Friday, July 16, 2010

Culture: A Free Motorsports Day

Danika Patrick (front) and Justin Wilson (rear) sped out of the pits to start the afternoon testing session at Honda Indy in Toronto, Ontario on 16-July-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I hadn't been to a motorsport racing event in a long time--fourteen years, by most standards. I've seen some Indy car, NASCAR, and powerboat racing on television in the interim, but never paid that much attention to any of those circuits. When I found out that a day of testing at the newly-restored Honda Indy race in Toronto, Ontario was going to be free for spectators, I decided that I had to go check it out.

Canadians Paul Tracy (15) and Alex Tagliani (77) crossed the start-finish line during the Honda Indy practice session in Toronto, Ontario on 16-July-2010

Despite the free admission, the grandstands at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds were not at all crowded the entire day. It was possible to wander from stand to stand and all along the track almost unimpeded all day. The best part of the free admission was that it included the pit paddock--we could wander through right up close to the vehicles and watch the crews work on them, a privilege that seems far more common at Canadian race sites than American ones (I have never forgotten that the pits were free at the 1996 Kelowna, British Columbia hydroplane race, unlike the rest of the races on the circuit that year). I especially enjoyed the opportunity to watch the inspectors pour over the cars at the completion of the session.

The fastest car of the practice session, driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay, was already quite disassembled minutes later in the pit paddock on 16-July-2010

There are always crowd favorites. It was obvious throughout the day that Danika Patrick--no longer the only female driver, but still the best-known one--was getting the most media attention. The Penske team maintains its high profile, with Will Power atop the season points standings and Helio Castroneves posting the top speed for much of the practice session. Yet, it was the Canadian drivers, Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani, that seemed to draw the most interest amongst the spectators. Which one was the most popular was not so clear--Tracy is truly native to Toronto, but Tagliani was driving a beautifully-painted car sponsored by Hot Wheels and thus attracted most of the children in attendance.

Crowd favorite Alex Tagliani's Hot Wheels-sponsored car awaited inspection after the testing session at Honda Indy Toronto on 16-July-2010

The Indy cars weren't the only racing vehicles on the track. The NASCAR Canadian Tire series is also featured this weekend, offering up a fleet of vehicles with Canadian sponsorship and mostly Canadian drivers. Plus, the Indy car lights, the Acura Sports Car Challenge, and the Castrol Canadian Touring Car championship also took the track while I was in attendance for practice sessions.

Jeff Lapcevich's Canadian Tire series car had the quintessential Canadian sponsor--Tim Horton's, on 16-July-2010

Some lap-based racing things are nearly-universal; green flags indicated time to race, black flags to get off the track, and the checkered flag meant the testing session was over. It didn't take me long to figure out how to convert lap speed in seconds to speeds in miles per hour, based on the length of the track (it was clear this was a road track--since even the Indy cars were only turning in slow unlimited hydroplane speeds). It was almost enough to get me to pay to come back to watch the race on Sunday--except that I have other commitments.

No comments: