Friday, July 6, 2012

Go North, Young Man: Honda Indy Toronto Preview

After a week off, the IZOD IndyCar Series begins its Canadian tour. I'll be headed to Edmonton for the first time in two weeks, but for now, we have the Honda Indy Toronto, which has become one of the most unpredictable and entertaining of the street courses. This city has seen winners ranging from Bobby Rahal, to Michael Andretti's amazing 7 victories, to the more recent domination by Will Power and Dario Franchitti.

Whenever we come off of an oval stint back to road/street courses, it's interesting to see which drivers seem to sputter out, and which seem to continue without so much as missing

As we prepare to attempt to interpret ABC's coverage of what should be a fine race, here are some storylines to follow through the weekend:

Prepare For Yellow: Everyone is talking about Turn 3 this week, which has hosted some big pileups in recent IndyCar races. There’s no reason to expect anything different this go-round, so look for at least a couple of possible contenders to have their chances gutted early on. Hopefully, there will be many fewer yellow laps this year, but we'll see.

Basically, if we don’t end up with someone on Double Secret Probation after this weekend, I’ll be surprised.

Franchitti's Favorite?: On an INDYCAR conference call this week, Dario seemed very pleased to be heading back to Toronto. He should be, having won here in 1999, 2009, and 2011. Sitting 70 points behind Will Power in the standings with 6 races to go, a poor finish here could truly finish off his already-fading championship repeat hopes. Fortunately for Dario, this is a great track for him; if he's going to start a rally, this is a prime spot in which to do so.

Push to Pass: Yes, Push to Pass will be making its return this week. There's been sort of a confused, mixed reaction on the part of the fans---the racing has been largely exceptional this year, so while it's not much of an issue, it might not add much, either. We'll see if anything comes of it this week.

Stat of the Weekend: The driver with the current longest streak of races running at the finish? You might be surprised: it's Ed Carpenter, who's been running (somewhere) at the end of the last 10 events. Further, Carpenter is 2nd in the number of laps completed this year (1302 out of 1313), only 8 behind Helio Castroneves. Carpenter currently sits P19 in points overall.

Welcome To Hinchtown: James Hinchcliffe is in his native Ontario for this week's race, and is still a prime contender in this year's points battle. A victory in front of the fans at home would be big, and probably one of the biggest and most welcome victories from IndyCar's rising crop of driver talent. (Our other Canadian in the race, Alex Tagliani, has also shown some spirited drives this year, and if his team can finally catch a break this year, should bear watching as well).

This is a pretty good summary of half of the 2011 race.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
Mazda Road to Indy Update: Both Star Mazda and Firestone Indy Lights are in Toronto as well this week. Jack Hawksworth will try to take the Star Mazda Championship lead back from Connor De Phillippi, while CDP will attempt to show he can maintain the momentum from the oval races. Don't forget, Canadian prospect Stefan Rzadzinski is rejoining Star Mazda for the next two races, as well. 

Meanwhile, in what is quickly becoming a two-driver race in Firestone Indy Lights, rookie Tristan Vautier will attempt to stop Esteban Guerrieri’s momentum. Driver David Ostella has had a rough season, but will be driving this weekend in front of a home crowd. Also, this will mark Peter Dempsey's debut for his new team, Belardi Auto Racing. It'll be a pretty thin field this weekend, with the entry list at only 11 Lights car.

Livery Update: Don't forget, it's Sebastian Bourdais in the #7 TrueCar machine again this week, empowering women drivers everywhere (and don't think he can't win, either). Helio Castroneves will be in the now-familiar yellow Penske Truck Rental machine paint, and Ryan Hunter-Reay's DHL machine will be sporting a slightly different look. Marco Andretti's popular Dr. Pepper livery will be getting a workout this week, while Graham Rahal will have Midas on the side of his ride. Valspar will be the primary sponsor on Oriol Servia's #22 car this weekend.

Pole: Wile Prowl, which is an anagram for Will Power. We have to change it up somehow.

Winner: It’s awfully hard to pick against Power, isn’t it? I’m going to. Time for Ryan Hunter-Reay to prove he can make a championship run.

Dark Horse: While I’d love to see Hinch or Tag take the checkered flag for the home country, Simon Pagenaud is an intriguing pick, and a driver that seems immune to poor results from engine penalties. You get the idea victory isn’t far off for Schmidt Hamilton Racing.

Have a tremendous weekend, and enjoy one of the best street courses on the schedule. Oh, and if you missed my interview with Simona de Silvestro over on INDYCAR Nation this week, make sure to check it out. As for me, I've got my all-Rush playlist at the ready, this clip queued on YouTube, and an appreciation for whatever surprises this race can throw at us.

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