I need to begin with a note regarding my cabbie from Saturday evening. This guy was awesome. English was not his first language, but he engaged me in a heady theological discussion regarding the origin of the Rocky Mountains, and then discussed Reggie Miller to some length. When he was done, he gave me two souvenir Canada spoons to remember him by. I will never forget him, basically.
There was an Edmonton Indy party Saturday night I was going to go to, but as it turned out, I completely crashed out sometime around 8 or 8:30 pm and didn't wake up until 3 in the morning! I blame the Sutton Place Hotel for being entirely too comfortable. That, or I handle even minor jet lag amazingly poorly. Let's go with the former.
Sunday, I once again arrived at the track pretty early, as I didn't want to miss the second Star Mazda race of the weekend. The weather was perfect, Ryan Hunter-Reay's face took up the front page of the Edmonton Sun, and everything seemed ripe for some great racing.
I will mention at the point that although I moved around the track to scope out a few different angles, my main seat was in the pit lane suite. Now, I have always prided myself on being a doughty J-Stander at Indy, sitting on the aluminum, pressed between sober race fans, drunken outgrown frat boys, men attending their 57th 500 while grousing about how Lloyd Ruby would lap everyone here 47 times, and at least a half dozen former roadies for ZZ Top. While , I'm no pampered suite-dweller. I know how to survive--nay, thrive!--in 100+ degree heat indexes every Memorial Day Weekend.
With that said, sitting in a suite is AWESOME. I have never had the privilege of eating steak while watching an IndyCar race in person until now, and I think it changes a man. Next up, I'll be clamoring to sit someone for Indy in the shade.
In any case, the Star Mazda race did not disappoint. It was rough to see Connor De Phillippi taken out early, but Jack Hawksworth held off a last-gasp charge by Sage Karam to win the day, and in all likelihood, probably a scholarship to Indy Lights next year. Nothing's certain, but you get the sense he won't make many mistakes.
Perhaps the two most impressive Star Mazda drives of the day were courtesy of the two gentlemen starting in the back of the pack. Petri Suvanto finished an inspired P4 after starting dead last, and Edmonton native Stefan Rzadzinski finished P6 after starting just in front of Suvanto. Rzadzinski pulled off a last-minute pass of two cars through Turn 12 that has to be seen to be believed. I'm hoping there's some video up of it soon, because it was nothing short of tremendous.
I decided to walk around for a bit while the NASCAR Canadian Tires Series was on track, as that's not precisely my cup of tea. It was great to see merchanidse booths for guys like James Hinchcliffe and Rzadzinski, and companies from Target to Coleman (the camping people) were represented. Again, it would be really nice for INDYCAR to figure out a way to support this race with the Fan Zone we get at North American venues. I understand the sponsor concerns, but you've got to have that way of pulling in the young and new fans. Hopefully, a new level of support will be in place for 2013--which seems reasonably assured of happening, by the way.
Getting back to my seat before the IZOD IndyCar Series race, the stands I could see had filled up quickly. (Apparently, the stands were a sellout, but I have no idea on actual attendance). The crowd gave big cheers for James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani during the intros--you could tell the pro-Canada vibe was in full swing.
You likely know how the race went; Tag grabbed the lead early from Dario and held it for over half the race, but Helio Castroneves got past him as Tag's alternate tires did him in. Takuma Sato gave it everything he had, but just didn't have enough to get past Helio. Will Power charged forward for a podium, and Ryan Hunter-Reay did enough to stay in the overall points lead. This all happened--that's right--without a single caution flag.
I have never been to a race without a caution flag. What was it like on the ground? Intense. There's no respite, no breather. The race goes amazingly fast, and there's no "down" lap where you can grab nachos and visit the Port-O-John. You are locked in. I wouldn't mind a few more of these.
There seemed to be always passing somewhere on the track (and the excellent track visibility meant you caught most of them), but honestly, the green flag racing created its own kind of suspense. This was an amazingly strong Top 10 (or Top 13 or so), and there simply wasn't any give in any of the drivers. Every pass felt well-earned, and there was never the feel someone simply didn't belong. These were true peers, masters of their trade, giving as good as they got through 75 laps. A race and fight like that is one of the best illustrations available of the talent level in IndyCar this season.
A couple of items for potential improvement: the way out for most fans crossed pit lane, and after the race, the walkway was closed so cars could head back to the paddock. A big, irate crowd formed, and it was about 10 minutes before they let folks through. This backlog was also apparent at the taxi stand, where the pickup point was ignored and an "every man for himself" battle broke out. One very angry, very drunk man wearing a Danica shirt (the only one seen all weekend) kicked the taxi stand sign, broke it, kicked it again after a woman stood it back up, and tried to assault one of the cabbies through the passenger window for picking someone up from a spot before the taxi stand. From what the police told me, they'd had some big issues with the cabbies not obeying instructions
I took a stroll Sunday evening in the area around my hotel. Race Week Edmonton is also involved with a music festival, so there plenty of folks out listening to music around the promenade, kids playing in the fountain in front of Edmonton's distinctive pyramid-topped City Hall, and just really enjoying life. It was a nice end to a great day of racing.
Will I be back? I'd like to think so, but who knows? Whatever 2013 holds, there's a group of dedicated fans in Edmonton that put on a great race, supported their local guys, got the government and local businesses to buy into it as a major event, and are working to find ways to continually improve the experience. It would be very hard NOT to like the folks behind Edmonton Indy, in fact, and even harder not to appreciate what they've done with what they have. If you're a race fan, you've got kindred spirits at work here in Alberta.