Observations from IndyCar at Toronto

I was off from work this weekend and was able to enjoy watching the qualifying and both races on NBC Sports Network and listen to and track other sessions via IndyCar’s website.  In no particular order, here are some of my observations from the weekend.  The IndyCar races at Toronto encapsulate the current state of the IndyCar series.  Without a doubt, there was some great racing this weekend, especially in Saturday’s race.  The on-track activity was competitive and fun to watch.  It’s important to give a lot of credit to everyone involved in putting on the race as well as all of the fans who attended the race; despite severe weather and flooding earlier in the week everything seemed to go off well and it looked to be one of the best attended Toronto races in a some years.  There were times during the weekend, however, that showed that IndyCar still has a lot of room for improvement, particularly in the areas of officiating and communication.

  1. I like the doubleheader weekends.  While it isn’t something that the series should do every race, it is something they should definitely do a few times throughout each season.  I question the claims of them being too much on drivers and teams; a doubleheader IndyCar weekend seems analogous to a sports car 6/10/12/24 Hour race weekend.  Doubleheaders seem perfectly suited to street courses that are right in the middle of a population center, they offer multiple opportunities for the fans to come out and enjoy IndyCar.
  2. Scott Dixon will be remembered as one of IndyCar’s greats.  He may not have the flash and personality that some want from their drivers, but his racing does the talking for him.  Dario Franchitti may have more championships and more Indianapolis 500 victories but the last season and a half has shown me that Dixon is the more versatile and perhaps the better racer.  He has definitely adjusted to the new cars better than his teammate has.  Like Alonso has done the last few seasons with Ferrari, Dixon has risen above a car slower than his top competitors to carried it to finishes that have kept him in the championship hunt.  Now that Ganassi seems to have regained their footing, Dixon has to be considered a favorite in the season championship.
  3. The blocking call on Franchitti and subsequent review/recension didn’t bother me much.  A definite double move was visible from Power’s in car camera so the initial call to penalize Franchitti for blocking at the end of Saturday’s race didn’t come as a surprise to me.  What I do question is that while they were reviewing the situation they should have delayed the podium ceremony a few minutes until they sorted out the finishing order.  On the other hand, Derrick Walker did the right thing in reviewing the call, looking at all of the available information then rescinding the penalty.  It may not have been a popular decision but if the majority of the evidence indicated no penalty was warranted it was the right thing to do.
  4. Changing the track limits rule regarding turns 5 and 9 after Saturday’s race had already started did bother me.  The rule stated that the drivers could only place 2 wheels over the curbs in turns 5 and 9 and in the opening laps, several drivers were warned for placing all 4 wheels over the curbs.  A few laps later, it was then announced that the rule wasn’t going to be enforced after all.  The rules should remain throughout the race as they did when the green flag fell.   This was the seed of my remark on Twitter Sunday afternoon about the IndyCar rule book being written with a #2 pencil.
  5. The Pirelli World Challenge GT/GTS race on Sunday proved that Saturday’s IndyCar standing start could have been better planned.  The planning of Saturday’s standing start didn’t seem to be up to the hype that was generated for it and fans were understandably disappointed.  The officials reworked the plans overnight and Sunday’s standing start went off well, but they really should have already had it together for Saturday morning, there are plenty of other series that use standing starts that they could have used as an example for their procedures.
  6. I saw several opinions after Sunday’s standing start that they should be instituted on street circuits with rolling retained for road courses due to street circuits often not having the room to have the entire field line up properly for the start.  That is an excellent idea and one that I hope IndyCar explores for next season.  This weekend proved that the cars and drivers can handle it and standing starts might actually be a better way to start the street course races.
  7. IndyCar MUST communicate with their media partners and fans better.  The call on Franchitti’s tire change at the beginning of Sunday’s race is a perfect example.  Apparently the series modified the rule mandating two green flag laps on the option tires for the doubleheader weekends but the TV crew, media members, and the hard core fans didn’t seem to know about it.  It led to confusion and reactions that didn’t have to happen.  Clearly communicating the change/modification would have prevented it.
  8. The live timing and scoring on IndyCar’s website needs to show the number of pit stops a car has had.  Overall, the timing and scoring has been working well, and I like how they’ve recently been overlaying the track map and “pac men” over aerial photography of the track.  With street circuits in particular, it helps with my “situational awareness” of who’s where and what’s around.  One piece of constructive criticism though – they need to add a column listing the number of pit stops a car has made.  That would make it much easier to keep up with pit strategy and where a car is in relation to the rest of the field.
  9. The TV coverage from NBC Sports Network was wonderful.  The addition of Steve Matchett from their F1 team was a good call.  I know there were complaints about him comparing/contrasting IndyCar with F1 but I thought they were good observations.  It was very much like having Jon Beekhuis back in the booth because there was more emphasis on the technical and strategic aspects of the racing.  My only complaint would be the way that they covered Sunday’s successful standing start; cutting through multiple camera angles of the start rather than following it from one camera meant we didn’t get to see how the start went until the replays.
  10. I also have a piece of constructive criticism regarding the broadcast; Bell and Matchett might very well have been wearing lap belts when they filmed the lap of the track but it gave the perception that they weren’t restrained.  It would have been more responsible for all concerned to have worn the shoulder belts, 5 point harness, or whatever was available (I’m sure the car didn’t have just lap belts).  There are still a lot of injuries on our roads that have their roots in failure to wear a seat belt, TV personalities setting the right example may not have a large impact, but even if it influences just one person to wear them it’s worth it.  Perhaps my line of work caused me to notice it and it didn’t bother a lot of others but I felt compelled to mention it in this post.

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