Random Thoughts on Toronto

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The Honda Indy Toronto was sort of like a Spam sandwich served on artisan bread. There was a big chunk of mediocrity in between two very tasty slices of interesting racing.

With Simon Pagenaud leading the field from the pole position at the start, the entire field made it remarkably clean through the treacherous first turn. There was a little bumping as the field snaked its way through the troublesome Turn Three and it looked as if the first lap would be completed incident-free. But an ambitious move by Will Power ended those hopes.

As the front of the field was negotiating Turn Eight, Power made a dive-bomb move to the inside on Graham Rahal to try and make up some early ground from his fifteenth-place starting spot. What Power didn’t realize was that Rahal was making a move on Marco Andretti at the same time. The result was a pile-up that brought out a full-course yellow before the leaders had completed Lap One.

All of the bumping and banging before the Turn Eight melee gave every indication that Sunday was going to be one of those days where cautions breed cautions. With all of the incidents in practice and qualifying throughout the weekend, there was no reason to think that yellow flags would not be flying all day on Sunday.

But once the race went back to green on Lap Three, there was not another full-course caution until the final lap of the race.

Toronto has been a race known to have too many cautions at times, preventing the race to develop any type of a rhythm. Buit to go 82 laps without a caution in an 85-lap race, can make things get a little too strung out – much like things did at Road America last month.

Like Alexander Rossi at Road America, Simon Pagenaud checked out and ran away from the rest of the field early on. Once things settled down after the Lap Three restart, things got a little boring – at least up front. In fact, positions one through five stayed fairly static throughout much of the race. There were a few position shuffles during pit stops, but for much of the day – it was Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Rossi, Josef Newgarden and Felix Rosenqvist and usually in that order.

From Lap Three to Lap Fifty, anything interesting was going on behind the Top-Five. But when Rossi was the first to make his second pit stop on Lap Fifty, that third and final stint was where this race took on some life.

Pagenaud and Dixon both pitted two laps after Rossi. When things sorted out after all of the leaders pitted, Pagenaud had a nearly eight-second lead on Dixon. But after about Lap Sixty, Pagenaud’s seemingly insurmountable lead suddenly seemed vulnerable. Before you knew it, Dixon had cut Pagenaud’s lead in half. Then a four-second lead became a three-second lead.

Sometimes you hear the guys in the booth creating artificial hype that Driver-A is cutting into Driver-B’s lead, whenever they have a dull race on their hands. This wasn’t artificial. Within about ten or fifteen laps, Scott Dixon had cut Simon Pageanud’s lead from almost eight seconds down to as little as 0.3 seconds.

With Pagenaud’s Chevy engine known to not get as good of mileage as the Honda of Scott Dixon, Pagenaud had a problem on his hands. Entering the third stint, Pagenaud also had many more seconds of Push-to-Pass left than Dixon had. But as Dixon continued to close in, Pagenaud used up those precious seconds as Dixon still got closer. In doing so, Pagenaud magnified his low-fuel situation.

The guys in the booth also surmised that Pagenaud had used up his tires in trying to get around the slower Ryan Hunter-Reay and had possibly also cooked his brakes in the process. Overall, a dominating day for Pagenaud had devolved into a nightmare over the course of only fifteen to twenty laps. When you are leading and things suddenly start going wrong, the last person you want to see in your mirrors is Scott Dixon. Pagenaud’s battle made for great television and an exciting finish.

But fans of Scott Dixon didn’t get what they wanted. Once Hunter-Reay pulled off to pit with about ten laps to go, Pagenaud was once again able to stretch out his lead over Dixon. Just to remove any drama at the end, the second full-course caution of the day came out when Will Power stuffed his car into the tire barrier on the last lap, causing the race that ran almost entirely under green, to finish under caution.

This was Simon Pagenaud’s third win of the season, and his first at Toronto. Except for pit stop shuffles, he led the entire day – eighty of eighty-five laps. On paper, it looks as if he dominated the entire day, but I’m sure he would tell you that the last thirty laps were anything but easy. Scott Dixon made Pagenaud very nervous in the last third of the race.

Getting back to my not-so-great sandwich analogy; Laps 1-5 were entertaining, as were Laps 55-85. Laps 5-55 were not exactly memorable, but I’ve seen worse – especially on a temporary street-circuit.

TV Coverage: Overall, I thought NBCSN did a good job throughout the weekend. Leigh Diffey was working under difficult circumstances, as he lost his father-in-law on Saturday; yet he still managed to sound enthusiastic on the broadcast. Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy had one of their better outings. They were more informative and engaging and not trying to put on a comedy routine, which has proven distracting in some races.

I’m not sure where Kevin Lee was this weekend. Last week on Trackside, he gave every indication that he was planning on making the trip. A check of his Twitter feed showed nothing unusual but for whatever reason, he was on none of the weekend broadcasts. Maybe he forgot his passport (that was a joke).

But the other pit reporters did an excellent job. Robin Miller seemed to have more airtime than usual, which I think is always a good thing. My personal opinion is that Jon Beekhuis should be in the booth, as I think his talents are wasted as a pit reporter. But he improves each telecast when he is there. I think he should be at every single race of the season, but my understanding is that he will be on the remaining broadcasts this season.

And newcomer Dillon Welch does a great job. He may be a rookie and look like he’s twelve, but he never appears rattled and asks questions that a twenty-year veteran may not think to ask.

But there is no such thing as a perfect broadcast and I have a couple of suggestions. When they are away for a commercial break and showing the side-by-side window, they should not go to a visor-cam view or even an in-car camera shot. The window is too little to get any real sense of what is going on. The producer in the truck should make sure to show only outside wide-angle shots to show what’s going on during the breaks.

Speaking of split screens – when they are showing a replay of something that happened two months ago during the IndyCar Grand Prix at IMS, put that in the small window and put the live action in the large window, instead of the other way around like they did yesterday. It reminded me of ABC’s Wives and Girlfriends cam in the closing laps of a close race. They would inexplicably put the nervous wives in the big window, with the actual race in a small postage stamp sized window. I think most of us would prefer to watch the live action. If we want to see the replay, we can glance at the smaller window.

And once again, we saw another failed booth-to-driver interview on the parade lap, when Paul Tracy could not reach James Hinchcliffe. That technology was cutting-edge in the eighties, even though it didn’t work half the time. Today, it’s old hat, but still doesn’t work half the time – as we saw yesterday. Even when it does work, the interview tells us nothing and comes off as an intrusion. It’s mostly to show off thirty-year old technology. It goes back to one of my favorite sayings – Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Favorite moment: I don’t think I’m alone in saying that my favorite moment of the entire weekend was when driver Robert Wickens drove a modified Acura NSX to lead the field, with his fiancé Karli Woods alongside in the passenger seat.

We learned early last week that this would happen, but you may not have a pulse if you didn’t get goose-bumps watching it as it happened. Although Wickens seemed almost overwhelmed when interviewed just before it happened, he seemed cool, calm and collected as he drove the performance car around the track. Karli seemed a bit more animated.

You can’t help but pull for this couple who will be married in September, as Wickens continues to recover from his spinal injuries sustained last August in a Lap Seven Turn Two crash at Pocono last August.

Feud or Hype? NBCSN and IndyCar both ran videos building up the Saturday morning skirmish between Sébastien Bourdais and Takuma Sato throughout the weekend. The dust-up between them immediately after Practice Three seemed genuine, as the normally mild-mannered Sato reached up and grabbed the helmet chinstrap of Bourdais, setting up a lot of pushing and shoving between the two.

IndyCar is desperate for some genuine hatred between two drivers. The thing is, I’m not sure that a slightly built forty-year-old Frenchman and a very diminutive forty-two year-old Japanese driver who usually has a smile on his face, conjures up images of Parnelli Jones and Eddie Sachs the day after the 1963 Indianapolis 500.

In short, I’m not sure there is near as much to this “rivalry” as NBC and IndyCar wants there to be.

Mostly Clean: Much was justifiably made of the troubles in Turn Eleven caused by the epoxy patch that had been laid down in the middle of the turn since last year’s race. Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato were just some of the drivers that either spun or hit the wall when they allowed a wheel to go directly over the patch; which must have resembled ice when hit just right.

Everyone was expecting Turn Eleven to be like a demolition derby during the race. It was not until Josef Newgarden made contact with the wall on Lap 81 that the final turn caused anyone problems. Although Newgarden slapped the wall pretty hard, it didn’t even cost him a single position.

LED Update: Although I’ve heard nothing official, it appears that progress has been made with the LED panel on the side of the roll hoop. Since Texas, the LED panels have only displayed the car number. It was also that way all weekend at Road America. But in yesterday’s race, the car’s position in the race was displayed on most of the cars. Unfortunately, I noticed that Scott Dixon’s panel still appeared to be blank. I don’t know why they had to fool with them. They worked fine through the 2017 season. But ever since they tried getting cute in 2018, they’ve been nothing but trouble. Hopefully, they are finally working the bugs out.

Spontaneous Victory Lane: In years past, the winning driver would drive into Victory Lane and be held through the commercial break – sometimes for several minutes, resulting in a somewhat anticlimactic celebration.

Yesterday, I noticed that Simon Pagenaud drove straight to Victory Lane and immediately climbed out of the car in celebration. His excitement seemed a lot more genuine and spontaneous compared to those times a driver was held in the car as we watched the annoying Verizon guy.

All in All: I thought yesterday’s Honda Indy Toronto was a very entertaining race, once they got past Lap 50. As Scott Dixon continued to whittle away at Pagenaud’s lead, I was certain that he was going to catch and pass him. It didn’t happen. Simon Pagenaud deserved the win. He was dominant throughout the weekend and most of the race, holding off a challenger at the end – much like his Indianapolis 500 win in May.

But the biggest story is the tightening of the points race. It’s not just because Alexander Rossi closed to within four points of Josef Newgarden, but because Pagenaud and Dixon have both closed in as well. Pagenaud is only thirty-nine points out of first, while Dixon is only eighty-six points out of the points lead with six races to go. A lot can happen to affect the points race this Saturday night in Iowa.

On a personal note: One of the nice things about having my own website is that I can occasionally commandeer it for my own personal reasons. This is one of those times.

I’d like to publicly wish my amazing mother a Happy 95th Birthday tomorrow. She still lives alone, still drives and goes to an exercise class three times a week, and probably leads a healthier lifestyle than I do. I spent this past Saturday visiting with her in the same house I grew up in, and shot this selfie. My family is very lucky!

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Happy Birthday, Mama!

George Phillips

11 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Toronto”

  1. As much as I’d like to say I was hoping to see Dixon win. Right now I think Simon has the momentum and confidence that he had when he was so strong and dominant during the 2016 season. Championship is still too early to guess since there’s so many different tracks coming up. After Iowa I truly think we will have a better idea of who’s ready to challenge for the title. Iowa is going to be tough. Very fast and competitive track. If there are long green flag runs I would assume the Honda’s would be the toughest to beat. Let’s see who comes prepared and ready to attack with practice on Friday.

    All in all a solid race, watching Dixon catch Simon at the end was worth watching the entire race. Solid job with the commentating. Again, Josef had a mistake and luckily it was so late in the race it didn’t cost him nearly as much. At this point with 6 races to go. Any mistake can cost you the title. Laguna Seca is a while away but could be the wild card finale since it’s been so long since they raced there.

  2. Happy Birthday to your mother George! Hope to see you at Pocono this year.

  3. If it hadn’t been for the traffic at the end I think Simon may have had trouble holding Dixon off. Either way, pretty entertaining race (surprisingly, so was the British GP). Count me as not a fan of the in-car driver interview, to me it seems rude to bother them while they’re working and the driver rarely says anything of value other than the canned “The team gave me a great car and we’re going to work our way forward” nonsense. It adds nothing to the broadcast.

    Happy birthday Mama OilPressure! Here’s to many more!

  4. S0CSeven Says:

    A full course yellow on the last lap???
    Nobody is allowed to pass anybody at the finish of the race ANYWHERE on fhe track?????
    Surely a car which is off the racing line in corner 8 can be covered by a local yellow and the rest of the race can pan out as it may.
    Drivers fighting it out in corner 3 are screwed for no reason?

    This is politics pure and simple. Methinks there’s a reason I don’t understand ’cause we don’t have no bogus g/w/c in Indycar.

    • He didn’t look off the racing line to me. Looked like he was stuck square in the side of the tire barrier, sitting in the same spot other cars who are going for a desperate move on the last lap might end up crashing into. Sorry, I don’t see any politics or NASCARism happening there nor do I believe it affected the outcome of the race.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Bad day for Dallara and Will Power, I was as surprised that there were not more cautions as much as I was that Power was Dallara’s biggest/only benefactor.

    While I appreciate Dixon’s late charge, it soaked up so much attention that it took some mid-pack passes off of the television broadcast. That’s the Rahal fan in me talking…

  6. Ron Ford Says:

    Happy Birthday to yo mama.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Your Mama has a happy face and as we all know, ain’t nobody happy if mama ain’t happy. Lil Georgie must have been a joy to raise, always off somewhere playing with his little race cars and keeping out of trouble.

  7. Warm wishes to Mom Oilpressure on her 95th!!

    I too enjoyed the Toronto race and the very entertaining British GP. A perfect Sunday. And seeing Robert and Karli in the Acura made my day. Still Smiling today.

  8. Leslie E Bissell Says:

    Happy birthday to your mom George!

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