TorontoAnalysis

IndyCar: Toronto weekend analysis, musings and observations

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TORONTO – I previously hadn’t been to Toronto a year ago – much less Canada – so last year was always going to be a “wow!” wide-eyed first experience north of the border. This year, for the Honda Indy Toronto weekend, I could take in the weekend with a closer eye knowing what the weekend was like and what to expect.

A few thoughts on the races, the event and the city to follow:

  • Parity reigns. Sebastien Bourdais and Mike Conway won for KVSH Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing, meaning the six doubleheader races this year have been won by five different teams. Team Penske swept Detroit; Dale Coyne Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports scored in Houston. All told this season, we’ve had nine race winners (all of whom have come in the last nine races), 18 different podium finishers and 21 different drivers who’ve banked a top-five finish (sorry, Sebastian Saavedra).
  • Rain reigns. This weekend was not the first occasion of rain wreaking havoc on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule this season. St. Petersburg, Barber, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Houston and Iowa have all had rain interruptions at some point during the weekend. But while Houston’s rain came in Race 1, and didn’t cause a schedule change, the spitting rain here on Saturday caused a bit of a nightmare for INDYCAR and the fans on site. And, as at least one PR person told me this weekend, I’d regained the unofficial “blame me” championship belt due to the preponderance of rain at races I’ve attended… (all but Iowa in that six-pack).
  • Maybe it was Rob Ford’s fault? The weekend was going smoothly in Toronto… then embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford showed up and Saturday then went into a rainy, drunken stupor that needed to come out of rehab. But he took a pace car ride with Paul Tracy, so that was interesting. Doubt any teams will have the gumption to blame Ford for their crappy on-track weekend, as Magnus Racing so brilliantly did last week.
  • Mikhail Aleshin is one lucky Russian. No need to say anything else about the JPM/Aleshin contretemps in race two other than Aleshin’s seriously lucky, because he said he couldn’t even breathe properly due to JPM’s car being on top of him. Open-wheel cars have always been open cockpit, but at the end of this year I think INDYCAR needs to at least begin to ponder the possibility of further enhanced cockpit protection.
  • Not racing Saturday was probably the right call. I feel for INDYCAR regarding its call to ultimately not race on Saturday, because really, they were damned if they did, damned if they didn’t. You don’t want 12-plus totaled cars and more work for the crews overnight. Then again, the crews were left in the situation Sunday where if their car was damaged in the rescheduled race one, there’d barely be any time to fix in the three-plus hour window before race two. Hearing the drivers say publicly too, save for rookies Jack Hawksworth and Mikhail Aleshin, that the conditions were too unsafe to race was all I needed to hear. The last time there was vocal dissent about the safety of a race before it happened was Las Vegas 2011… and we all remember how that went.
  • But as a result, better contingency plans and communication were needed. What did need fixing more than anything was the communication of how to proceed once the rain happened and delayed the process. For one, starting so late on Saturday (3:50 p.m.) limits options to get a first, full race in that day. Once it got to 6, 6:30, it was all for naught. There were communication issues regarding which channel the rescheduled race one would be on; there was back-room petitioning by the six other support series (frankly, too many for the weekend) to try to get better timeslots themselves, and a further schedule change to see the reduced races dropped from 85 laps to 75, then 75 to 65 laps or 80 minutes. In theory, it should go that when a revised schedule is announced, that’s the revised schedule. When you stick around in the media center until 8:30 p.m. and it changes 10 minutes later after you’ve left, when you find out via Twitter, you can only imagine the frustration. Here was the track’s official statement and how it planned to honor Saturday tickets.
  • Red, red, red. I could elaborate on the frequency of red flags this weekend, but I’ll refer you instead to this rather spot-on blog entry from Mark Wilkinson of NewTrackRecord that sums it up nicely.
  • On Derrick Walker’s impromptu media conference. Hiring Derrick Walker is one of INDYCAR’s smartest hires in recent memory. That said, you have to know what you’re getting yourself into with Walker, and one of his trademarks is his tendency to speak off the cuff. So when he waltzed into the media center around 8 p.m., without a formal introduction, what followed was the racing equivalent of Hungry, Hungry Hippos – in this case, Hungry, Hungry Journos who’d barely eaten all day but wanted some meat from Walker on why the day had shaken out as it had (some pepperoni pizza could have worked, as well). Say what you will about IMSA’s indiscretions and controversy this year regarding penalties, but at least when Scot Elkins appeared at Daytona and Sebring, there was a formal introduction, a formal statement, then an open Q&A. As an aside, one of the funnier moments of the weekend for yours truly came when I was running back into the media center before race two, held the door open for Walker as he headed to Race Control, and he joked, “Despite what people say about you, you’re not such a bad kid.” One of my colleagues started laughing after watching the exchange.
  • “The element of surprise.” I had no problem with Will Power answering my question regarding the call to throw the final red flag in race two this way: “That’s what’s good for the fans, the ultimate surprise, you don’t know what’s going to happen.” Some took that to mean that INDYCAR didn’t know what it was doing, or changed things on the fly. But Power was introspective; the Australian noted that while he was surprised he’d been moved to the back of the grid following his race one spin and crew repair, he was grateful to even be in the race on Sunday rather than laps down on Saturday. More than his two wins and other podiums this year, it may be that ninth place in race one bags him enough points to capture that elusive first series championship.
  • Podium selfies! This, from Power, was also cool. More please. Shows these guys have personality and is done for the fans.
  • Detroit vs. Toronto as a race? I’d rather take Detroit. Despite what the “Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video, Take 2” video will tell you – at least we’re not Detroit! – I actually wish Toronto was Detroit. Because the event itself has a long ways to go to match the professionalism, ease of access and overall presentation that Roger Penske, Bud Denker and the entire Detroit Grand Prix organization have assembled just a bit south of T.O. Toronto is one of the hardest races in terms of getting anywhere around the premises – construction doesn’t help (like in Cleveland!) – the fans get shafted with no INDYCAR Fan Village, there’s minimal souvenir offerings, and the vendors on site have no apparent flow or reasoning. Canadian fans are smart, diehard, passionate individuals – they deserve better than what they’re getting now. As a city, Toronto wins hands down, but as an event, it could afford to take some lessons from how Detroit has put things on over the last few years.

Anyway, that in the books, it’s off to Mid-Ohio from August 1-3 following a much-needed off weekend for the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock.

Alonso targeting ‘decent points’ in Monaco from P9 on grid

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso believes that “decent points” are within his reach in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix from ninth place on the grid.

Alonso reached Q3 for just the second time this season in Monaco, qualifying 10th overall for McLaren.

The Spaniard will gain a position for the start of the race by virtue of Kimi Raikkonen’s grid penalty, giving him a good chance to add to the points he scored in Russia earlier this month.

“We had a little bit of stress with the red-flag stoppage in Q1: we only had six minutes left and I hadn’t set a time,” Alonso explained.

“Our main goal today was to get into Q3, but I still don’t really feel confident with the car – I didn’t have a perfect feeling with it, and I wasn’t therefore confident enough to really attack the corners.

“Our predictions ahead of this weekend were maybe a little over-optimistic, but let’s see what happens tomorrow.

“We’ll need some rain, snow or whatever to give the race a little bit of action – the start will dictate the complexion of the race, but hopefully the weather will make the show more exciting.

“It would be great to come out of the weekend with some decent points.”

Teammate Jenson Button was unable to make it through to the final stage of qualifying, finishing 13th in Q2 in the second McLaren MP4-31 car.

“My lap in Q1 felt okay, then the balance went away from me as the circuit gripped up,” Button explained.

“On my final run in Q2 I had front-locking into Turn 3, locked the front-left and overheated the tire, which meant I lost front-end grip after that.

“Still, this is Monaco, and anything can happen. The first corner is usually eventful; then, after that, it’s about sitting behind the guy in front.

“You can try and dive down the inside of another car into Turn 10, but that’s a no-go for us because we’re too far back by the time we get to that part of the track.

“So, as I say, I’ll be hoping for rain tomorrow.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

VIDEO: Ride onboard with Ricciardo on his Monaco pole lap

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Daniel Ricciardo’s charge to pole position in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix came as a surprise to many in the Formula 1 paddock as Mercedes’ streak of pole positions came to an end.

It was just the third time since the start of the V6 turbo era – 44 races ago – that either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg did not claim pole position, and arguably just the second where Mercedes had been simply outpaced.

Ricciardo enjoyed an edge during practice before producing a stunning lap of 1:13.622 in Q3 to score his first pole position in F1.

In the video above, you can ride onboard with Ricciardo as he tames the fearsome Monaco street circuit, overcoming one of the biggest challenges in racing.

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

Verstappen to start from back row in Monaco after qualifying crash

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Two weeks on from his shock maiden Formula 1 victory in the Spain, Max Verstappen came back down to earth with a bump in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix after a crash resigned him to the back row of the grid.

Verstappen clipped the inside of the wall at the Swimming Pool chicane, breaking his front axle and sending him straight into the barrier at the exit of the corner.

The Dutchman walked away from the incident unharmed, but having not set a time in the session, he was classified in 21st place.

Speaking to NBCSN after the session, Verstappen admitted that the crash was down to driver error despite not pushing as hard as he could have.

“I was was not pushing to the limit,” Verstappen said.

“I just turned in too early. If you’re pushing to limit, normally you would go off track or miss the corner. I just in turned early.”

Wet weather is forecast for Sunday’s race, but Verstappen still feels that it will be difficult for him to salvage anything from the weekend after this error.

“Hopefully it will help a bit, but obviously on this track it will be very difficult to overtake.”

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo stormed to his first F1 pole in qualifying, leaving the team with two very different races to manage on Sunday.

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am.

Hamilton escapes engine scare to qualify third for Monaco GP

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Lewis Hamilton escaped an engine scare early in Q3 to qualify third for Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Hamilton arrived in Monaco hopeful of kick-starting his championship bid and ending his poor run of form in the principality, having won there just once in Formula 1.

The Briton appeared to be in the fight for pole heading into the final stage of qualifying, only to report a loss of power on his Mercedes car in the pit lane.

While the rest of the drivers streamed out onto the track, Hamilton was wheeled back to his garage so the team could set to work on fixing the issue.

Mercedes confirmed to the media that Hamilton had suffered a fuel pressure issue that prompted the team to stop his car in the pit lane. Teammate Nico Rosberg had a similar problem that delayed his first run in Q3.

Hamilton made his one flying lap count to finish third in Q3 behind pole-sitter Daniel Ricciardo and Rosberg, but felt pole was for the taking had it not been for the issue.

“It was a difficult qualifying, I don’t really know what to say at the moment,” Hamilton said.

“The good thing is that I did get out to do a lap at least, it wasn’t as bad as some races have been in that respect with the engine problems.

“I’m grateful to be up in third. Pole was there for the taking I think, but nevertheless I’ll do what I can in the race to salvage what I can from today’s result.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.