Sunday, July 8, 2012

Journey at the 2012 Honda Indy on Friday

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/1 Racing Mind

The Honda Indy has always been like an early birthday present to myself. Having a love for automobiles throughout my life, I naturally became attached to this Canadian event. Writing as a member of media (though the organizers of the race could not fit me into accredited media this year despite a previous year approval), it is my deepest desire to share what makes the automobile great and bring emphasis to those who are embedded with the dedication to
delight us with the zenith of four wheels.

Prepping for my Friday visit to the 2012 Honda Indy, I anticipated the humidity and heat weather forecasters have warned about days prior. Indeed, it was a sensationally warm summer day at the Toronto waterfront area on the CNE Grounds. Taking temperature measurement at the track throughout the day, I recorded over 36 degrees Celsius during afternoon on the grounds.

Despite the harshly hot weather, the Free Friday crowd was possibly the largest I have witnessed through the past four years. There was no real clear-cut demographic of spectators at this auto racing event assembling four types of racing with involvement from competitors throughout the world. With me included as part of the excitement on Friday, the Honda Indy for 2012 kicked off for the 25th weekend.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/1 Racing Mind

I arrived to the sound of the Firestone Indy Lights Series were being clocked on the 1.755-mile (2.824 kilometer temporary street course during an early morning practice. Not even 10 am, the race course and surrounding area was already cooking with temperatures in the high 20s in the Celsius range. While threatening force, the hot weather and humidity was feeble in preventing any obstructions to the action at the Honda Indy. The loud sound of V-8 engines powering the Firestone Indy Lights Series vehicles were proof of that fact. Along with the IZOD INDYCAR Series that represents the top class of racing at the 2012 Honda Indy, the Firestone Indy Lights, Star Mazda and Ferrari Challenge shared the temporary circuit.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/1 Racing Mind

It wasn't long after arriving at the Honda Indy event that I saw one of the superstars of the IZOD INDYCAR Series. Giving an interview with a radio station on-site, James Hinchcliffe (evidently the most popular man for the weekend in Toronto) would leave on his scooter with about a dozen spectators quickly gathering to catch a glimpse of the Canadian driver. The scene was probably the smallest collection of fans James Hinchcliffe would see through the weekend. Transportation between the track and paddock area would have many observers quickly spotting the bright green driving suit of Hinchcliffe. Between fans and media, I think the only chance the Toronto native has a chance to relax is in his #27 Andretti Autosport car. When the first practice session was red-flagged later in the morning, Hinchcliffe remained in his racecar under the cover of a black umbrella.

James Hinchcliffe is seen as the top Canadian content at this Honda Indy with Paul Tracy failing to make the Toronto race for the first time since 1987. Alex Tagliani was perhaps overlooked as he assembled into the race course for his 12th time in his career. In both practice sessions, the 39-year old French-Canadian driver of the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport was actually superior to James Hinchcliffe and his #27 Andretti Autosport car on-track.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/1 Racing Mind

After witnessing part of the Firestone Indy Lights activities, I migrated into the IZOD INDYCAR paddock. Team members were putting the finishing touches on the new Dallara race cars that were set to run their first laps on the Toronto streets. For the first time since the Champ car series ruled as the Toronto race headliner, turbocharged engines delivered momentum to open wheel race cars of the top motorsport class. Chevrolet, Honda and a recently refined Lotus engine set out to post opening laps at the 2012 Honda Indy.

The first practice would be brought to a halt early by a scary pit road incident. A collision between a malfunctioning #18 Dale Coyne Racing car of Justin Wilson and the #7 Dragon Racing vehicle piloted by Sebastien Bourdais resulted in several crew members being hurt. Involving four crew members total, two were taken by ambulance off-site to St Michael Hospital. Fortunately, there were no life-threatening injuries sustained to the 3 Dragon Racing crew members or the Dale Coyne Racing individual.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/1 Racing Mind

The first practice restarted after almost 25 minutes, the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team would end up posting the fast times of the session with Dario Franchitti leading Scott Dixon. Powered by Honda engines, the title sponsor of the event should have also been pleased to see the #77 entry of Simon Pagenaud allowing for brand to claim top-three honours in the opening track time.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/1 Racing Mind

Several years of attendance at the Honda Indy track has given me some knowledge for the best places to scope out the off-track activities and the action on the track. The biggest challenge this year was grabbing quality photographs and HD video through the large crowds who desire the same level of closeness to the cars and stars.

The Ferrari Challenge F458 Italia race cars would streak around the race course during the noontime while many spectators sought food and drink from the vast number of vendors. Pizza Pizza (at the event ever since I attended my Toronto race in 1998) was one of several food options that included those who sold burgers, sausage, ice cream, iced tea and beer. I'm not sure if I'm the only person, but I find in very hot weather I have absolutely no appetite despite how tasty the foods must have been at the event. While I had some ice cream later in the afternoon, during the mid-day my focus was finding somewhere cooler. Obviously, from what I found out, I wasn't the only one. I had a new Brita water bottle with me for the entire event that I carried throughout the day that probably assured I wasn't acting completely without self-regard as I motioned around the race track during the today.

The Star Mazda Series, one of the first steps of progression up the ladder to the IZOD INDYCAR Series, set out on the Toronto street course for a second time just after 1pm. Three Canadian were competing for the Honda Indy event with the racing tour powered by Mazda rotary engines. Stefan Rzadzinski, Jerimy Daniel and Toronto driver Zack Meyer were part of 21 cars of the Star Mazda Series readying for a double-race weekend. Remembering Alex Tagliani in the then-fledgling Toyota Atlantic Series during the late 1990s and James Hinchcliffe running in the Firestone Indy Lights Series just a few years ago leads me to wonder if and who we'll see as the next racing great.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/1 Racing Mind

By 2 pm, a second session for the IZOD INDYCAR Series was underway. During one of two race weekends in the whole 2012 IZOD INDYCAR Series schedule where Canadian fans would be happily cheering on a home country driver, the afternoon practice delivered some bad news to our support of the maple leaf. The Chevrolet powerplant inside the #27 car of James Hinchcliffe developed an issue that sidelined him early in the practice session. With his Andretti Autosport team concluding that the engine needed to be replaced, Hinchcliffe would have to serve a 10-grid position penalty following his Saturday qualifying result. Since Alex Tagliani will also have to serve a similar penalty following the last race at Iowa Speedway, both Canadians will start Sunday in, at least, midfield.

Enriching myself with the sights of the IZOD INDYCAR Series drivers after the one hour practice session, I returned to the Direct Energy Centre that was ironically running in darkness. Inside, the Ferrari Challenge paddock area was provided with a steady audience who are taking the opportunity to get close to the near production-based F458 Italia vehicles. Of the several entries is popular businessman and TV star Robert Herjavec. One of the most visible person competing in the series at the 2012 Honda Indy, the Dragons Den and Shark Tank star and his #007 car were scarce on Friday (though was present leaving the track after the noon hour practice. Canadian Herjavec will also serve as the Sunday IZOD INDYCAR race's grand marshal.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/1 Racing Mind

Taking in some high-quality racing action at the Toronto road course (with some mild sun burning to proof it despite strong sunscreen), I left the auto racing festivities and endured the rat racing at Union Station. While the Honda Indy Toronto event provides a positive experience for visiting the great Canadian city, leaving on transit leaves a less than thrilling ordeal as the rush appears to temporary separates some of us from manners and consideration.

With my event attendance ending on Friday, a place in front of a television set guaranteed on Sunday for the 2012 Honda Indy’s main 85-lap race. However, I know seeing it is nothing like being there. For all who will be cheering on our favourite drivers in person, please enjoy!

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