Toronto: Steph’s Sunday thoughts

IndyCar — By on July 10, 2012 3:56 pm
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Under clear and sunny skies, and without the rain and humidity that had been present through the beginning of the weekend, race day at the 2012 Honda Indy Toronto went off without a hitch — until about lap 79.

But all things considered, given that we were in Toronto, that’s a whole lot better than many people were expecting.

On the track. Since I’ve already brought it up, let’s talk about that late-race restart first.

Two of the drivers who were brought in for the media post-race were quick to point out that the issues on that restart were created by factors largely out of their hands.

Both Mike Conway and Charlie Kimball — Kimball quite a bit more strongly, though that’s to be expected given who we’re talking about here — said that expecting the drivers to line up two-wide for a restart so late in the event without sweeping the marbles off the track first is asking for trouble.

In fact, Kimball went so far as to say that he slid into Bourdais after Conway’s contact with him because his tires were dirty and slippery from going through the marbles.

His suggestion was to use single-file for restarts within the last five laps if there isn’t time to clean the track.

On the other hand, since the new cars allow for passing, and since changing restart styles during the race could be confusing for fans at home, it might time to consider whether double-file restarts are still necessary at all. Just a thought.

Now, let’s rewind a bit. If you’re reading this, it’s very safe to assume that you’ve already watched the race, so I’ll skip the play-by-play and just share the thoughts that stood out from my vantage point on pit lane.

First: I still cannot believe the entire field got through turn 1 and turn 3 without someone getting turned around. They were still mostly double-file by the time they got to 3, too. Crazy. Awesome.

I know I don’t need to wax on too long about how heartbreaking it was to see James Hinchcliffe drop out of his home race due to a mechanical issue. But there are a couple of details you may have missed from home.

One — the crowd roared when he came up in the driver introductions. I’m ready to call it official: Toronto knows who he is.

Two — I was standing at Hinch’s pit box while they were poking at the car. To me, it seemed like an eternity he sat in there. (I can only imagine what it felt like to him!) I was watching him like a hawk because I wanted to be sure he was out before I announced his retirement online, and I swear in the entire time I was staring at him — probably about four or five laps — he only moved twice. The rest of the time, he stared straight ahead and didn’t budge an inch.

When he finally did climb out and take his helmet off, he looked to be on the verge of tears. It was impossible not to feel the intense disappointment right along with him.

He did everything right this weekend and things just refused to go his way. The good news is he’ll be back, and Toronto will be ready for him.

Another story I was following closely all race long was Simon Pagenaud. I noticed that it seemed like he came in for his first stop a bit early, so I was keeping tabs on his radio communications with his team. For a while they were telling him he was the fastest car on the course, and then they started telling him to try to conserve fuel — no surprise there.

At about the mid-point of the race, though, Charlie Kimball caught up to him. Pagenaud expressed concern about him to his team, telling them he didn’t think he could keep Kimball behind him.

At the exact same time, Kimball’s team was telling him they didn’t need to worry about fuel and to give it everything he had to get past Pagenaud.

After a lap or so of watching Simon fight for his spot, I heard his team told him to change his fuel mixture to full rich. From that point, Pagenaud didn’t have as much trouble defending the spot.

Where this became most interesting, though, was at the end of the race when Pagenaud had to stop for a splash of fuel.

A misjudgment, no question. But where does the blame fall for that? Should Rob Edwards have insisted that Pagenaud bide his time? Probably. But if yellows hadn’t gone their way and fuel hadn’t ended up being a factor, they’d have regretted the lost spot(s), too. No attack, no chance, as another INDYCAR driver likes to say. That’s just how racing goes sometimes, and if you’re not going for it, you’re not racing.

Speaking of yellows and going for it, whether INDYCAR should implement a green-white-checkered rule has been a very hot topic in racing circles this week. I’m going to defer discussing that here because Paul and I have opted to take this subject on for our Counterpoint this week on INDYCAR Nation. Keep an eye out for it later this week at indycarnation.indycar.com.

Before we move on to the off-track stuff, plenty of other people are saying this in other venues, so I’ll just touch on it briefly: If someone had told you at the beginning of May that by the middle of July there’s be an American in the points lead who doesn’t drive for Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi, would you have believed it? I wouldn’t have. Not for a second.

Randy Bernard on the 2013 schedule. Randy Bernard visited the media centre (I’m allowed to spell it “centre” this week because we were in Canada) for his customary informal media availability.

Naturally, the majority of the questions concerned the 2013 schedule.

Here’s what we learned: his goal is to have 19 races and to release it by September 1st.

Road America won’t be on it, nor will Michigan International Speedway. Both of those tracks are too close to existing events that INDYCAR is committed to developing into healthy standalone entities first.

The downtown Chicago race is also a non-starter. “With street races especially, until there’s a deposit made and a contract signed, there’s no truth to any of it,” Bernard said. “There’s nothing there. I read what you read in the paper.”

He is, however, very interested in a return to Chicagoland Speedway.

There are other oval tracks on his radar as well. He’s meeting with Phoenix International Raceway later this week, and Pocono is studying the feasibility of INDYCAR’s return.

There was great interest, naturally, from the Canadian media on the subject of a potential third race north of the border. Bernard was very cagey — all he would give up was that he hasn’t ruled it out. He did note that he’s seen the interest in returning a Canadian triple crown to open-wheel competition, and he also said that building James Hinchcliffe’s profile is very high on INDYCAR’s priority list and that another event in Canada would certainly help that cause.

On the subject of whether aero kits will be introduced in 2013, Bernard said he expects a decision to be made within the next month. “I said that probably last month,” he quipped. “Sorry.” He did express one concern, though — the racing is very good right now, and he worries that introducing aero kits may disrupt that.

Bernard was also asked about the critical comments made in the media about him and INDYCAR last week by SMI President Bruton Smith. He started to answer, but all he could come up with was, “Bruton is a nice man.”

Tensions between the paddock and Race Control. No one else seems to want to say it, so I will: it didn’t take much observation this weekend to extrapolate that there is a lot more unrest in the paddock between the paddock and Race Control than most people are letting on.

There’s a fair amount of sniping and defensiveness. The best word to describe it all: frosty.

Other off-track observations. Just one for now. I’ll save the rest for this week’s podcast.

It’s amazing to see how this city has rallied behind James Hinchcliffe.

GoDaddy wallpapered the city with his face — billboards, bus shelters, you name it and he was on it.

Charlie Johnstone said going into the weekend that every metric they have to track was up for 2012 and that the hospitality suites were completely sold out.

And although it wasn’t his face on the papers this morning, the result of all the awareness of Hinch was enough to put the race front and center on every major paper in the city on Monday morning. The Toronto Sun’s cover was a picture of Ryan Hunter-Reay in victory lane with the headline: 3 IN A ROW.

That makes reference to the past and generates interest in the future. Imagine that.

It’s almost like Paul Tracy wasn’t needed.

Imagine saying that two years ago.

Thanks once again to all of you for following along with More Front Wing’s coverage all weekend long. Without INDYCAR fans to read our words, there would be no point in typing them. We appreciate each and every one of you.

Please watch the site and our Twitter feed for continued coverage of the Honda Indy Toronto and the rest of the IZOD IndyCar Series all season long.

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