IndyCar’s annual trip north of the border for the Honda Indy Toronto is always highly anticipated by teams, drivers and fans and this year’s “2inT.O.” race weekend had a buzz the like I have not seen for many years.
When former IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard announced last year that the series would host three “doubleheader” race weekends’s in 2013, Honda Indy promoters Green Savoree made it very clear that they wanted this format for Toronto, smart move that.
The doubleheader race weekend gave the Toronto organizers a new feature to market and promote and they did this extremely well, getting the message out in all forms of media under the tagline “2inT.O.” which seemed to take on a life of its own, especially through social media.
Added to the Saturday and Sunday race weekend format were extra grandstands and seating and new sponsors including WIND mobile, “RUSH” movie promoters, Porter Airlines and the Hyatt Regency Toronto.
I have said before that both IndyCar and Toronto race organizers needed to do more to get drivers involved in the build-up promotion of the race and thankfully that happened this year and it must continue.
Rising local star and multiple race winner this year James Hincliffe of course is a media and fan favourite and occupies one of the highest profile seats in IndyCar, the #27 Go Daddy sponsored car for Andretti Autosports. Hinch seemed to be everywhere leading-up to the race weekend promoting the race but so where several other drivers, including teammate and reigning IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.
More unique features that helped make this year’s race even more popular. The inclusion of several festivals, a Formula 1 style standing start for Saturday’s race 1 and support events such as the Pirelli World Challenge and Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks series quickly proved a hit with fans.
As I mentioned, the weekend schedule called for IndyCar’s first ever standing start race on Saturday with Sunday’s race two to feature IndyCar’s traditional rolling start. Well, the standing start for race one went balls-up due to a combination of a technical malfunction with the starting light system and the fact that Josef Newgarden, lined-up in 19th on the grid stalled his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda. This led race control to abort the standing start and move to a rolling start format for the race which did not go down well with many fans.
Indeed, in the Turn 3 stands where myself and photographer friend David Melo had decided to park ourselves for both races, the crowd made their feelings felt by loudly booing. Credit then to IndyCar officials who announced after the race that the standing start format would now be implemented for Sunday’s race two. Amusingly, race commentators on Sunday picked-up on the turn 3 crowd booing Saturday’s aborted standing start and speculated that this reaction may have gone some way in ensuring that officials brought back the standing start for Sunday?
Another significant move that helped this year’s race was Randy Bernard’s decision to switch IndyCar race coverage this year from broadcasters TSN to Sportsnet and bring-in a dedicated commentary team that included former Canadian IndyCar champion and hometown favourite Paul Tracy.
Sportsnet even had a (NASCAR style) live open-air race commentary booth on-site where fans could watch the broadcast team in action and even organized an autograph session for fans with Paul Tracy, this combination proving another homerun.
Walking around the facility during the weekend it was great to see a vastly improved layout, general admission areas and TV monitors. Also good to see was a food vendor area that finally included a seating area which was always packed and I’m sure greatly appreciated by the fans.
Surprisingly, the indoor vendor market was missing this year. With scorching hot weather during the weekend, sometimes folk like to cool off inside one of the exhibition buildings, the traditional indoor vendor market always a popular place to visit. Many fans were disappointed therefore to find that the market was gone this year which seemed to leave a hangar like vacant space inside.
This seemed like a missed opportunity for organizers and vendors, hopefully the market can return next year. Talking of missing vendors, one of the cities few and arguably best IndyCar merchants, “Toronto Motorsports”, was not on-site this year.
You would be hard pressed to find a more enthusiastic and knowledgeable IndyCar supporter than owner Derrick Kostka who also holds exclusive merchandise for Canadian IndyCar stars James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani. I can only hope that the Honda Indy Toronto can find a way to see that this great store can return next year as their booth always appears popular with fans looking for the latest diecast, t-shirt etc for their hometown drivers.
Local newspaper the Toronto Sun hosted their Miss Indy pageant which is always popular with many but how about a Mr. Indy contest to even things-up? I would also like to see the return of fan forums where teams and drivers can host Q&A sessions and IndyCar technical seminars to better understand the cars and series.
The traditional “Thunder Alley” area seemed a shadow of its former self with more vendors and activities needed. Bring back the popular temporary beach volleyball competitions, who doesn’t like to see athletic buff bodies of both sexes in action and maybe also add a weekend “music festival” to bring-in the late teens and twenty-something’s and showcase local bands and performers.
A special mention should also go out to the Honda Indy PR team. Torchia Communications do a fantastic job in keeping us media up to speed with all the latest news and events taking place, President Daniel Torchia’s attention to detail second to none and Kathleen Stelmach as hard working and patient a press officer that you could find.
Overall then I came away from this year’s Honda Indy Toronto optimistic that the event is showing signs of a return to it’s former glory days back in the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s. Much work still needs to be done but the doubleheader format should stay. I’m in two minds about the race standing start format though. On the one hand this certainly proved popular with many fans, drivers had mixed emotions, several felt that this went against IndyCar tradition. Ultimately though, if the fans like and want to see this more often then that’s what should happen.
If you have never been to an IndyCar race and have been thinking of going, the Honda Indy Toronto should certainly be right at the top of your list. Toronto is a beautiful and cosmopolitan city with a lot to see and do and the Honda Indy Toronto one of IndyCar’s most popular and spectacular races. To find out more, visit the Tourism Toronto website, http://www.seetorontonow.com/ and the Honda Indy Toronto website, http://www.hondaindytoronto.com/.
Congratulations then to Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Scott Dixon and Honda who owned this weekend here in Toronto and are now seriously back in the IndyCar championship hunt and likely giving current points leader, Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Chevrolet sleepless nights. More so when you consider that the next IndyCar race is at Mid-Ohio, a track where the popular Brazilian will be hard pressed to keep his Kiwi rival at bay on a circuit where he traditionally dominates. The 2013 IndyCar championship is really starting to get interesting! By James Foreman
Video highlights from Saturday’s Race 1 can be seen here, http://youtu.be/r7BIMBMme6k
Video highlights from Sunday’s Race 2 can be seen here, http://youtu.be/0AdypYiFkX4