Random Thoughts on Toronto

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For the first time since 2019, there is another Honda Indy Toronto in the books. I know this race has a reputation for being fast and chaotic, but I had forgotten how bumpy and narrow the streets of Toronto are. The other day, I said experience would win out over youthful eagerness. That turned out to be the case, but not as I predicted (as usual). I predicted two-time winner Josef Newgarden would be victorious. As usual, my predicting a driver to win ended up being a curse. Newgarden was having a decent day until a very un-Penske-like pit stop relegated him to mid-pack. He did well to finish tenth.

Instead it was six-time champion Scott Dixon hoisting the trophy from the top step of the podium. Dixon collected his first win of the season, his fourth win at Toronto and his fifty-second win in the NTT IndyCar Series – tying him with the great Mario Andretti in all-time wins. Dave Burns put it even more impressively saying that AJ Foyt is the only person in IndyCar history with more wins (67) than Scott Dixon. No matter how you say it, to be mentioned in the same breath with Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt is pretty impressive.

Getting back to the race itself, I’ve probably watched every single IndyCar race at Toronto and I swear I don’t remember the walls being that close. It is really a narrow circuit. I know for a fact the pits were more treacherous yesterday than in the past. Fortunately, there were no incidents in the pits – but conditions were ripe for a huge collision. It speaks well for all drivers and crews that none took place in the race.

Predictably, there were some collisions, starting on Lap One, when Takuma Sato was in the third car, in a space big enough for only two. The most egregious was the contact between Felix Rosenqvist and Alexander Rossi on Lap 45, that ended up with Rossi in the wall and Rosenqvist continuing. Quite honestly, I thought Rosenqvist stuffed him into the wall, but Race Control saw it differently. I thought the last contact between Kyle Kirkwood and Jimmie Johnson was incidental, but Race Control ruled that Kirkwood was guilty of avoidable contact. It really didn’t matter since Kirkwood was already out of the race due to the contact, but it just underscored how there is no predicting what is avoidable and what is not.

Although there was a ton of action behind the leaders, there was not so much up front. The box score shows that a total of eight drivers led yesterday’s race. In all actuality, when you take the pit stop shuffles out, it was really just two – pole-sitter Colton Herta and eventual winner Scott Dixon – and that lead-change was due to a better pit stop by Dixon’s Ganassi crew.

Altogether, it was not the most scintillating of races. But there were a lot of great passes made back in the pack, maybe the most spectacular when Rinus VeeKay made a move on Romain Grosjean sometime during the second stint. There was also some very close racing between Ganassi teammates Alex Palou and Marcus Ericsson. But up front, things got a little stagnant as Herta could never mount a charge on Dixon and had to fight off Felix Rosenqvist to stay in second-place. Rosenqvist rounded out the podium.

It was a good crowd on a beautiful day in Canada. The locals came out in droves and it looked good on television. I had been skeptical if this event would ever run again. Based on what I saw this past weekend, the future looks better for the Honda Indy Toronto. Let’s hope so.

TV Coverage: I know the ratings will take a huge hit, and a lot of people didn’t see the race – but I actually enjoyed the race being on Peacock. NBC had said that there would be only three minutes of commercial time between the green and checkered flags, but I really think it was around five minutes. But that’s still very minimal in a race that actually ran an hour and thirty-eight minutes flag-to-flag.

I know some fans are adamant in their opposition to paying for Peacock, but keep in mind that if you have Comcast Xfinity or Charter Spectrum, you already get Peacock Premium for free. Many fans have free access to it and don’t even know it. But if the day comes where the majority of IndyCar races are found exclusively on Peacock and the level of production is the same, what I saw yesterday tells me that viewers will not be suffering.

As far as the broadcast goes, except for the lack of a lot of commercials, I couldn’t tell any difference between yesterday’s broadcast and the one two weeks ago from Mid-Ohio on Big NBC – except for the fact that Kevin Lee was in the booth. I am not a Leigh Diffey hater like some are, but I do think that Kevin Lee has done as good or better job than Diffey in the handful of races he has called over the last several years.

The remaining races for this season are all on Big NBC, except for Gateway – which will be on USA Network, since it is a Saturday evening race.

Finally: If any team was due for a good weekend, it was Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Their qualifying for most of this season has been abysmal and it forced their lead driver, Graham Rahal, to drive like a man on a mission just to get a halfway decent result for the team. The whole team was having good practice sessions this weekend, but they still underperformed in qualifying. Rahal knew he had a fast car, and was proven right on Sunday. Rahal started the lowest of any of his teammates (fourteenth), yet raced his way to fourth place – his best result of the season.

Classy Comment: Speaking of Graham Rahal, kudos to him for a classy move that he didn’t have to do. His post-race interview on Peacock immediately followed third place Felix Rosenqvist. Instead of starting the interview off beaming about his good day or naming a list of sponsors – he immediately spoke of how Felix Rosenqvist doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone, and how he has already proven he belongs in IndyCar (versus the rumored move that he may be driving for McLaren in Formula E next season).

Rahal didn’t need to do that. Rosenqvist drives for another team and is even a Chevy driver. That shows there was no business motivation to do that. Rahal was simply speaking from his heart on a matter he feels strongly about. We need more passionate drivers like him.

AJ Sighting: It was good to see 87 year-old AJ Foyt pit-side for this race north of the border. He doesn’t make all of the races and I was sort of surprised to see him make a a street race that requires international travel. I wish he had seen better results. The No. 11 of Tatiana Calderón is currently parked, awaiting payments from ROKiT. Dalton Kellett looked to have an engine problem on Lap 30, and Kyle Kirkwood got the worst of tangling with Jimmie Johnson on Lap 58. He probably wishes he had stayed at the ranch in Texas.

Drive of the Day: Graham Rahal or Will Power have been the recipients of this semi-fictitious award recently. Rahal advanced ten spots from fourteenth to fourth on Sunday, but Power had a forgettable day – starting sixteenth and finishing fifteenth.

Ironically, the Drive of the Day goes to the driver that was the center of so much controversy earlier in the week – Alex Palou. He missed significant practice time and qualified twenty-second, But he carved his way through the field on a tight circuit like a skilled surgeon on Sunday. The result was a very strong sixth-place finish, moving him from fourth to third in the championship standings and the all-important Oilpressure.com Drive of the Day.

All in All: I have never been to the Honda Indy Toronto, but it was good to see it back in full swing after a two year hiatus. The locals seemed to appreciate its return and were treated to some close racing in tight quarters.

It was also good to see Scott Dixon back in victory lane. Since he won his sixth championship in 2020, the wins have not been easy to come by for Dixon. He won one race in 2021 – the third race of that season at Texas, and not again until yesterday. Count me as one who would like to see Dixon win a seventh championship. He moved up to fifth in the standings with Sunday’s win, just forty-four points out of first with seven races to go. It could get interesting.

Next week, the series heads to Iowa for the Hy-Vee double-header weekend at Iowa Speedway. Things are sure to get very interesting there.

George Phillips

21 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Toronto”

  1. I thought the race was entertaining and kept my attention, perhaps it was the lack of commercials or my inability to channel surf using Peacock on Comcast. I did not miss Leigh Diffey yet didn’t think the commentators were at their best. Stir the pot pre race was silly
    Rahal post race was a class interview reserved and honest. The track itself needs a great deal of improvement prior to the next event.

    • Inside Overlap Says:

      Agree David,

      I too didn’t miss Leigh Diffey and only realized that after George mentioned it above, it was a nice break but also have to agree about the commentators not being at their best while repeatably trying to stir the up pot by using off-track drama and repeatedly inserting it in the commenting while we were watching a driver trying to make a pass; it was unnecessary.More technical and relevant racing commenting would be nicer.
      I also think the Rossi’s interview was awkward due to the questions asked about letting go of wheel than really asking properly about the attempted pass on him and how the corner was approached and if thought the pass happened after braking markers. We could have probably gotten a much better, more informed response from Rossi rather than a roll of the eyes response.

      I did enjoy watching this race, was impressed how hard they raced and how clean the racing was when considering what was mentioned by George, a very high concentration of drivers going very rapid on such a tight and narrow track compared to Mid-Ohio. I thought Grosjean was going to get shunted with his moves and style.

      I was impressed by Palou’s day, classic example of when one is served lemons, you make lemonade.

  2. jvolgarino Says:

    Taking in the HyVee race at Iowa Speedway with my wife who rarely pays any attention to racing of any sort. But my constant attention this past year or so with Indycar (thanks, George!) has her excited to experience this two day event here in God’s country. Oh…I’m excited as well. Keep it coming George!

  3. OliverW Says:

    I came away thinking that the overall level of driving in INDYCAR is impressive when one considers how few accidents and yellows we saw yesterday on an astonishingly narrow track.

    Idea. Maybe Sato just for the 500 or ovals in 2023?

    The aerial TV optics were dreadful. All freeways, massive rooftops and empty car parks. Somewhere a race was going on but the shots reminded one that the world passes us by. I thought it was negative broadcasting( just made that term up). Needs a new circuit layout I feel and wondered about the waterfront. We celebrate the tracks various surfaces which made the whole thing look like a bumper car event in a large car park.

    I thought Race Control were correct in the Rossi/ Rosenqvist coming together. Racing accident. If it had not been ( on such a narrow circuit ) then all drivers would be hobbled if trying to make a pass. FR came from a long way back but its racing and what we want. Rossi does seem to easily lose his grip on the wheel.

    Its a joke if Zac demotes him to FE next year. Signing four driver for three seats is p@ssing me off and I rather expect O’Ward. FR did indicate that all the drivers knew about Palou signing in a post race interview. Looking at the ARROW motorhome which dwarfed the pit lane I reckon a number of team owners will be feeling the heat form Zac’s actions. His pushing and adding new ideas and concepts is great if it is sustainable. Is the revenue there? Looking at the TV figures I would question if the series is yet sustainable and hope that Zac’c cheque book frenzy does not have negative knock on effect. Hope I am wrong.

    Massive win for Dixon. I want him to get a 7th title and then retire from driving and become a co owner with Chip. Succession planning. Ganassi – Dixon Racing.

    Enjoyable race.

    • OliverW Says:

      And wanted to say that Dave Burns is excellent and asks sensible questions not “ how are your emotions “ !

    • What drives me crazy is that the Ontario Place car parks could probably lend themselves some decent turns on a redone circuit like they’ve done in Miami, and with the hill on Lakeshore could mean you could build a few bleachers that could see more than 1 turn.

      https://goo.gl/maps/q3DoSz2pm7iPfnFP9

      Sadly the event just seems to run on inertia, and I just don’t think the political will/funding needed is there for a change

      • I totally agree rooftops, highways, concrete canyons, bad racing surfaces are all being celebrated for how terrible it is. Its not a place that Indycar drivers deserve to race at, if Indycar is behind from F1 only interms of budget, this race course looks like a demoliton derby with Jalopies on a saturday night. I dont understand how low Indycar can stoop before they can say this is terrible and the conditions need to be better. I used to hate Bernie Ecclestone’s grandstanding about demanding requirements for any of its races, while Indycar in this case is quiet without demanding the positive changes that this race definitely needs. Just becasue we need another race doesnt means we can tolerate terrible conditions.

  4. Scott Leong Says:

    I thought it was a good race as well. I don’t ever remember the pits being an issue in years past and of course was glad to see no incidents. I subscribed to Peacock solely to view the race and was impressed with the coverage. I have read mostly negative things about Peacock but experienced none.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Veteran drive by Dixon, capitalizing on a tight track, good pit work, and a field with a lot of guys light on experience in Toronto. Frankly, I’ve seen Dixon win so many times that I don’t feel the need to see him win anymore, and I often find it strange to see a modern star match or surpass an all-time great in the record books… but in this case it feels right that he has matched Mario Andretti’s career wins total. The eye test tells you that Dixon is one of the best to ever drive these cars, the record book should say the same.

    Good to see the Rahal team finally show some competent speed, which was there all weekend. Rahal’s racecraft remains in the series’ upper class and Lundgaard is improving, but Harvey’s nightmare season continues.

    • Except Mario was away racing in F1 for atleast two years that he didnt race in Indycar, so thats less years than Dixon. Also Dixon got atleast 5-10 easy wins when he and the team was driving as an IRL team with not the same strong driver pool at that time as many were in CART/Champcar during the transition, so its not the same

      • Late the the party here, and I imagine that George will be the only person to read this, but you can’t just say that Dixon has an advantage because of Mario’s couple years that he concentrated on F1, because Mario still had 30 years between his IndyCar debut in 1964 and his retirement in 1994. This absolutely dwarfs Dixon’s still impressive 21 year span from his debut in 2001 to today. The better metric would be in the total number of starts, of which Mario had 407 (the all time record holder) vs. Dixon’s 354 combined CART/ChampCar/IRL/IndyCar starts.

        • To also add, IRL fields were weak for a bit of time when Dixon was driving there (by 2003, so he was at least facing Penske and Andretti), but I’d say the USAC ones in the 70s that Mario regularly faced were a lot weaker.

          Dixon’s accomplishments are incredible.

          • Agreed, that strength of field ebbs and flows from year to year, and has all the way back to the start of the sport. The IndyCar fields of the last five or so years, though, I believe stack up with basically any era of IndyCar.

  6. Yannick Says:

    Just one question after watching the “Fast Forward” excerpts reel:
    How come Rosenqvist not got a drivethrough for this? He did bang Rossi out of the way.

  7. George I’m glad you mentioned the part about Rahal’s post race interview. That stood out to me as well. I thought what he said about Felix was great. Very happy for Dixon. I sadly don’t think history will remember him on the same level as A.J. and Mario because their success came in an era when motorsports, and IndyCar in particular, was far more mainstream popular. Nonetheless, what he’s accomplished the past 20 years is astounding. His name deserves to be in the same company as those two legends. I think it’s time for IndyCar to consider running more than one race north of the border. It’s always seemed to me from things I’ve read that IndyCar has a strong following in Canada. The turnout in Toronto yesterday would support that.

    • One more thing……add me to the list of Kevin Lee play-by-play fans. Nothing against Diffey, but Kevin just seems to elevate the entire booth.

    • OliverW Says:

      I think that Dixon’s legacy will hopefully mature like good wine. I hope so as he really deserves it. The issue is that while he is a great friendly sensible man Foyt and Andretti are the bigger characters.

  8. I liked the coverage on Peacock and although commercials were annoying, the breaks were pretty short. As in Long Beach, the quality of the “visuals” became blurred at time (even the stats bar on the left), which drove us crazy. When I contacted Peacock techs, they had me remove the app and add it fresh. That did nothing. I wonder if the street circuits are the problem. We haven’t had any issues with the other venues so far.

  9. “I do think that Kevin Lee has done as good or better job than Diffey in the handful of races he has called over the last several years.”

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