Caught in a gear somewhere between the fistfights and huge crashes of NASCAR and the champagne and supermodels of Formula One, the 2013 IndyCar season may be outside your wheelhouse.
With the Honda Toronto Indy set to roll this weekend on the streets of the Big Smoke, here are five key bits of info to get you up to speed on the IndyCar double-header and the series.
Full credit to IndyCar for giving fans value for their sporting dollar. The Toronto slate features not one but two full-points races for the price of one, giving fans, teams and sponsors double the thrills over a single weekend. IndyCar has already done the double in Detroit, and will do it again this year in Houston. In Toronto, there will be two qualifying sessions (Friday and Saturday) and two races (Saturday and Sunday). Great news for everyone, except maybe the mechanics…
2. In the garage
The Toronto circuit is hard. It’s tight, hot and bumpy. If you’ve ever driven down Lakeshore Boulevard next to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, you know the ride is anything but smooth. Adding 24 cars, tight cement walls, a challenging track and a tight mid-season points race, you get no shortage of wheel-to-wheel action. Cars have historically run into each other in Toronto with great regularity. Exciting for fans, but not so much for teams and mechanics, who will need to rebuild any crashed vehicles in time for another race within 24 hours of the accident. Does that mean the drivers will take it easy in Race 1? You know the answer. The busiest place this weekend is likely to be the IndyCar parts truck.
3. Some teams are more equal than others
What makes IndyCar different from open-wheel cousin F1 is that the entire field is driving essentially the same car. The chassis are identical (the Dallara DW1), the tires the same (Firsetones) and the engines are either Honda or Chevrolet. Historically, the series has been dominated by three teams. Target Chip Ganassi, Penske Racing and Andretti Autosport have been the big kids in the paddock, especially the latter. Led by seven-time Toronto winner Michael Andretti, the defending series champions have scored five wins in 11 races. The Andretti engineers and drivers seem to have the edge, but it’s worth noting that a race like the Honda Toronto Indy doesn’t favour outright speed, and Andretti Autosport hasn’t won yet this season on a street circuit as tight as Toronto's. While it’s likely the winner will be a member of the Big Three, that’s because those teams have the best drivers, not necessarily the best car.
4. The mayor is in
No, Rob Ford will not be in the cockpit this weekend. But James Hinchcliffe, the self-declared "Mayor of Hinchtown," will be the hometown favourite, and the native of nearby Oakville, Ont., is a real threat to take the checkered flag in his home race. Hinch is the only driver with three wins in 2013 (St. Petersburg, Rio and Iowa) and the kid is fast. He drives for Andretti Autosport in the Go Daddy car, and has been quick almost every weekend. What makes Hinchcliffe unique off the track is his relaxed manor, humour and love of the media. He crashed on the first lap last weekend, so he went up to the ABC booth and joined the commentators. He’s also a regular contributor to SPEED TV and even co-hosts one of their shows.
5. Who to cheer for?
It’s easy to root for the hometown favourite, but there are many other choices. This field of drivers is deep, talented and varied. If you’re a dancing buff, former Dancing with the Stars champion Helio Castroneves is your man. Hollywood fan? Dario Franchitti was married to Ashley Judd until earlier this year. Formula One aficionado? Marco Andretti is the grandson of former F1 champ Mario Andretti. Favour female drivers? Switzerland’s Simona de Silvestro is a contender. And don’t forget Canadian Alex Tagliani, a fast and talented veteran, and defendng champion Ryan Hunter-Reay of the U.S. Each of the top 15 drivers has a shot, so no matter who you’re cheering for, you’re in with a chance.