Blood on the ice ran down through the years
The king of goons with a box for a throne
A thousand stitches and broken bones
He never lost a fight on his icy patrol
But deep inside, Buddy only dreamed of a goal
He just wanted one damn goal
There were Swedes at the blue line, Finns at the red
A Russian with a stick heading straight for his head
Brains over Brawn — that might work for you
But what's a Canadian farm boy to do?
-Warren Zevon: Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)
Historically, Toronto has always been a scene of frequent contact and short tempers – going all the way back to the first race in 1986, when even race winner Bobby Rahal was fuming at the finish (after a mid-race “stop-and-wait” penalty) and 10 of the 25 cars in the starting field were eliminated by crashes – including the likes of local hero Jacques Villeneuve (Gilles’ younger brother), Mike Andretti and Tom Sneva.
The course layout seems to encourage passing attempts, but the bumps and asphalt-to-concrete pavement changes frequently makes zeros out of [potential] heroes...
Even so, this year was something else. By my unofficial count, at least 24 of the 26-car starting field had contact with other cars and/or the wall at least once at Toronto, while more than a half-dozen had two incidents of contact, and THREE (Alex Tagliani, Graham Rahal and Danica Patrick) were hitters/hittees no fewer than three times each.
As near as I could tell, only Sebastien Bourdais and Simona de Silvestro were able to complete the race in unmarked cars.
In purist terms, it wasn’t a great race. Heck, the [beautiful, new] Honda Civic Si pace car led 32 of the 80 laps! But it sure was entertaining, and it definitely ratcheted up the intensity factor as the IZOD IndyCar Series entered the second half of 2011.
And the first half of the subsequent event at Edmonton looked to be more of the same. The VERSUS television crew certainly got into the act right from the show’s cold open, which featured a highlight video recap of all the Toronto crashing set to the music of Ce Lo Green’s “[Forget] You”. Classic. I laughed my head off in pit lane just listening to it on my scanner.
And for the first 25 laps at Edmonton, it things appeared to be much the same. First, Alex Tagliani got sucked into a w-a-a-ay over-ambitious move at the end of the second straight, spearing into Rahal’s rear tire which, two turns later, sent Rahal into a spin and Paul Tracy over the top of him, ending both of their races.
Wait a minute … Paul Tracy a victim of someone else’s brain lapse? Yep.
More mayhem ensued (Mike Conway into Oriol Servia, E.J. Viso into Scott Dixon, and Ryan Hunter-Reay into pole qualifier Takuma Sato), but then things calmed down and a more “normal” IndyCar Series race broke out over the final 30 laps or so, with Will Power leading home teammate Helio Castroneves and Toronto winner Dario Franchitti.
So now, the point race has tightened up a bit and we head into Honda’s midwestern “Home” race at Mid-Ohio. It looks to be a hot and humid weekend at Mid-O, and the temperature in the paddock is expected to be equally high, despite some of the “happy smiling faces” put on for public display.
It should be fun.
Postscript: Just as I was getting ready to hit “send”, the word came down from INDYCAR that Conway, Hunter-Reay and Tagliani had all put on probation by “the iron hand of justice” – aka Race Director Brian Barnhart. These three all had at least one instance of contact at both Toronto and Edmonton, and as a result, have received the IICS equivalent of “five-minute majors”… Now the question is: Will this dampen some of the “enthusiasm” of the Canadian races or only put more fuel on the fire?