The twenty ninth and thirtieth IndyCar races held at Exhibition Place in Canada proved fairly interesting and historic, if a bit discombobulated. Rain on Saturday led to the first single day full points double header since 1981 on Sunday, back when Russia routinely engaged in aggressive acts and the U.S. economy suffered mightily due to years of big government meddling. The more things change, the more they stay the same, no?
Similarly, a familiar if long lost face won the first of two shortened (sixty five laps instead of the usual eighty five) races held early on Sunday morning. Frenchman Sebastian Bourdais took his forty second IndyCar victory dating back to the CART days when he dominated the fields for years on end. Like those halcyon days of yore, Sebass’s performance was dominant in the first race, taking pole and leading all but a few laps. While he finished third and then second in last year’s two in TO, hilariously dropping and shattering the crystal trophy from the first race, Bourdais hadn’t won an IndyCar race since 2007, so long ago there were still two major open wheel leagues. Sebass repeatedly called that a drought of six years; but by our math here at IndyRaceReviewer, it’s actually seven.
Despite the dry conditions Sunday morning, the race was marred by a huge first lap pileup instigated by rookie Lucca Fillippi and one of IRR’s predicted winners of the weekend, Simon Pagenaud who was running fourth. We here at IRR can’t blame the drivers too much, as it was so early in the a.m. that coffee instead of beer was the beverage of the race – so strange! The race stopping accident damaged or took several cars out of the race, including Newgarden, Sato, Conway and others, blocking the entire circuit and forcing another red flag to accompany several of the weekend. Once the carnage was cleared, Sebass essentially drove away from the field, making still more coffee a requirement for viewers of the television coverage of the first race. Not surprisingly, Castro Neves finished second for Penske and Tony Kanaan rounded out the podium with a strong performance in the #10 Target car. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much passing and once they settled in the race was largely uneventful.
The three hour pre-race/time filler show on Saturday had its moments amongst the tedium, including the inimitable Robin Miller ribbing the “mad Russian” Mikhail Aleshin about his recent run-ins with AJ Foyt’s driver Takuma Sato. “Not a big drinker,” A.J. dismissively declined Miller’s suggested offer of a bottle of vodka, although not the steak or, as Miller quipped, “the cash.” A.J. provided yet more characteristic color once they tried to commence the race in the pouring rain, leading the criticism of race control which allowed Power’s Penske crew to work on his car after he spun and hit the wall coming to the green flag while disallowing other teams from making repairs to their cars. “Every race I go to I learn something new,” A.J. growled, “taking a lot in and learning new lessons” he muttered ironically in light of his fifty plus year legendary IndyCar career. That’s another reason why we love AJ, the undisputed King of IndyCar. Sarah Fisher, Michael Andretti and other owners complained, too, but in the end it was moot as there would be no racing on the washed-out first day. All of this occurred after Arie Luyendyk spun the pace car off the course, his second spin of the year counting his two seater spin earlier in the year at Long Beach! This reviewer does not recall ever seeing the pace car spin in all his years of race viewing. Events in Toronto grew curiouser and curiouser until the day was ultimately declared a washout, although this was unbeknownst to the television viewing public, who were inexplicably left wondering.
Before Sunday’s second race, PT’s lap around the streets with troubled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (the disgraced “crack smoking Mayor”) provided some amusing moments, although on a serious note signage ominously warning that “the games are coming” pointed out a potential conflict with next year’s race. The Pan-Am games – a brainchild of Ted Turner (is there a better reason to let these forgettable meets die a dignified death?) – will be held in Toronto next year about the same time as the IndyCar races. While Mayor Ford, a fan of the racing as well as other, less healthy pursuits, assured PT he would do whatever is necessary to hold the races regardless, there remain major problems for next year. Mayor Ford faces a tough re-election contest this fall for obvious reasons, and the city could well have a new regime in charge prior to next summer’s festivities, possibly throwing the IndyCar races, or at least their scheduling, into some doubt.
The second shortened race – which was timed – was more entertaining and eventful for IndyCar fans, with a dry start and then a rainy middle stint before a dry and exciting finish. The changing conditions scrambled the field and the teams’ strategies as one would expect, and led to a surprise winner (although readers of this blog weren’t surprised as street course ace Kentish Mike Conway was a predicted race winner). Starting the race from the inside of row six on entrant points, Conway was amongst the first drivers to bravely return to slicks on a still damp racecourse during his final pit stop, surprising even his team owner and co-driver Ed Carpenter, who wisely deferred to his street/road course driver’s wishes. The move paid off and allowed him to advance from the back through the field to win his second race of the year and fourth of his career. The win was Carpenter’s third of the year for his team, putting the small one car team funded by Fuzzy’s Vodka in rarefied air for the season. Funnily enough, Conway who hails from England, was misidentified as being from “USA” on the NBCSN graphic during his victory lane celebration.
There was one very frightening moment in the second race caused by the rain and slick conditions. Like so many others, JP Montoya slid off course and into a tire barrier in the first half of the race. But his position in the turn became extremely precarious as other cars slid through the narrow opening left to them on track. Rookie Mikhail “mad Russian” Aleshin lost it in the corner and slid directly into the back of and then under Montoya’s Penske Chevy, precipitating Montoya’s car on top of his head. Fortunately he was all right. In the interview afterward Aleshin showed the tire marks across his visor and helmet, illustrating how dangerous the situation was and how fortunate the rookie is to have escaped unscathed. Interestingly, he noted that due to the heat coming off of Montoya’s engine as well as its proximity to his face, the biggest trouble he had from the incident was breathing until the safety crews successfully and rather speedily removed the wreckage.
Kanaan turned in another masterful effort, charging to second, while Power kept it off the wall and rounded out the podium. Charlie Kimball continued to impress with a fourth place finish and A.J. Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato, who thrives in the rain, finished fifth for his best showing of the year advancing from second to last at the start. Keep an eye on Kimball, as he’s the defending race winner of Mid-Ohio where the series next visits in a couple of weeks and has passed more cars than anyone in the field this year. It’s Rahal’s home racetrack and he showed some real promise in the National Guard car this weekend until a mechanical failure/gear box problem forced him out of the second race, so he will return to the sports car course as one to watch. Did you notice his highly animated conversation afterward with team principle/father Bobby on the pit stand?
NBCSN’s coverage proved solid as usual, with racers Townsend Bell and local favorite PT providing insightful and enlightening commentary. While Bob Varsha’s race calls were acceptable, we here at IRR prefer Leigh Diffy’s higher energy approach to announcing races on television and will welcome his return to the booth in Ohio. An older track more suited for motorcycles than IndyCars, Mid-Ohio isn’t our favorite venue here at IRR, but as Takuma Sato mentioned in the post race, a “favorite” oval track (and the oldest in the country) is next up on the schedule after Mid-Ohio, the famed Milwaukee Mile. In the meantime, two unexpected winners and their underdog teams will enjoy their success at the scrambled Two in TO, and the IndyCar Series managed to put on an enjoyable couple of races despite rain wreaking havoc on the schedule.