The 800-pound gorilla in the room this weekend at the Honda Indy Toronto was the future of the race’s event date next year, as the Pan-Am Games come in August 2015 and would require INDYCAR to shift its date forward from July.
Honda Indy Toronto President/GM Charlie Johnstone hinted to MotorSportsTalk over the weekend that a deal was close for IndyCar to return next year, but couldn’t be pressed on a date itself.
But here’s where things get interesting. A report from The Globe & Mail’s Jeff Pappone said the Toronto weekend, per a source with knowledge of an early 2015 IndyCar schedule, could move to early June. That would put it near or perhaps on the same weekend as the Canadian Grand Prix, the country’s marquee motorsports event at Montreal. The Toronto race also has to renew its deal with the city.
The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship raced at nearby Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in mid-July this year, and the investment made by the new ownership group of Ron Fellows, Carlo Fidani and Al Boughton has seen the Bowmanville track upgrade its facilities, paddock, media center and atmosphere. Promotion has also increased, with several events.
A CTMP race would solve several problems for IndyCar. For one, it’s a natural terrain, permanent road course – something that only appears on the schedule three times all this year (while the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course exists, it’s an infield one, and not set up purely as a road course).
Secondly, it could enhance the track’s bottom line. While the TUDOR Championship seeks to be a marquee series, an IndyCar event has the potential to see an increase in ticket and merchandise sales. Camping could occur, something that isn’t an option at Exhibition Place. The track’s openness could allow for INDYCAR-type facilities like the Fan Village, which was not in Toronto this year, to be brought in. The potential downside is the track would need to pay INDYCAR’s sanctioning fee, and there’d be the cost of potential infrastructure/safety upgrades at some areas of the track.
But where there’s a potentially thorny conflict would be with IMSA itself, assuming it returns to CTMP next year (given most new IMSA dates are multiyear contracts, there’s every reason to expect it will). IMSA has stated that as it plans to grow the TUDOR Championship, it seeks to be the lead event on race weekends; with no disrespect, an IndyCar race on the same weekend likely would see it as the headliner and the TUDOR Championship secondary.
It’s the same problem that currently exists at Road America here in Elkhart Lake, Wis., another pristine road course that doubles as a natural park. Seemingly everyone and their dog wants it to come back for IndyCar, but until a sponsor pays for it and the sanctioning fee amount comes down, it’s not going to happen. Every year around this time is the same song and dance about wanting it back, but it will remain an eternal pipe dream until everyone gets on the same page.
Where TUDOR has opted to take the undercard has been at the Long Beach and Detroit street races, because it would have no other way of getting onto the schedule given the streets are only shut down once annually.
If CTMP could make the numbers work to where a separate IndyCar weekend could occur, with the usual additions of the Mazda Road to Indy and/or the Pirelli World Challenge (PWC raced a Touring Car event in May at CTMP this weekend and GT has been there before), then a late July date would be possible. It’s doubtful IndyCar and TUDOR would race on the same weekend at CTMP.
But man almighty, the prospect of open-wheel back at a legendary road course is mouth-watering. Like Road America however, it may only be a dream.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.