorrow.

(I say provisionally because if someone were to make an unapproved engine change between now and gridding tomorrow, the resulting penalty could bump Viso up a spot. INDYCAR no longer issues official starting grids until after the final pre-race session of the weekend for that exact reason. [Edited Sunday morning to add: this has in fact become the case. James Jakes made an engine change overnight and will now start 24th. Simona's penalty caused her to cycle to the back of the field.])

Both James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani advanced to round 2, much to the delight of the Canadian fans. Unfortunately, Hinch didn’t quite find enough to allow him to move on to the Firestone Fast Six, missing it for only the second time this season. That combined with his forthcoming 10-spot grid penalty will see him start deep in the field in front of his hometown crowd. Expect to see an alternate fuel strategy executed early.

It was in round 2 that Will Power met his other major adversary of the day, Takuma Sato. Sato got into Power’s way on the backstretch on Power’s second-last lap of the round, destroying the lap time and nearly causing Power to miss advancing to the Firestone Fast Six. Power gesticulated wildly at Sato as he went by. (He just barely squeaked one more lap in and managed to make it through to the Firestone Fast Six.) Boneheaded move #2 on the day cost Sato his two fastest laps of round 2, provisionally placing him 11th on tomorrow’s grid.

When asked about his motioning to Sato, Power played on his earlier comment about Pagenaud, saying with a laugh, “I gave him the Australian hello.” He went on to point out that the issue nearly cost his advancement but actually did ruin Sato’s day. “I don’t know who was on his radio,” Power said, “but they should have been telling him who was coming.”

In the Firestone Fast Six, Power appeared to have the pole nailed down, but Franchitti just barely nicked it from him on his very last lap. It’s worth noting that, in spite missing pole, Power was the only Chevrolet driver who really managed to make something out of qualifying on a weekend that’s largely been dominated by Honda engines. That’s definitely something to watch come race time.

In the post-qualifying press conference, Justin Wilson (quite rightly) felt vindicated to have made it to the Firestone Fast Six after the day he’d had on Friday. He’s been in frequent contact with the Dale Coyne Racing crew member who was injured in the incident on Friday morning and went to his hotel room to visit on Saturday morning. Wilson felt that he and Sebastien Bourdais making it to the Firestone Fast Six was “fitting for the weekend” where both had struggled early on.

Dario Franchitti and Justin Wilson also made some interesting allusions to the fact that relations between the drivers and Beaux Barfield may not be as sunny as they appear. In discussing the modified blocking rules for this year, Franchitti suggested that Barfield’s directions have lacked consistency. “I’ve had a couple different explanations this year,” he said. “Defend to the wall, then to the width of a car plus one inch.” Wilson continued, “It all depends what the defending rules are going to be at this track.” Let’s hope that Barfield’s side emerges as this story unfolds.

Off the track. My interview with CBC Radio One went fairly well this morning. (The feedback I received was positive, at least.) I’m told there will be a podcast posted early next week, so I’ll share that link when I have it. Many thanks to everyone who offered support and congratulations.

I was hoping to have a great story to tell you about the crowd from today — and again, I didn’t get to leave the media centre, so all I have to go on is the track feed video from qualifying — but it looked like it was just okay. The grandstands weren’t empty, but they weren’t packed, either. With the rain that was forecast, though, there was probably less of a walk-up crowd than usual. Tomorrow will tell the true tale.

One thing I noticed today was some cross-promotion between this event and the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course coming up on Sunday, August 5th. I was taken aback at how much sense it made. The title sponsor is the same, the event owner and promoter is the same, and Mid-Ohio is a feasible (though not what I would call “easy”) drive from Toronto. Somebody is thinking, and it’s nice to see. (But no, there weren’t any tie-ins for any other events that I noticed. That turns into a business-to-business thing, which gets much more complicated.)

I wasn’t able to get to the tweet-up this afternoon, unfortunately — it was scheduled for the exact same time as the post-qualifying press conference. I hear that it went well, though, which is great. Toronto Motorsports gave away an art print autographed by James Hinchcliffe, and a good time was had by all. I’m sorry I missed all of you. If you see me at the track on Sunday, please stop me to say hello. (I promise I’ll leave my cave at least once during the day.)

More Front Wing is here to help you get a grip on INDYCAR news and views all weekend long. There are several options for following along: here, on Twitter, and at the Wheels.ca Live Blog. And if you need to catch up on session times or stats, don’t forget to check our Event Summary.

I’ll be back again to wrap up the weekend with race day at the Honda Indy Toronto.

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